Airport Authority bill in limbo due to procurement code worries

For the first time in five years, no new bill in the state Legislature will seek to create an independent Hawaii airports corporation.

Every year since 2016, Sen. Lorraine Inouye has introduced versions of a bill that would shift the authority over the state’s seven commercial airports from the Department of Transportation to an independent airports corporation, in an effort to streamline airport-related decisions and operations. Each one of those bills was killed or otherwise failed to proceed, leading Inouye to re-introduce similar bills every subsequent year.

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However, no new bill was introduced this year, because technically the 2019 version never died.

Senate Bill 666 garnered significant support as it moved through the Legislature in 2019, but stalled when it reached the House Committee on Finance. The committee then failed to hear the bill before a deadline, deferring it to the 2020 legislative session.

“The committee has time to hear the bill again if they want,” Inouye said.

However, Inouye said changes to the bill made by the House were “pretty much unacceptable.” The original version of the bill would have made the airport corporation exempt to the state’s procurement code, allowing it to sidestep certain procurement requirements, although some critics worried it would allow the corporation to also remove protections for contractors and sub-contractors.

Although the Senate’s amendments to the bill clarified the corporation’s procurement practices and requirements, the House removed the exemption entirely, subjecting the corporation to the state procurement code once more.

“The big hangup is the procurement code exemption,” said Oahu Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Committee on Finance. “People are worried about the lack of transparency.”

Luke said she has heard too many concerns from businesses worried about the corporation offering preferential treatment to certain contractors to keep the exemption as written.

Inouye said removing the exemption was unfortunate, but there is still room to discuss the changes. If the bill is revisited by the Finance Committee, it can eventually return to the Senate, where disagreements over the content can be resolved in a conference committee.

“I think it’s still probably a good time to pass it now,” Inouye said. “The bill wouldn’t go into effect for a few years, so there’s still time to change some of it.”

Currently, Bill 666 wouldn’t go into effect until 2050, although that date is only a placeholder.

However, Luke said she has no intention to revisit the bill this year.

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If the Finance Committee does not revisit the bill this session, Inouye said she will have no choice but to introduce a fifth version of the bill in 2021.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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