Ige vetoes toothless bill for AG to defend county lifeguards at state beach parks

A total of 13 bills were vetoed; two were allowed to become law without governor’s signature

David Ige

David Ige

The Maui News

Gov. David Ige vetoed 13 bills Tuesday, including a measure providing limited liability protection for county lifeguards, as a law with broader protections sunset on June 30.

Senate Bill 562 would have called for the state attorney general to defend Maui County lifeguards manning Makena State Park against civil lawsuits. In vetoing the bill, Ige said Tuesday that the bill is “objectionable because it requires the attorney general to defend the counties for any civil action or proceeding, without exception.”

Though the broader protections lapsed, Ige said the attorney general will “defend any civil action or proceeding based on acts or omissions of county lifeguards working on state beaches that are within the scope of the lifeguard’s duties.”

The extension of Act 170 with its broader liability protections was proposed by the state Senate and was backed by Mayor Alan Arakawa and council members. The act provided county lifeguards with limited liability protection at state beach parks, “except for gross negligence or wanton acts or omissions.” It had been extended every five years, since being passed in 2002.

The state House stripped the immunity from the bill last session and added the attorney general provision. In conference committee, House members, holding the upper hand because the broader protections were going to lapse, took a take-it-or-leave-it position. The Senate passed the measure, promising to bring the issue up again next session.

When Ige put Senate Bill 562 on his list of potential vetoes last month, county officials offered little reaction. Arakawa said the veto would “make little difference” because it involved only Makena park. Council Chairman Mike White said “the bill as it was written, does very little to protect Maui County or our lifeguards.”

White added that he preferred having county attorneys defending lifeguards in civil litigation. “We don’t want a half-hearted defense,” he said.

The county will continue to have lifeguards man the beaches, despite the increased risk of lawsuits, White said.

Another high profile bill vetoed by the governor, Senate Bill 1240, would have prohibited the state Department of Land and Natural Resources from issuing new aquarium fish permits and establishing take limits.

Acknowledging receiving thousands of calls and emails since putting this bill on his veto list, Ige said “the science does not support the claims made in this bill” that aquarium fishermen are damaging populations. In fact, state surveys have found that aquarium fish populations are generally stable or increasing in West Hawaii, where 80 percent of the fishing occurs.

He had no objection to the part of the bill that requires the DLNR to define “sustainable” and establish policies for sustainable collection.

“The DLNR is committed to working with all stakeholders to come up with a better solution,” Ige said.

Other measures vetoed:

• House Bill 727 that would have allowed the operator of a motorcycle or motor scooter to proceed cautiously between stopped lanes of traffic and on the shoulder of highways.

• House Bill 1414 that would have required the auditor to investigate and report on problems with the Department of Taxation’s tax system modernization project.

• Senate Bill 410 which would have broadened the scope of collective bargaining by requiring negotiations on the implementation of terms and conditions of employment, including making these violations grievable by employees who disagree with those working conditions.

Ige let two bills become law without his signature, House Bill 523, which allows the Department of Accounting and General Services to establish a recycling pilot program providing onsite collection at buildings and facilities it manages, and House Bill 575, which establishes a process for the releasing or renegotiation of a lease for public lands classified as commercial or industrial use near the end of the lease term.

Ige had until Tuesday to sign, veto or let bills become law without his signature. House and Senate leaders indicated that they would not call a special session to override any of Ige’s vetoes.

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