Supporters had hoped they had the momentum to get it through the Legislature this year.

Hawaii lawmakers opted not to pass what would have been a novel visitor-impact fee during this year’s legislative session, despite broad support for the initiative by local environmental groups and polls showing that most state voters supported it.

The green fee measure that had been advancing through the Legislature proposed charging Hawaii visitors a $50 fee to offset their impacts on the islands’ fragile but heavily trafficked natural resources. 

On Friday morning, conferees from the House and Senate looking to reach an agreement on Senate Bill 304 discussed watering it down by removing the visitor impact fee program itself and instead calling for state officials to come up with an “implementation plan.”

But later in the day, during a whirlwind final round of hearings to approve bills through conference committee, the bill failed to advance.

The latest effort to approve a statewide visitor impact fee died Friday amid a chaotic flurry of last-minute activity to get legislation passed. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Rep. Sean Quinlan, the House Tourism Committee chair, said after the marathon session that he believed the bill failed amid the “cattle call” rush to approve as many bills as possible at the last possible moment.

SB 304 was among a group of bills that could not advance Friday afternoon because they didn’t get the necessary approvals from the two chambers’ money committees, Quinlan said.

He said the measure was especially important to his North Shore district, and that he would do his “damnedest” to get the green fee passed next session.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who chaired the conference committee on SB 304 for the Senate, declined to comment Friday.

Gov. Josh Green campaigned last year on creating a statewide “climate impact fee” of about $50, and the idea was among the top environmental initiatives in this year’s legislative agenda. 

It died in last year’s conference session as well. Environmental groups have been lobbying for the fee for the past several years and were hopeful that this was the year there would be enough political momentum to finally get it passed.

“There obviously was not (the) political will, which is unfortunate and disappointing considering the overwhelming support that has been so clear throughout the session from residents and visitors,” said Carissa Cabrera, project manager with the grassroots Hawaii Green Fee Coalition, on Friday. 

She said it was “really disappointing” that lawmakers were unable to at least lay the foundation for progress.

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