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Hawaii News

2 bills aimed at preventing drownings in Hawaii become law

Hawaii’s first annual Water Safety Day occurred Wednesday under a newly-­enacted law aimed at spreading awareness to prevent children and adults from drowning.

Gov. Josh Green signed Senate Bill 2841 to make every May 15 Water Safety Day for the state, and in tandem Wednesday signed a separate bill to raise money for water safety programs and efforts by authorizing the sale of special Hawaii license plates honoring legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kaha­na­moku.

Green, a medical doctor, noted that drowning has been the leading cause of death in Hawaii for children from 2018 to 2022, and said bringing more awareness to the issue in an effort to reduce such tragedies is important.

“Hawaii’s beautiful, everyone worships our shores,” he said during a bill-signing ceremony in his office at the state Capitol. “But residents need to know that there are dangers out there, and visitors need to know too.”

Several lawmakers and water safety advocates who backed both bills also participated in the ceremony.

“We are doing this in memory of our loved ones that we have lost,” said Jessamy Hornor, coordinator of the Hawaii Water Safety Coalition. “And we hope that no other families have to go through what we have.”

Other water safety advocates who were part of the ceremony and were involved with the legislation included Shirley De Rego, who in 2005 lost her then-12-year-old son Alex in the ocean off Hawaii island, and Allison Schaefers, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter whose daughter, Charlotte, died at age 5 in 2004 after trying to help another child who fell into a clogged flood detention basin at their Oahu military housing complex.

Rep. Adrian Tam (D, Waikiki) thanked advocates for their work that helped lead to the two new laws.

“For many of them this issue hits really close to home, as they’ve lost loved ones to drowning in Hawaii,” he said. “But they turned their heartbreak into advocacy, and it led us here today where we are signing two incredible bills.”

The other legislation signed into law, SB 116, will allow counties to issue license plates emblazoned with Kahanamoku’s name and likeness. Plate buyers will pay a county fee for the plates plus a fundraising fee that goes to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation to help its efforts in water safety.

We shouldn’t have people drowning, especially local residents, especially our keiki,” said Sarah Fairchild, executive director of the nonprofit.

Tam said drowning is the fifth-highest cause of fatal injuries in Hawaii, and that in 2023 Hawaii had the second­-highest drowning rate in the nation.

Sen. Chris Lee (D, Kailua-­Waimanalo-Hawaii Kai) said more people need to recognize and help address dangers that Hawaii waters pose to people.

”This is about an issue that is often taken for granted, like traffic fatalities and other things that we’ve just sort of come to accept in Hawaii,” he said. “But this is a moment when we can look at that and say it doesn’t have to be this way. Almost every single situation is preventable with the right training, the right awareness, the right eyes on a situation. And that’s where I think we can really create awareness and ultimately save lives.”

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