By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A Senate committee has narrowly moved a bill to the floor that would preempt counties or other government bodies lower than the state from imposing restrictions on the production of genetically engineered crops.
Senate Bill 633 moved with a do-pass recommendation by a 3-2 vote, with Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, joining two the Republican senators on the Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee in supporting the bill.
"We have a proud history of letting people move into the markets that are the right markets for them at different times," Roblan said.
"I believe the Department of Agriculture does a good job of helping us regulate that," he said.
Roblan's support for the bill is seen as critical in helping move the bill through the Senate, where Democrats hold a 16-14 advantage.
Supporters also need backing from some Democrats in the House, where Democrats hold a 34-26 advantage.
SB633 would preempt, or make moot, a citizen initiative in Jackson County, where measure backers have turned in enough signatures to place the measure on the May 2014 ballot.
In explaining his opposition to SB633, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, referenced the ballot measure.
"I am concerned that this is a preemptive move to not allow for what the citizens in that part of the state have already processed, and have worked to the point where they are ... scheduled to ... vote on that issue," Prozanski said.
"I have not seen or heard a compelling overriding issue to cause us to preempt at this time," he said.
In explaining her "no" vote, Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said she has long been an advocate for local control and sees no reason to change that strategy for this issue.
"There are cases where I have supported preemption," she said. "But this does not meet the threshold that I have to preempt."
Sen. Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, said he, too, supports local control of issues.
"But," he said, "I believe that the counties don't have the resources, including the financial resources, to engage in this type of discussion at that level.
"I believe that this issue needs to be discussed at the state level," he said.
The bill would institute in statute a law similar to the pesticide preemption law legislators adopted in 1996 that leaves pesticide regulations up to the state.