Committee kills media access bill

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Hawaii lawmakers failed to advance a bill that would have given media personnel greater access when covering natural disasters like the June 27 lava flow.

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Hawaii lawmakers failed to advance a bill that would have given media personnel greater access when covering natural disasters like the June 27 lava flow.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, who co-introduced the original measure on behalf of the Big Island Press Club and later resurrected it by having it inserted into a separate piece of legislation, said she was “disappointed” by the outcome and that the deciding factor was money.

Last month, however, at Inouye’s request, a Senate committee amended House Bill 1344 — a measure that, when introduced, solely sought to mitigate hazardous situations by appropriating funds for two additional DOD positions — by inserting the media access provision.

A conference committee chaired by Rep. Gregg Takayama, D-Pearl City, and Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach, killed the bill late Friday. Inouye said the reason was that a pair of money committees did not support allocating funds for the positions.

Inouye plans to revisit the issue in a year. “Next year is a new game,” she said, adding that the bill remains alive in conference until next legislative session.

Last month, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means amended HB 1344 to include language recommended by the Hawaii Department of Defense that clarified who is a journalist and ensured state and county agencies would not be held liable for injuries or bear the costs associated with related search and rescue operations.

HB 1344 would have amended Act 111, which went into effect only days before the June 27 flow emerged from Pu‘u ‘O‘o, to allow news media, under the supervision of emergency management agency personnel, to cover the mitigation of hazardous situations and access areas that are closed to the general public.

Act 111 granted additional powers to the counties during emergencies and was used since the June 27 flow began threatening Pahoa to keep news media from accessing restricted areas, making it difficult for journalists to interview those most impacted by the disaster.

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The bill would have given journalists and newscasters “all reasonable access and assistance” in covering disasters and accessing closed areas. It also would have allowed for a pool writer, photographer or videographer to be used if full access could not be reasonably granted.

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo @hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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