BY GREGORY B. HLADKY
The resounding defeat of the legislation, with only 37 lawmakers in favor to 103 against, was remarkable not only for the bipartisan nature of the opposition.
The vote also was a virtual slap in the face of the Senate's top Democratic leader, Donald E. Williams Jr., the bill's strongest advocate. The GMO seed ban won Senate approval Wednesday evening 25-11, primarily with Democratic support.
Sharkey said that since he's become speaker, this was the first time he had called a bill, voted against it and watched it fail. He also said he and Williams never spoke about the GMO grass seed ban.House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and 50 of his fellow House Democrats joined GOP legislators to vote against Williams' bill Wednesday. Ordinarily, when a Democratic bill lacks the support of the Democratic House majority, House leaders don't bring it up for a vote.
"I've never, ever been consulted about this bill by anyone in the Senate,'' Sharkey told reporters after the vote. "The advocates wanted a vote on the bill, so I felt it was most important to have the vote and avoid the distraction that was going to inevitably occur if we kept it on our calendar for days or weeks."
When asked if he was concerned that any of his bills will get bottled up now in the Senate, Sharkey said, "I'm not worried about that at all — just as I believe the Senate is not worried about their bills getting through the House. We work cooperatively together.''
In a prepared statement, Williams avoided responding directly to the House vote on his bill. Instead, he praised the Senate's action, saying it had "made history by taking a stand against the chemical companies and special interests which are poised to dump tens of thousands of gallons of pesticides on lawns across Connecticut."
But critics of the ban complained the proposed prohibition would be premature since the GMO seed isn't even ready for sale here, that the science was unclear on any dangers, and that the ban hadn't had a proper public hearing.
"We're banning something that doesn't exist," said Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel. "It wasn't vetted in the light of day."
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, argued the proposed ban would send the wrong message about Connecticut to industry. "It just tells [them] we're not open for business," she said.
Cook warned the proposed prohibition on GMO grass could hurt Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which is developing the seed. The company is planning on marketing a grass seed immune to Monsanto's popular weed-killer Roundup, a herbicide that has as its primary ingredient glyphosate. Use of this type of GMO grass would mean Roundup could be sprayed all over lawns and fields, killing everything but the grass itself.
Cook said Scott has $27.5 million in sales in Connecticut, and employs 226 people in this state. "For me, this [bill] is just not good business," she said.
Supporters of banning Scott's GMO seeds before they arrive said their concerns were focused on potential damage to human health and the environment from increased pesticide and herbicide use.
Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said the herbicide glyphosate is recognized "as a hazardous material… It does cause health problems that include birth defects and various types of cancer."
Mushinsky said scientists have determined that 14 different types of weeds already have developed a resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup, forcing industry to develop even more toxic herbicides.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said the industry is already working on a derivative of the infamous Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange to deal with herbicide-resistant weeds. "I'm not so sure we want Connecticut to become known as the Agent OrangeState," Steinberg said.
Courant staff writer Christopher Keating contributed to this story.