ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday took a step toward what supporters say would be the strongest laws in the nation to protect declining bee populations by taking certain pesticides off of store shelves.
The Maryland Senate voted 32-14 for the Pollinator Protection Act, which now goes to the state's House of Delegates.
The measure would limit pesticides containing neonicotinoids to certified applicators, farmers and veterinarians. Starting in 2018, consumers would not be able to buy them in stores. The bill had a provision requiring plants, seeds or nursery stock treated with the pesticide to include an informational label, but it was removed.
The pesticides have sparked debate in recent years. Advocacy groups have targeted neonicotinoids, a chemical that works on insects' central nervous systems. Recent scientific studies have pointed to problems they cause bees, but pesticide makers dispute those studies. Europe banned the pesticide class, but then lifted the ban.
Supporters say the measure is needed to protect Maryland's bee industry. They also contend sharp declines in bee populations have a broader significance, because bees play an important role in creating the food supply through pollination.
Michele Danoff, a beekeeper who has been monitoring the bill's progress, said she has lost her entire hive in the last two years.
"They're weakened by the neonicotinoids, so it's a start," Danoff, of Edgewater, Maryland, said after the Senate vote. "We've got to start somewhere. We cannot sustain this kind of loss."
Opponents called for more study, citing uncertain conclusions in previous studies.
"My issue with this is I think we're putting the cart before the horse on this," said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford County.
Supporters say Maryland beekeepers lost 61 percent of their hives last year, about twice the national average. Maryland has about 900 beekeepers managing about 9,000 hives.
Tiffany Finck-Haynes, who focuses on legislation relating to bees for the grassroots environmental group Friends of the Earth, said the Maryland measure demonstrates how states are starting to push for restrictions, because she said the Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to act.
"This would certainly be the strongest neonicotinoids restriction we've seen across the country to date," she said.