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Hawai‘i green fee bill dies in conference session

LIHU‘E — Another year, another failed green fee bill for Hawai‘i.

A proposal to charge nonresidents for use of Hawai‘i’s recreational sites fell short of passing on Friday, April 28, during a frantic push to send the state Legislature’s remaining bills to a final vote.

Originally, Senate Bill 304 would have required visitors ages 15 and older to purchase a one-year, $50 license in order to enter any state park, beach, forest, hiking trail or “other natural areas on state land.” Visitors found without a valid license would be subject to an undetermined fine. Funds obtained through the program would go toward projects protecting Hawai‘i’s ecology and natural resources.

The bill remained largely unchanged until it reached conference committee, a bi-chamber group of legislators assigned to settle disagreements between the House and Senate versions of bills.

During the committee meeting on Friday morning, Senate conferee chair Lorraine Inouye (D-District 1) announced that the conference members had rewritten SB 304, removing the visitor impact fee entirely. Instead, the bill would have appropriated $500,000 to create an “implementation plan.”

Crucially, though, Inouye added that the committee was still waiting for approval from both the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance committees — a requirement for the bill to reach a conferee vote.

The conferees deferred their decision to 5 p.m. to give the committees time to approve the draft bill, but as approval never came, the bill died without ever receiving a vote.

Carissa Cabrera, project manager at advocacy group Hawai‘i Green Fee Coalition, told The Garden Island that the bill’s no-vote death came as a surprise to her.

“I think we were just so hopeful because of how much attention and support there is for a visitor impact fee, and just really how much that support’s become front and center this year to voters, community members and elected leaders,” she said.

Indeed, several of the state’s prominent political figures have come out in support of such a fee.

Throughout his campaign, Gov. Josh Green promoted a statewide $50 visitor impact fee — a position he’s held since taking office.

“The revenues generated from visitor impact fees should fortify all of our efforts to protect Hawai‘i’s people and our way of life,” said Green during his State of the State Address in January.

Additionally, Senate President Ron Kouchi (D-District 8) voiced support for a visitor impact fee during the Legislature’s opening earlier this year.

While SB 304 did ultimately fail, Cabrera noted that this is the closest a green fee bill has gotten to passing. Last year, a similar bill stalled in the now-defunct House Labor and Tourism Committee after passing the Senate.

Previous legislative sessions have also had green fee bills introduced, with limited success.

“Just because this didn’t make it over the finish line this year doesn’t mean progress wasn’t made,” Cabrera said. “And it definitely doesn’t mean that the idea doesn’t have traction. When big, bold solutions like a visitor impact fee get introduced, it makes sense that it takes time for people to warm up to the idea. But we’re seeing progress every year.”

She said she remains confident a green fee bill will one day become law.

“Our coalition isn’t losing hope or faith that this could potentially become a reality,” she said. “Because, at the end of the day, visitors and residents agree that a green fee is a small price to pay to reinvest in our environment.”

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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