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Lawmakers defer bill nullifying HTA

LIHU‘E —The survival of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority remains uncertain, as lawmakers announced Friday that they were unable to reach an agreement on a measure aiming to replace the agency with a state-run office.

Their announcement that the bill won’t be moving forward comes just days after the HTA was axed from the final version of the state budget, leaving them with zero dollars in operational funding appropriated for the upcoming spending cycle.

House Bill 1375, introduced by state Rep. Sean Quinlan (D-District 47), says “that the Legislature finds that the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority has failed to effectively execute its duties to manage the tourism marketing plan for the state.”

The bill was aiming to repeal and replace the HTA with an Office of Tourism and Destination Management within the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.

But in a Senate-House conference committee meeting on Friday afternoon, Sen. Lynn DeCoite (D-District 13), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism, stated they “could not reach an agreement during the time allotted.”

“At this time, I’m recommending that we defer this measure. I appreciate the conversations that we’ve been having,” said Decoite.

The bill was slated to be heard at 10 a.m., but was postponed multiple times throughout the day, as lawmakers also reconvened at 12:50 p.m. and 2 p.m. to state they were still in discussions.

Decoite was joined by co-chairs Donovan Dela Cruz (D-District 22) and Sen. Glenn Wakai (D-District 15), as well as Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-District 14), and Sen. Kurt Fevella (R-District 19).

In attendance from the House committee were lead chair Quinlan and co-chairs Rep. Daniel Holt (D-District 28), Rep. Linda Ichiyama (D-District 32), and House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D-District 12). They were joined by Rep. Lisa Kitagawa (D-District 48) and Rep. Kanani Souza (D-District 43).

Decoite made most of the remarks in the approximately two-minute long 3 p.m. meeting, where she said that there were disagreements.

“In light of that, there are funds that are available to address some of the needs for the tourism industry to deal with destination management,” DeCoite said.

DeCoite pointed toward those funds in a statement released shortly after the meeting, where she said that the HTA would operate with federal funding and made no mention of funding from the state.

“Despite the impasse with the House on creating a proposed Office of Destination Management, I am confident that HTA can continue to operate with roughly $30 million of unspent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds,” said DeCoite. “I am eager to have further discussions on this crucial issue with HTA and our legislative colleagues in the next legislative session.”

The tourism authority had requested $75 million for the 2023-2024 fiscal year and $60 million for fiscal year 2024-2025.

A previous version of the state budget had appropriated $35 million to the HTA, before that was later changed to zero dollars. In March, HTA President John DeFries publicly criticized the $35 million allotment, saying it would “cause significant across-the-board funding cuts” and was “not a prudent approach.”

Ilihia Gionson, the HTA’s public affairs officer, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the conference committee meeting.
Source: The Garden Island

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