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Measures spurred by molasses leak fail at Capitol

By Cathy Bussewitz

LAST UPDATED: 7:13 a.m. HST, May 9, 2014

A massive molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor last fall led Hawaii lawmakers to introduce legislation designed to prevent a repeat disaster.

But the proposals they crafted failed to survive the 2014 legislative session.

Three bills were introduced in the Hawaii House, and another two were proposed in the Senate. But all of those measures died in the Senate at various stages, according to the Legislature's website.

The spill in September killed more than 26,000 fish and other marine creatures when about 1,400 tons of molasses dumped into the harbor. It had oozed from a section of pipe that was thought to be sealed off.

One of the measures, House Bill 2621, aimed to make government agencies and contractors report issues quickly by creating a maximum time limit for alerting authorities to problems. It also would have required government agencies and contractors to cooperate in investigations. It passed the House, but it never got a committee hearing in the Senate.

Another bill, HB 2622, proposed to take money collected from fines imposed on those that violate marine life conservation rules. That money would then be spent on shoring up conservation efforts and protecting the health of coral reefs. It also passed the House but didn't get a hearing in the Senate. A companion bill, Senate Bill 3017, never made it to a committee hearing.

The proposal that made it the furthest -- HB 2620 -- would have required the University of Hawaii to update a report laying out the state's emergency response to spills. The university had done such a report in 1996, but it has not been updated, lawmakers said. That bill passed both chambers, but they couldn't agree on amendments, so the proposal died in a conference committee right before a deadline. Its companion bill, SB 3016, also stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kailua-Lanikai-Waimanalo) and Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), who introduced the bills, did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

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