Hawaii lawmakers have reversed course on a measure that would have held authors and publishers liable if readers suffered injury or death as a result of being encouraged to trespass onto private or public lands. Instead, the bill will be amended to call for a task force to study the issue.

House Bill 548, aimed at tourism publications and websites, proclaims that publishers “shall have a duty to warn” the public of dangerous conditions. Publishers would also have to indemnify landowners and the state in case of lawsuits resulting from injury or death.

But State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chairwoman of the Senate Tourism Committee, said Tuesday that the bill will instead be changed to include a task force to identify problem areas and recommend remedies.

While Kim did not say who exactly will sit on the task force, the Senate bill she referred to — Senate Bill 1207, which died in Senate committee — specified that the task force would include representatives from the visitor and publishing industry, the Office of Attorney General, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, private landowners and lawmakers.

HB 548 and similar measures were introduced by Kauai lawmakers who are concerned about visitors trespassing Grove Farm land to reach Kipu Falls.

Publishers and editors had testified in strong opposition to the original intent of HB 548, which went through several rewrites. At one point, the bill proposed holding a person liable for their tweets and Facebook updates. Opponents included the Islander Group, a major distributor of books marketed by Hawaii publishers.

The ACLU of Hawaii also opposed the bill, testifying that visitor guides and visitor guide websites are protected under the First Amendment.

“It is well-settled that state tort laws cannot circumvent or override the protections afforded by the First Amendment,” ACLU attorney Laurie Temple testified.

But the measure was supported by influential organizations like the Hawaii Tourism Authority and landowners like Kamehameha Schools, who argued that some visitors make risky decisions based on the recommendations of tour guide publications.

Kauai Sen. Ron Kouchi, who sits on Senate Tourism, says he was grateful for the compromise measure.

“The whole intent is to save lives and protect poeple as we well as our island,” he said. “I believe a task force will go a long way. It was never my intent to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment right.”

Senate Tourism is expected to schedule decision making on the proposed amendment for HB 548 for a later date.

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