Harbor privatization, body cameras lose out

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KAILUA-KONA — It was do or die time Friday for bills that had not yet passed out of conference committees ahead of a vote by the full Legislature on Tuesday.


KAILUA-KONA — It was do or die time Friday for bills that had not yet passed out of conference committees ahead of a vote by the full Legislature on Tuesday.

The wrappers were put on dozens of new bills and the cast-offs were shucked into the proverbial waste basket ahead of a deadline. Several initiatives by Big Island lawmakers lost out at the wire.

A bill that could have led to the privatization of Honokohau Harbor lost out despite support from the agency that oversees the facility. The bill could pave the way for Honokohau serving as a model for other small boat harbors around the state. The harbor’s current steward, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, supports opening harbors to public-private partnerships statewide, saying DLNR resources could be better directed to resource protection in nearshore waters.

“I’m disappointed but the sentiment in the House was that privatization or a public-private partnership needed more discussion and oversight,” the bill’s sponsor Kona Rep. Nicole Lowen reported in a text message just after the bill died.

The harbor — which has lacked needed repairs and upgrades for years — could have been managed by the county or placed under a county redevelopment authority similar to the one newly put in place on Hilo’s Banyan Drive.

“I had a draft prepared that would at least have taken the step of making county management an option but the Senate wouldn’t agree on it,” Lowen said.

A bill to require police to wear body cameras during investigations and enforcement work was also deferred Friday evening. The bill, co-sponsored by District 4 Sen. Lorraine Inouye, would have required the state to pay for half of the cost of the program — an estimated $1.35 million in state funds. Supporters touted the benefit of having an objective witness via the lens, but law enforcement opposed the bill, saying its provisions for storing and releasing footage would be expensive to implement.

Hawaiian Ocean View Ranchos sent out a substantial message in its struggle to keep a large solar energy developer from setting up shop in the neighborhood. But the community would have to have been disappointed Friday. A bill sponsored by Naalehu Rep. Richard Creagan intended to fire a shot across the bow of potential developers by requiring a special permit for solar projects larger than 25 kilowatts on certain agricultural lands.

However, Senate Ways and Means and House Finance committees couldn’t agree to pass the bill out, although Kona Rep. Nicole Lowen, Inouye, and Hilo Rep. Clift Tsuji fought to keep the bill going through the session.

“We sailed the ship on a long course, but couldn’t bring it into the harbor,” Creagan said. “We foundered on the bar of Finance/Ways and Means approval and it’s unlikely we’ll ever know why. … Someone upstairs didn’t like the bill.”

Current state law allows massive solar farms outright on agricultural lands — even if those lands happen to be a subdivision that is zoned agricultural, such as the case is with Ranchos and a number of other Big Island subdivisions. In Ranchos, some 30,000 solar panels are slated for installation on 26 lots — a commercial project by global solar developer SPI Solar.

Residents who oppose the project on a number of fronts said they felt blindsided by a lack of public process.

Under House Bill 2636, the county would have been in the driver’s seat for issuing special permits for big solar projects, opening up a public process and giving residents input they currently don’t have.

“I tried to move it for him but it was kind of a messy bill, with lots of concern about unintended consequences for legitimate agricultural projects,” said Lowen, one of the House conferees.

Lowen said she agreed the law needs reforming and said she would be willing to work on a bill next year.

“I think the whole Legislature, the governor and the PUC are now aware of the problems of unintended consequences of allowing large solar installations or solar installations inappropriate for the area on agricultural lands,” Creagan said. “We will have to regroup and see if there is need and a will to propose another bill next year.”

There were winning bills too.

Lawmakers passed out a bill that opens up the Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund to non-profit organizations, allowing smaller entities access to low-interest loans for building their own wastewater treatment facilities. The bill, introduced by Kohala Rep. Cindy Evans, gives a leg up to communities like Puako looking to collaborate on wastewater treatment options other than individual septic systems or hooking up to county facilities.

Under the status quo, only state and county agencies have access to the revolving fund.

In legislation that is not specific to the Big Island, lawmakers advanced a bill to allow online brokers such as Airbnb to collect taxes on behalf of people advertising private rentals on websites. The state Department of Transportation is being tasked with studying the feasibility of running a ferry between the islands, under a bill that also contributes $50,000 in state money toward the study. Law enforcement agencies will be forced to test 500 rape evidence kits under a bill that provides $500,000 to that cause. The Honolulu Police Dept. has about 1,500 rape kits that haven’t been tested. The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to conduct an inventory of their untested sex assault evidence kits by Sept. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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