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House committees pass bill creating new plan for Mauna Kea

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Three state House committees today passed legislation that would create a new governing body for the summit of Mauna Kea.

The legislation now goes to the full House for consideration.

The mountain has been the focus of demonstrations in recent years to block the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would be among the planet’s largest optical observatory. Native Hawaiians who led the protests believe the mountain’s summit is sacred and the observatory would desecrate the land.

Rep. David Tarnas, the chairperson of the House Water and Land Committee, said the heads of the three House committees recognized the importance of Mauna Kea, the serious responsibility they have to manage it and the strong opinions on all sides.

“The House is seeking a path forward that provides a substantive role for Native Hawaiians in the decision making about the management of Mauna Kea and provides a stable future for astronomy on Mauna Kea,” Tarnas said before the lawmakers voted.

The legislation would require a new stewardship authority to limit the development of astronomy on the mountain. The body would also establish a plan to return the mountain to its natural state above 9,200 feet, though the legislation doesn’t set a time frame for doing so.

When the bill was introduced, it didn’t give seats on the board to a member of the astronomy community or the University of Hawaii, which manages the summit area.

The lawmakers approved an amended version that gave the university a seat. A committee report that will be sent to the rest of the House will say “additional consideration should continue” regarding adding a representative from Mauna Kea Observatories.

The new governing body would have 10 voting members, including three Native Hawaiian individuals. The three would include one who practices traditions associated with Mauna Kea, one who is descended from a practitioner and one who has expertise in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.

The Finance Committee approved the bill, along with the Water and Land Committee and Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.

Some lawmakers objected to the way the three committees heard testimony and voted on the bill together at the same time. They said this approach limited the public’s opportunity to weigh in on the legislation and amendments.

Lawmakers introduced the measure in response to recommendations from a working group that House Speaker Scott Saiki appointed last year.

At the time, the speaker said the state hadn’t appropriately managed cultural practices, resources and education at the mountain. He said he hoped a new management structure would allow the state to do this.

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