East Hawaii News

Coffee Bill Not Vetoed, Allowed to Become Law

July 11, 2012, 12:57 PM HST
* Updated July 12, 8:28 AM
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie late Tuesday announced that he had vetoed 14 bills, but several with Big Island ties that he had previously said he would veto were not among them.

Tuesday was the deadline for the governor to act on the 345 bills passed by the Hawai`i Legislature in the recently concluded session, either by veto, signing or allowing them to become law without his signature.

Abercrombie chose the last route for House Bill 280, which was one of 19 bills Abercrombie had previously said he would veto.

The bill removes the requirement that all Hawaii-grown green coffee beans undergo state Department of Agriculture inspection to certify that Kona-labeled blends contain at least 10% Kona-grown beans.

The matter has been divisive, with some coffee farmers and their organizations opposed to the bill and coffee blenders in support.

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The former cited a need to maintain the reputation of the Kona coffee brand, saying that coffee companies can’t be trusted to voluntarily designate the origin of the coffee as the bill provides.

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Coffee blenders – and the state Department of Agriculture, which supported the bill – point to the fact that there is a shortage of state inspectors which delays shipments, and note that the bill contains a provision making it a Class C felony for false labeling.

When he announced last month his intention to veto the measure, Abercrombie said that further study of the matter was needed to “ensure that the Hawaii brand will not be undermined.”

Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the governor still believes that to be true. But, she said, as noted in a statement issued by his office, that Abercrombie also feels that the Department of Agriculture will work with the industry to “develop the framework for what is necessary to protect our state products.”

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Abercrombie also changed his mind on Senate Bill 2341, which allows vacation rentals on agricultural land. He had previously said that the bill lacked clarity on what constitutes “true agricultural tourism.”

On Tuesday, the governor allowed the bill to become law without his signature, saying that he would ask state lawmakers and the counties to review the new law and propose amendments to prevent abuses.

Abercrombie did follow through on his threat to veto House Bill 1617 which would have authorized the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to extend state land leases for up to 55 years if the lessee made “substantial” improvements to the land.

The governor said he was opposed to the bill because it could enable lessees to control the property for up to 120 years without reopening the lease for competitive bidding.

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