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Hawaii News

Laws ban shark fins, raise cigarette tax

New state laws taking effect today will be taking a bite out of the local shark fin industry.

Other laws will charge fees for mixed martial arts events, increase cigarette taxes, raise payment for traffic abstracts and strip businesses and nonprofits of tax-exempt status if they do not file general excise tax returns.

Animal rights advocates lauded the shark fin ban yesterday, hoping it will make a big splash across the globe.


In total, 66 laws become effective today. They include:

» Act 38: Requires proof an individual is legally in the United States before obtaining a Hawaii driver’s license.
» Act 59: Eliminates the state income tax deduction for political contributions, increases the tax on each cigarette sold and temporarily doubles regulation fees paid by the insurance industry.
» Act 96: Prohibits seizure of firearms and ammunition from law-abiding individuals during a disaster or emergency.
b Includes amateur mixed martial arts under the state’s mixed martial arts regulatory program, and adjusts fees charged of promoters.
b Appropriates $67 million from the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to restore public school instructional days.
» Act 171: Reaffirms that the state will provide tax refunds within 90 days of the filing of the return or on the date of the return.

Source: Governor’s Office

The new law prohibits possession, sale or distribution of shark fins in Hawaii. It is the first of its kind in the world, animal rights advocates said yesterday at a news conference.

"This is going to start the movement to give the sharks some hope for the future," said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, an international group seeking to end wildlife trade.

Restaurants will no longer serve shark fin soup, a delicacy offered on some Chinese menus, unless they obtain a permit from the state to serve their remaining inventory. That grace period will last for a year.

The law also makes it illegal to sell and trade shark fins. The only other exemption is for education and research, like at the University of Hawaii.

First-time offenders may be fined between $5,000 and $15,000, according to the law. The penalty goes up to between $35,000 to $50,000, and up to a year in prison for those caught a third time. Vessels caught in violation of the law face seizure and forfeiture of their equipment and boat.

Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe), who introduced the bill, said he will meet with animal advocates in other regions, including California, Palau and Vanuatu.

"It has gained a tremendous amount of traction internationally," Hee said.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo of Guam introduced federal legislation to crack down on shark fin trade and close a loophole in federal law that allowed for finning. The legislation was passed in the House and is before the Senate.

"We’re hopeful that Congress will follow Hawaii’s lead, pass this legislation and in the future look at something what Hawaii just passed, prohibiting the possession of fins," said Inga Gibson, Hawaii’s director for the Humane Society of the United States.


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WildAid’s Knights said Chinese government officials are already receptive to a shark fin ban, airing on state television a WildAid commercial starring NBA superstar Yao Ming. In the ad, Ming swears off shark fin soup after witnessing how it is made.

The cigarette tax increase, aimed at reducing smoking, goes up 40 cents to $3 a pack from $2.60, pushing the average retail cost of cigarettes to $7.79 a pack.

For smokers with a pack-a-day habit, the cost of cigarettes will be about $2,800 a year.

"With all the compelling health reasons and with the cost of cigarettes getting even higher, now more than ever is the right time to quit," said Julian Lipsher, program manager of the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program at the state Department of Health.

Another law effective today will require all businesses and nonprofits to register to do business with the state, despite their tax-exemption status.

The former state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi said in testimony for the bill that it is "rational and justifiable" to disallow tax benefits unless basic information is filed.


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