Council to consider 2020 state priorities

  • Lifeguard Paul Tucker patrols the water on a rescue board at Hapuna Beach, one of five state parks throughout Hawaii that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources contracts with the county for ocean safety personnel. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today)

As the 2020 session of the state Legislature draws near, county leaders are working to present a united front in advocating bills they think will improve local government.

The Hawaii State Association of Counties has agreed on a package of eight measures that now must be approved by each of the four counties. The Hawaii County Council will consider the package at its meeting starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Hilo.

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The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 15.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, the council’s HSAC representative, is asking the council to approve the package.

“The Executive Committee reviewed 16 bill proposals, and selected eight measures based on concerns shared by all HSAC member counties including the need for affordable housing, public health and safety, dealing with overcapacity at recreational and public spaces, and equity,” Kierkiewicz said in a Nov. 25 memo to the council.

“Recognizing the need to address numerous challenges with limited resources, the Executive Committee had robust and thoughtful dialogue around which bills to elevate into the 2020 HSAC Legislative Package,” she added.

Bills in the package would:

• Extend a homeowner’s tax credit to replace cesspools with a sewer system to June 30, 2021. The proposed bill also eliminates the requirement that eligible cesspools be within 500 feet of a shoreline, stream or wetland or are shown to impact drinking water supplies.

• Lower the blood alcohol concentration for the offense of driving while intoxicated from 0.08 to 0.05.

• Expand the use of the transient accommodations tax collected on hotels and short-term rentals to maintain county beaches and parks.

• Increase the state registration fee on rental cars from $1 to $2 and allow counties to add their own fees up to $10 to be used to dispose of abandoned vehicles.

• Allow counties to require applicants registering motor vehicles to pay all outstanding charges for towing and disposal on abandoned vehicles under that person’s name before registering another vehicle.

• Give counties more control to regulate tobacco products by repealing the state’s peremptory powers.

• Allow counties, rather than the state, to set district boundaries on developments of 15 acres or less. Kierkiewicz said she attended meetings about affordable housing U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, convened with state and county leadership, and she advanced this proposal as a product of that.

“I am hearing next year’s legislative session will focus on affordable housing and homelessness, so the proposed update is timely and would help streamline the affordable housing development process,” she said Friday.

• In addition, a bill that has come up annually for the past three years but has so far not made it through the Legislature is one that would exempt lifeguards and the counties from liability in lawsuits as long as they didn’t arise from gross negligence.

The state contracts with counties to provide lifeguard protection at the state’s busiest beaches.

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But the roughly 350 county lifeguards lost their liability protection in 2017, when a law expired that had protected them for the past 15 years.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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