But the measure has been sitting in the House Finance Committee for more than a month and it’s unlikely that Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke will hear the bill before a key deadline on Friday. Luke did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
SB 1007 would make permanent Act 82, a 2003 law that created a system in which the Department of Land and Natural Resources identifies dangerous natural sites and puts up warning signs that protect the state from unlimited liability.
The bill would also make it harder for a person to sue the state if she or he gets hurt through “non-natural conditions” on state land, such as a faulty rope on a cliff or a man-made trail.
Hawaii taxpayers have shelled out millions of dollars in settlements for past accidents on state land. Two years ago, Hawaii paid $15.4 million to the relatives of two tourists who died after falling off a cliff on a hike in Kauai. The trail has since been closed.
Advocates for public trails tried to get SB 1007 passed last year but it stalled in the House. This year, the House Judiciary Committee revived the measure and passed it on Feb. 10.
The panel received more than 250 pages of testimony, all of it in favor of shielding the state from unlimited liability and guaranteeing access to trails. The Attorney General and the Department of Land and Natural Resources both strongly supported the bill.
William Aila, director of the DLNR, called the legislation “critical” to protect the state from closing off areas or spending a lot of money to try to make natural conditions safer.
Attorney General David Louie’s testimony was similarly emphatic.
“Act 82 must be made permanent,” Louie said. “The need to preserve the system that the law established is even more imperative now, as Hawaii continues to maintain its status and grow as a destination for visitors seeking outdoor activities, some of which may be very risky.”
But since February, the House Finance Committee hasn’t considered the bill.
House rules normally require hearing notices to be posted 48 hours in advance, so it’s unlikely that the proposal will be heard before the deadline on Friday. But House Clerk Brian Takeshita said that the speaker of the house could conceivably waive the 48-hour requirement during the floor sessions on Thursday or Friday.
Anne Lopez, a lawyer at the attorney general’s office, said that the office wants the proposal to pass because Act 82 expires on June 30 this year.
If the law is allowed to expire, the state could be liable for more accidents, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in potential lawsuits.
Proponents of the bill say that the measure is important to ensure that Hawaii’s trails stay open. More than 2,250 residents and tourists have signed a Change.org petition urging the Legislature to pass the bill.
Last year, the bill was opposed by a group of lawyers known as the Hawaii Association for Justice who work on various cases including personal injury lawsuits. According to the Legislature’s website, the group didn’t submit written testimony this year.
Contact Anita Hofschneider via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ahofschneider
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues