POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Apr 05, 2014
A key state House committee advanced a bill Thursday evening that limits the state's liability on public lands, relieving outdoor enthusiasts worried that litigation fears could lead to parks being shut down.
The House Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 1007 aiming to protect the state against lawsuits when hikers or rock climbers injure themselves on public lands. The protection was set to expire in June, but the bill would make that protection permanent.
Extreme sports fans like mountain bikers and paragliders worry that if the protection expires, the state may shut down some popular, picturesque areas. They said passing the bill could save the state money.
"The cost of putting up signs and maintaining those signs is going to be considerably less than the possibility of paying for lawsuits," said Mike Solis, owner of Mountain Bike Hawaii in Laie.
Rock climbers in particular have been pushing for the bill because climbing areas have been closed since 2012, when a girl was critically injured while climbing at Mokuleia Crag, a popular rock climbing spot also on the North Shore.
"I'm a rock climber. This is what I love doing, and now I don't have it," said Dawn Burns, a Sunset Beach resident. "It's like taking ocean access away from surfers."
Mike Richardson, who owns the rock-climbing store Climb Aloha, said his revenues have nosedived since the closures — sales of recreational equipment fell 70 percent to 80 percent.
The closures hurt tourism because climbers will go to Costa Rica or other destinations instead of Hawaii, Richardson said.
"For the last two years, we've gotten 200 emails or more asking, ‘What's the situation? I want to come there, is stuff open yet?'" he said. "I haven't been able to take my son climbing for the last two years."
Advocates were relieved that the bill, which languished on the committee's list of bills for more than a month, was heard and approved before a legislative deadline to pass bills out of committees.
"I'm happy that the committee passed it out," said Debora Halbert, a rock climber from Manoa. "We spent the last week trying to get it scheduled."
The bill now goes to the House floor. It passed the Senate earlier this legislative session but is likely to go to a conference committee because the measure was changed.
Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press