Gov. David Ige has set a record for his administration by vetoing all or parts of 28 measures passed by the Legislature this year, but he still praised state lawmakers for their accomplishments in a “historic session” when the state was awash in extra cash.

Ige also told reporters Tuesday that he had changed his mind about a bill to more closely track the activities of helicopter tour companies, and finally signed the measure into law after U.S. Rep. Ed Case made a pitch for it. However, a Honolulu tour company operator on Tuesday predicted the new law will quickly be challenged in court.

As expected, Ige vetoed a bill that would have modified Hawaii’s bail system by requiring judges to release some people who are arrested for low-level, nonviolent offenses without requiring them to post cash bail. The bill was opposed by the four county mayors, and Ige said some of the no-bail releases would “pose significant risks to public safety.”

He also rejected a bill that would have given the Legislature the power to terminate with a two-thirds vote any state of emergency declared by the governor. That measure was prompted by the drawn-out coronavirus pandemic emergency, but Ige said the bill would interfere with a governor’s duty “to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare.”

Governor David Ige holds a press conference announcing bills he intends to veto.
Gov. David Ige initially said he’d veto 30 bills, but he reconsidered and approved two of them. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Ige also rejected a measure to increase funding for Child Welfare Services by $8 million because the bill also would have required CWS to supervise and investigate adoptive families in ways the governor said would violate the constitutional rights of those families.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said he met with Senate President Ron Kouchi on Friday, and they agreed there would be no veto overrides this year. Lawmakers will have an opportunity next year to revive some of the bills and fix some of the technical flaws that Ige identified, Saiki said.

The governor’s 28 vetoes this year topped his previous record of 27 vetoes in 2021. He is a Democrat dealing with a Legislature that was dominated by his own party during his tenure, but he still averaged nearly 15 vetoes per year during his administration. Ige will leave office in December after serving for eight years.

Ige stressed the accomplishments of the session, noting he had signed 311 of the 343 bills passed by the Legislature, which was buoyed by a budget surplus of more than $2 billion.

“This session is another example that we can do great things when we work together,” he said.

The measures allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to Native Hawaiian causes, affordable housing projects and other issues important to taxpayers. That was a welcome change from the previous years that saw pandemic-induced budget concerns.

“I really did want to thank the Legislature for their hard work and commitment. We were able to respond to Native Hawaiian homesteading programs, to fulfilling our obligations to Hawaiians,” he said. “We made a huge investment in affordable housing — historic investments — and I think most importantly we were able to restore damaging budget cuts” enacted over the previous two sessions.

Ige released a list of bills last month that he tentatively planned to veto, and that list included Senate Bill 3272 dealing with tour helicopters. The measure requires that helicopter tour operators provide the state Department of Transportation with monthly reports on the details of their flights to better track noise and public safety issues.

The bill would also create a task force to try to address problems with tour flights, but Ige was initially skeptical the bill would accomplish much because the state has no authority to regulate airspace and aircraft operations. Those issues fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, Case told Ige that he believes the measure would help spur the federal government to finally address the problems of noise and low-flying aircraft.

“I do know that noise from low-flying aircraft is a big concern in our community all across the state, and I believe that the task force can help communicate concerns and develop solutions to address this issue,” Ige told reporters.

Customers return from a doors off tour on Magnum Helicopters tour.
Customers return from a tour on Magnum Helicopters. The president of Magnum predicted a bill requiring tour companies to report flight data to the state will trigger a lawsuit. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Richard Schuman, president of the Honolulu-based Magnum Helicopters, predicted that the bill will trigger a lawsuit. It requires air tour companies to report information on each flight including every takeoff, landing, flight path and flight altitudes throughout each trip. He compared that to requiring motorists to record their speeds for each portion of each trip.

Those reports would be required as a condition of the state permits that allow the tour companies to operate from state airports, and Schuman said the state is “overreaching.”

“No one’s going to read it from the state of Hawaii, they’re not going to do anything with it, so the operators are probably not going to comply. Hence, it goes nowhere,” he said.

However, state Sen. Chris Lee said the flight data would finally provide important, basic information about the tour flights “to be able to make the case to the FAA that something should change. This will be the first time that the state or anybody working the issue has a comprehensive set of data so there are actually recommendations based on science and data.”

Ige also reversed course and signed SB 3179 to create a “bounty” program for hunters to reduce the axis deer populations on neighbor islands including Maui.

Ige said he met with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to discuss the department’s concerns with the bill, and the participants identified strategies that can make the project work.

“I think everyone agrees that this can be an important part of our efforts to control the population of the invasive axis deer if we can establish a system which responds to the concerns raised by the department,” he said.

Ige followed through on his warnings last month to veto some other high-profile bills, including:

— A bill intended to ban flavored tobacco products. Ige said it had been modified late in the session in a way that made it “effectively useless.”

The language added to HB 1570 would allow some electronic cigarette manufacturers to continue selling flavored products if they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

— A controversial bill requiring that 33% of renewable energy be generated by what is called “firm renewables,” which mostly means generators using geothermal, wood, renewable natural gas or biodiesel.

Ige said SB 2510, which was pushed through the Legislature with the help of influential lawmakers, could make it more difficult to achieve the state’s renewable energy goals by limiting the types of projects that can be built on each island.

Critics saw the bill as an effort to help the tree-burning Hu Honua biomass plant on the Big Island, but senators who supported the measure characterized it as a way to move the state to renewable energy more quickly.

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