Tuesday April 23, 2013 | 09:30 AM

Don't know GMO: The first sign that a big debate was brewing over LD 718 came Feb. 26.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, would require food retailers to notify customers if food products were borne from genetically modified seeds or ingredients. The proposal could have implications for farm stands, too.

With a list of over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors, it would appear that LD 718 is a slam dunk.

Not so fast. 

The bill was originally referenced Feb. 26 by the House to the Labor & Commerce Committee. The bill remained in legislative limbo for several days until the Senate on March 5 referenced it to the Agriculture Committee. The House eventually concurred, and Agriculture is where the public hearing will be held Tuesday. 

That the Senate and the House disagree over which committee should work a bill is not uncommon, but in this case it signaled the behind-the-scenes maneuvering among LD 718's proponents and opponents. Supporters, including the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, wanted the bill in the Labor Committee because they thought it had a better chance passing out of committee. 

But previous GMO bills have been heard in Agriculture, a point made by LD 718 opponents, which include an influential coalition of biotech food producers, the Maine Farm Bureau and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Those groups point to studies showing that GMO products are no more harmful than organic produce.

The policy fight in Augusta will be waged by influential lobbying groups. MOFGA has hired lobbying powerhouse Preti Flaherty to work the bill, while the industry coalition is backed by lobbyist Robert Tardy and start-up Red Hill Strategies, a Portland consulting firm headed by Republican operative Lance Dutson and Mike Leavitt, the former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee.  

The Maine debate is part of a national one. At least 18 other state legislatures are considering GMO labeling bills this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Additionally, Congress is poised to take up a labeling bill. In D.C. all eyes will be on the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto, the multinational biotech giant. Both have opposed GMO legislation and padded the election coffers of congressional lawmakers from agriculture-heavy states. 

Both groups wield a lot of influence. Monsanto managed to insert rider legislation in the recent congressional budget bill. Critics argue the rider prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from halting production of a genetically engineered crop once it's in the ground even if studies prove the crop could be harmful. 

The public hearing will take place at 1 p.m. 

Emergency shield: The bill that would make the identifying information of concealed weapons permit holders confidential could receive its first vote in the House Tuesday. The bill has an emergency preamble, which means it requires a two-thirds majority to pass. 

The preamble could make passage tricky. While the bill won strong support in committee, some Democratic lawmakers have lamented going along with the temporary emergency bill that shielded the data in February. 

Brace for a lengthy floor debate. 

Watching you: More proof that the Democratic Governors Association is keeping a close eye on Maine:

 

The DGA tweet was a reference to Gov. Paul LePage's now retracted claim during a speech in Skowhegan that the windmill in Presque Isle was powered by a little electric motor.

Non-political item: My first choice was Big Papi's epic f-bomb. But there's also this: An adult film star's alleged use of a brass knuckle iPhone case to settle a dispute with her assistant.

That's right, a brass knuckle iPhone case.

And yes, these things are actually sold.

Of course, if you're more interested in how one of these things could be deployed, you should check out TMZ

About the Author

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @stevemistler

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