Kua Bay lifeguard bill advances farthest it’s been

  • A visitor gets slammed by a wave at Maniniowali, also known as Kua Bay earlier this month. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)
  • There are currently no lifeguards at the increasingly popular Kua Bay, also known as Maniniowali. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A boogie boarder flips in a wave at Kua Bay earlier this month.

  • A boogie boarder catches a wave at Maniniowali, also known as Kua Bay earlier this month. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

  • Boogie boarders catch a wave at Maniniowali, also known as Kua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — For the first time since Big Island legislators began seeking lifeguards for Kua Bay in 2013, a measure to secure life-saving personnel for the site was heard and passed by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Measures to fund lifeguards at the popular but sometimes treacherous North Kona beach have come close a few times, including in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but ended up unable to secure a hearing before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

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Those outcomes have happened regardless of which chamber the legislation was introduced.

However, that’s no longer the case. Senate Bill 875, co-introduced by Sens. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) and Stanley Chang (D-Oahu) with Kaialii Kahele (D-Hilo) as a co-sponsor, not only secured a hearing before the Senate committee that makes decisions about state finances — but was passed unanimously by its members.

“I’m extremely happy about that,” said Kanuha, reached Friday afternoon.

Kanuha along with Kahele and Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii) were among the 11 committee members who voted to pass the bill, with amendments. Two committee members, both Oahu senators, were excused from the vote, according to the state Legislature’s website.

The amendments were technical in nature, and pushed back the effective date, a committee clerk and Kanuha said. A committee report, which would provide full details on any changes, had yet to be filed Friday afternoon.

If reported by Ways and Means by the March 1 decking deadline, and the bill passes a third reading before the full Senate on March 5, but no later than March 7, it will cross over to the state House of Representatives, where it will begin a similar process through that chamber. Kanuha said it’s also likely there will be some conference between the House and Senate to determine an actual appropriation.

“I think we’re at a really good step moving this bill forward, and I feel confident that we will get lifeguards down there this year or next year,” Kanuha said.

Historically, the House has moved bills seeking funding for lifeguards at the state park through the chamber without much hold-up.

“Rep. Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona) has been pushing this for a while, so I’m pretty confident she can get the House to agree to move it on her side,” Kanuha said.

The measure is one of three bills introduced this legislative session to get lifeguards at the Kekaha Kai State Park site.

Another bill, House Bill 558, has passed two of the three committees it was referred to for hearings and two readings on the House floor.

It’s awaiting a hearing Tuesday before the Committee on Finance — the House’s equivalent of Ways and Means. It must pass and be reported out no later than Friday followed by a third vote on the House floor to crossover to the Senate.

Senate Bill 654, a companion bill to HB 558, passed its first of two committees, the Senate Committee on Water and Land on Feb. 1. and two readings on the floor. It’s still yet to get a hearing before the Committee on Ways and Means.

Like its companion in the House, SB 654 would need to be reported out of the committee no later than Friday, then pass a third vote on the House floor to crossover to the Senate.

SB654 and HB558 each seek $400,000 to fund four full-time lifeguard positions at the beach and an additional $80,000 to fund a lifeguard tower, all-terrain vehicle, radios and rescue and protective equipment.

The state has identified Kua Bay at Maniniowali as the next state park to receive lifeguard because “it has the most reported spinal cord injuries,” according to testimony submitted by DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case in regard to SB654. The department is in support of the bill, so long as it does not “replace or adversely impact priorities indicated in the Executive Budget request.”

The DLNR Division of State Parks already contracts with the counties to provide lifeguards at four state parks, including Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area on Hawaii Island. This session, the division is requesting another $1.5 million to cover increasing salary costs.

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To keep abreast of the bill, submit testimony or contact legislators, visit capitol.hawaii.gov.

“It’s important that people testify in support of this bill so that we can keep on pushing and hopefully make it happen this year,” Kanuha said.

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