Thumb’s up for lifeguards at Kua Bay

  • A visitor gets slammed by a wave at Kua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A measure to fund lifeguards at Kua Bay got the thumb’s up Wednesday from the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

House Bill 558, which seeks unspecified funds in fiscal year 2019-20 and 2020-21 for four full-time lifeguards for the state beach park, now heads for a third reading on the Senate floor.

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It is the farthest any bill seeking life-saving personnel for the state beach park has gone in the state Legislature since the effort began in 2013 — about eight years after a paved road opened to the once hard-to-reach site north of Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. Three bills were introduced this session with only HB 558 making it beyond the first reading after crossing over.

“Securing lifeguards at Kua Bay has been a main priority of mine this legislative session. Thanks to the Senate Ways and Means Chair, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, we were able to secure a hearing (in time before crossover) for HB558 HD1,” Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u) said. “We still have a long road ahead of us, as there are still a few weeks left in session, but after today’s hearing I am very optimistic.”

Kanuha was among the 10 of the 13 members of the Committee on Ways and Means to vote to pass the measure, along with Big Island legislator Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii). Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) and two others were excused.

The bill was amended Wednesday by the committee, but only for clerical purposes and there was no change to the substance of the bill, according to a legislative aide for Kanuha.

If the lifeguard bill gets a positive vote on the Senate floor, the measure will be sent back to the House for a vote. Representatives in that chamber can either agree or disagree with any changes made to the bill as it made its way through the Senate.

A House vote to agree with the changes would send the bill to Gov. David Ige for his approval. A vote to disagree with the amendments sends the bill into conference where senators and representatives can work out differences.

If reconciled, the bill goes back for a vote by the full Legislature and, if passed there, to Ige for his signature.

In its current form, HB 558 seeks unspecified funds in fiscal year 2019-20 and 2020-21 for four full-time lifeguards for the state beach park. The Department of Land and Natural Resources has said it would need $400,000 annually for salaries and $80,000 for equipment.

The beach, heavily used by visitors and locals alike, has been identified by the state as the next site to receive lifeguards because “it has the most reported spinal cord injuries,” according to testimony by DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case. Per the Hawaii Department of Health, 32 people required treatment at Kua Bay from 2013 to 2018 with 30 needing transport to a hospital. All but three of those sent to the hospital suffered traumatic injuries.

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In 2007, the site welcomed some 162,300 visitors annually. Numbers are still being updated.

To view the latest details on the bill, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov and enter “HB 558” in the bill status/measure search box.

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