Six working groups will be tasked with evaluating prevention, remediation, housing and other key topics before the 2024 session.

The Hawaii House of Representatives is setting up six interim working groups to make recommendations regarding the wildfires that devastated Lahaina last month.

The legislative proposals will be taken up in the new session that begins in January.

“The House members have been looking for a way to help in some way, and we felt working groups was the best way to assess what is happening on the ground, to see where the shortfalls are, and then to make an assessment and evaluation and take those lessons to propose legislation in January,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said Wednesday.

House Speaker Scott Saiki (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Saiki said the No. 1 priority would be wildfire prevention and could include a range of proposals including controlling wild grasslands. He also emphasized that the work of the groups amounts to a “crucial responsibility.”

While the House is controlled by Democrats, Saiki said the minority Republican caucus will also be involved.

“They want to be part of the solution — they made that clear,” he said.

In a press release, House Minority Leader Lauren Matsumoto stated, “This tragic event will affect the entire State for years to come. The House Republicans are ready to work together with the community of Lahaina and our legislative colleagues to find a collaborative path forward.”

The working group on wildfire prevention will be led by Reps. Linda Ichiyama and Darius Kila, and the goal of all groups is to focus on “immediate issues that require temporary or transitional relief.”

The bipartisan work will involve collaboration with federal, state, and county agencies as well as with community stakeholders and other interested parties, according to House leadership.

The other working groups will address schools (co-chaired by Reps. Justin Woodson and Jenna Takenouchi), jobs and business (Reps. Daniel Holt and Andrew Takuya Garrett), environmental remediation (Reps. Nicole Lowen and Elle Cochran), shelter (Reps. Troy Hashimoto and Luke Evslin) and food, water and other supplies (Reps. Greggor Ilagan and Terez Amato).

A draft report is due Nov. 1 while the final report is expected Dec. 15. While legislators do not formally convene until Jan. 17 — which is also the day the working groups expire — bills are typically crafted in the months prior.

Saiki said he could not recall a similar working group response to such a major crisis. He also said he expected that a special session of the Legislature this fall now seems doubtful.

“The closer that we draw toward January, the less likely is is that we will hold a special session,” he said, adding that the “the onus” of the wildfire response is primarily on the Green administration, Maui County and FEMA. 

Saiki said the House has not discussed the working groups with the state Senate.

Senate President Ron Kouchi didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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