Funding sought for rat lungworm study

Lawmakers will hear a bill today that would provide funding to the University of Hawaii at Hilo to conduct rat lungworm research.

House Bill 2506, introduced by state Rep. Chris Todd, D-Hilo, would fund lab testing for fiscal year 2018-19 to study the effectiveness of de-worming rats to reduce the disease’s transmission; the effectiveness of potential solutions, including commercially available produce washes; and the effectiveness of commercially available filters and ultraviolet systems in catchment.

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Money also would be used to optimize existing tests or develop new blood-based tests to diagnose rat lungworm.

There were more than 70 cases of rat lungworm between 2001 and 2014, the bill says, and in 2017, there were at least 11 cases on Hawaii Island alone. Last year, a measure that would have provided up to $695,000 for UH-Hilo rat lungworm research died in the final hours of conferencing.

Todd said Monday this year’s proposal seeks $1 million.

“There’s a public health component to this, but in addition to that, we want to provide people with peace of mind,” Todd said. “The more we learn about rat lungworm, the better we can address prevention and educate families on how to protect themselves.

“There’s a lot we don’t know right now. So given that this isn’t something where we have a clear cut understanding of how to address it, research is the appropriate way to handle it right now.”

Todd’s bill is slated to be heard at 2:10 p.m. by the House higher education committee. Its companion, Senate Bill 2314, was introduced by state Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo.

The rat lungworm proposal is one of several introduced this year related to the UH.

Other UH bills, if they become law, would:

• Fund the Hawaii Promise program for students enrolled at any UH campus. The program was established last year for community college students only. It provides state aid to qualifying, low-income students to pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies and transportation costs not already covered by federal grants, other state aid and private scholarships.

• Allow UH graduate student assistants to unionize.

• Provide tuition waivers to UH students who commit to future employment in programs that serve homeless people.

• Provide UH tuition grants to students who commit to future employment with the state.

• Prohibit smoking, tobacco use and use of electronic cigarettes on any UH premises.

• Transfer the administrative authority, personnel and facilities for the UH Institute for Astronomy from UH-Manoa to UH-Hilo.

• Cap UH tuition increases based on the change in the state’s median household income.

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• Amend the composition and term limit of the UH Board of Regents and re-establish the governor’s authority to nominate and — with consent from the Senate — appoint board members. The bill was introduced by Kahele. Kahele also introduced a bill to limit the board’s autonomy over UH and a bill to modify the current board member appointment process.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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