‘Politics’ kills airports authority bill

A bill that would have created a dedicated governing body to take control of the state’s airports was unexpectedly killed Friday despite being on the verge of passage.

Senate Bill 2996 would have established an Hawaii airports corporation to manage the state’s airports instead of the state Department of Transportation. The bill was the third measure to propose such a body since 2016.

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The bill passed the Senate and House with little opposition. However, during conference committees to agree on a final version of the bill Friday, the conferees from the House were abruptly discharged, effectively ending the bill’s progress.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, one of the bill’s co-introducers, said she was “very disappointed” by the results, which she called “unfortunate.”

“The Senate had a good bill,” Inouye said.

Inouye said the changes the House made to the bill conflicted with the bill’s original intent. In particular, the House committees on Transportation and Labor and Public Employment deleted language in the bill that would exempt the airport corporation from the state procurement code, an exemption some supporters said was the backbone of the entire measure.

“That exemption was a major part of the bill,” said Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce president-elect Gordon Takaki. “When they got rid of it, that indicated to me that the bill wasn’t going to make it.”

Throughout the bill’s life cycle — as well as during its previous incarnations in 2017 and 2016 — supporters, including Takaki, touted the greater efficiency the corporation would lend the state’s airports, particularly with regard to renovations. Much of the corporation’s presumed efficiency stems from the assumption it would be exempt from the state’s lengthy procurement process.

Inouye said she repeatedly and unfavorably compared the quality of the state’s airports with that of airports in other states when discussing the bill with legislators. However, she said, she was willing to make concessions regarding the procurement code during the final conference committee.

In spite of this, Inouye said, discussion of the bill dropped after House conferees were discharged late Friday. Inouye said she did not know why the conferees abandoned the bill, but concluded that “politics got in the way of progress.”

None of the House conferees could be reached for comment.

Despite the bill’s failure, Inouye said legislators will try again to pass an airport corporation bill next year.

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“Here we go again,” Takaki said. “Round four.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com