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Invasive species bills face chopping block

Two approved legislative bills addressing Hawaii’s growing invasive species problems are among the 17 on the chopping block.

One of them is House Bill 2619, a much-lauded bill appropriating nearly $20 million to the state Department of Agriculture to tackle invasive species. The second, Senate Bill 572, authorizes the HDOA to declare a biosecurity emergency under specific conditions.

Gov. Josh Green placed both bills on his intent-to-veto list in an effort to balance the budget.

The Office of the Governor said in a written statement that after enacting the largest income tax cut in Hawaii’s history, there was a need to reevaluate spending and appropriations.

“The Governor is looking at several appropriations bills, including HB2619, to reduce funds in order to help balance the state’s budget, but also to ensure there is a healthy carryover balance in excess of $300 million for fiscal stability,” said the office. “While the Governor strongly supports biosecurity and the need for additional resources to fight invasive species, he must also balance the needs of the entire budget.”

The office said Green is working with HDOA to figure out “a reasonable amount that could be expended in the single fiscal year.”

“As such, he is currently looking at a reduction to around $10 million,” said the office, “which still provides the department a significant infusion of additional resources.”

The bills were approved at a time of heightened urgency over the growing problem of invasive species and underfunded efforts to address them.

State legislators representing Windward Oahu hosted town halls on little fire ants, while Kalihi lawmakers held a community meeting on the coconut rhinoceros beetles as both pests continue to wreak havoc across the island.

In a Senate committee briefing, lawmakers also grilled HDOA over its response to an LFA infection among hundreds of plants donated to the Punahou Carnival.

The state Legislature unanimously approved HB 2619, which allotted the HDOA with millions to boost its efforts, including $3.2 million to hire 44 more positions, plus $2.5 million to tackle invasive little fire ants and $1.5 million to combat coconut rhinoceros beetles, among other initiatives.

HDOA would be the lead agency coordinating the state’s invasive pest control and biosecurity efforts.

In the interest of more transparency, the bill also required HDOA to post real-time updates of its efforts, including time, location, actions performed and names of staff and organizations involved.

Green wrote in his veto rationale that while he strongly supported the bill’s intent, he was concerned by the feasibility of expending those funds.

“Part of this ongoing effort is to determine the appropriate level of funding that is feasible and executable by the DOA,” wrote Green. “With existing challenges to staffing vacancies and existing appropriations for biosecurity, the dollar amount in this bill will be assessed to ensure effective impact of funds for biosecurity.”

The bill garnered widespread support, from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to the Hawaii Farm Bureau and Ulupono Initiative.

In an April HDOA news release, Green called the bill “landmark legislation” in the fight against invasive species and said, “We can do better in protecting our aina, agriculture and our way of life.”

State Rep. Kirstin Kahaloa (D, Honaunau-Kailua-Kona) said the funding cut is disappointing, especially as it was an omnibus bill honoring the work of former state Rep. Clift Tsuji, who championed biosecurity issues.

Biosecurity affects not just agriculture and conservation, she said, but lifestyles in communities, including stinging fire ants that get into families’ yards and playgrounds or coconut trees decimated into toothpicks by beetles.

“This was something the Legislature championed together,” she said. “To have some of that cut, it stings a little.”

Still, Kahaloa said she is grateful for any programmatic funding that remains intact, and that she will continue efforts to push for biosecurity again in 2025.

“We’re going to holomua — go forward — and continue to push biosecurity issues, which aren’t going to go away,” she said. “We need to continue to support those efforts.”

The other bill on the governor’s veto list, SB 572, would have authorized HDOA to declare a biosecurity emergency under specific conditions.

During a declared emergency, HDOA, with the governor’s approval, would be able take certain actions to prevent the establishment or spread of invasive pests or restricted organisms.

It was supported by the Hawaii Farm Bureau and Maui Chamber of Commerce, and opposed by Young Brothers and Matson Navigation Co.

Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, testified that invasive species have become one of the most devastating problems affecting the state, damaging both the environment and the economy.

“Agriculture suffers when invasive species are introduced,” he said. “Every year, numerous new pests are introduced into the state, such as the coqui frog, coffee berry borer, macadamia felted coccid, little fire ant, coconut rhinoceros beetle, small hive beetle and varroa mite, to name a few. Control measures take time to develop, leaving farmers and ranchers at risk.”

In his veto rationale, Green said the overwhelming majority of Hawaii’s com­mercial goods, including consumer goods, motor vehicles, construction materials and fuel, move through the state’s harbors.

“Select sections of this legislation may impede harbor operations and the timely movement of those commercial goods transported through our ports,” he wrote. He said there could instead be a “more methodical and limited approach.”

HDOA, which supported both bills, declined to comment, saying it would defer to the governor’s office at this time. The governor has until July 10 to make a final decision.
Source: The Garden Island

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