Sara Kay describes her experience lobbying state Rep. Henry Aquino as “frustrating.”

The Punahou School junior has called and emailed Aquino and even showed up at his Capitol office.

But Aquino, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, hasn’t made himself available to Kay and her friends, who want him to hear an anti-smoking measure.

“Honestly, it’s very frustrating,” Kay said Tuesday before launching another round of calls and emails to Aquino. “It’s his job to represent the people, and considering that we gathered more than 70 youth and others from around Oahu to rally in support, he should listen to us and do his job.”

Rep Henry Aquino floor session. 3 may 2016.

Rep. Henry Aquino on the House floor in 2016.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The legislation in question is Senate Bill 261, which would ban smoking in cars and trucks when a person under 18 is present.

It passed the Senate 24 to 1, with the state Department of Health, the Hawaii County Police Department, the Hawaii Public Health Institute, the American Heart Association and the Hawaii Children’s Action Network testifying in support.

In her committee report on SB 261, Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said children need to be protected from secondhand smoke, “particularly when they have no choice but to ride in a vehicle with a parent or other person who chooses to smoke in the confines of the vehicle.”

Hawaii County and Kauai County already have similar laws in place, as does Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

But, as of Tuesday, Aquino and House Health Chairwoman Della Au Belatti had not scheduled a joint hearing on SB 261. Barring a last-minute development, the legislation will die for the session if not heard this week.

Aquino and Belatti did not respond to Civil Beat’s inquiries Tuesday.

“I’m surprised to the extent that Aquino has tried to avoid a hearing,” said Trish La Chica, policy and advocacy director for the nonprofit Hawaii Public Health Institute. “It’s not a controversial issue.”

La Chica said she met recently with the representantive, who appeared to suggest such a law should be at the county level rather than the state. She said Belatti indicated a similar concern.

But La Chica said that not having a statewide prohibition would leave many kids vulnerable. 

Teens gathered at the state Capitol Monday to urge passage of a bill banning smoking in cars when youth are present.

Coalition for A Tobacco-Free Hawaii

“He could at least let us know his concerns to give advocates a chance to address it,” she said. “I just don’t understand why he’s trying really hard not to address it.”

Meanwhile, Sara Kay and her young colleagues are not giving up.

“I understand politics can get confusing and such, but our main focus should be protecting our generation from this rising threat,” she said. “We are in these cars, and it breaks my heart that this bill could die and still children are trapped in these cars.”

In addition to the smoking prohibition, SB 261 would require the Department of Health to report on the enforceability of the act.

As Civil Beat has reported, Altria Client Services and its tobacco affiliates often rank high in terms of lobbyist spending in Hawaii. Contributions include $2,000 to Aquino in 2015 and 2016.

On Monday, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii (a program of the Hawaii Public Health Institute) held its annual Kick Butts Day youth rally at the Capitol to urge state legislators to prohibit smoking in motor vehicles when keiki are present.

First Lady Dawn Ige and state Sens. Rosalyn Baker, Will Espero, Josh Green and Karl Rhoads were among those in attendance. The senators are sponsors of SB 261.

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