KAILUA-KONA — A measure to fund full-time lifeguards at Kua Bay needs to pass its final Senate committee by the end of this week to stay afloat.
House Bill 2044 must be heard and receive a recommendation of passage from the Committee on Ways and Means (WAM) by Friday or its trek through the 2018 state Legislature comes to an end for all intents and purpose — again.
Today is the deadline for the committee to post a notice for a hearing on Friday, said bill co-introducer Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” Lowen said about the measure getting a hearing before WAM in time to remain alive. When asked how residents and visitors can assist, she suggested they contact the committee and request a hearing.
Calls to Ways and Means Chairman Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz, who would schedule such a hearing, were not returned on Tuesday.
WAM member Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona, said she would continue to push for the bill to get a hearing before WAM.
“I’m trying hard to get it heard,” she said.
The proposed legislation, which seeks four full-time lifeguards for the perilous North Kona beach, has seemingly been stalled since it passed out of the Committee on Water and Land on March 14. The bill had cruised through the state House and crossed over to the Senate for consideration at the start of March.
The bill is in the same spot that similar legislation introduced last year got stuck after failing to secure a hearing before WAM during the 2017 Legislature. And it’s just a few steps short of final approval in the multi-layered legislative process.
“It just seems to me that this is something that really needs the state’s attention, and you hate to feel like you’re a ‘Cinderella,’ but how can this keep getting pushed off year after year after year when people are dying or getting seriously injured there,” said Laura Mallery-Sayre, executive director of the nonprofit Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation that is dedicated to providing essential equipment and training to the Hawaii Fire Department. “It just makes zero sense to me.”’
House Bill 2044 seeks unspecified monies for fiscal year 2018-19 for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to hire four full-time lifeguards to watch over the bay within Kekaha Kai State Park. In testimony submitted for an earlier hearing, the department said staffing the positions would cost about $340,355 annually.
The measure would also provide $80,000 in general funds that fiscal year for a lifeguard tower, radios, protective equipment and an all-terrain vehicle.
Mallery-Sayre said her foundation is ready to step in to purchase equipment, if that is a sticking issue.
“We certainly want to do everything that we can as a community foundation to help this go through,” she said. “We will help in anyway we can. We’re willing to do it.”
While the bill to bring ocean safety personnel specifically to Kua Bay appears to be losing traction, House Bill 2097 remains alive. The measure, which deals mainly with lifeguard liability, also includes an appropriation request for $1 million from the tourism special fund for DLNR’s Division of State Parks to contract with the counties for lifeguard services at designated state beach parks.
“We will keep pushing for that,” said Lowen.
State Parks told West Hawaii Today in January that Kua Bay would be the next site to receive lifeguard services.
“As long as there are increases in funding for the current four contracts, and additional funding is provided for new lifeguard services at Kua Bay — this beach would be the next State Park beach with lifeguard service,” State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell said.
The bill was heard on Thursday by a joint Senate committee on Ways and Means and Judiciary, which recommended the bill be passed on third reading on the Senate floor. That reading had yet to be scheduled as of press time on Tuesday.