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Mayor calls for more review of tax, sunscreen bills

Mayor Michael Victorino is asking for further review of two bills he recently signed into law that would offer tax relief to certain residents and ban nonmineral-based sunscreens in Maui County.

Bill 118, which would allow certain property to be designated as “aina kupuna” and qualify for the minimum property tax, was aimed at helping longtime local residents who are at risk of losing their property because of market-driven increases in property values, especially in highly sought areas along the shoreline.

Victorino, who signed the bill earlier this month, said he supports the measure and its intent but is recommending further review, which “may bring to light the financial impacts (of) dedication and any unintended consequences that may threaten the viability of this tax relief program.”

The mayor is recommending limiting new applications to dedicate property as aina kupuna through Dec. 31, 2022.

He also recommends that dedications granted between Jan. 1, 2022 and Jan. 1, 2023 be allowed to remain in the program until they no longer qualify because of conveyance to a nondescendant, conversion to a commercial use as defined in the bill or if the measure is repealed by further action.

The bill allows properties designated as aina kupuna to only pay the minimum property tax, which is currently $350 a year.

Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who introduced the bill, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that she planned to work with Victorino on his concerns.

“While I disagree with the approach, I agree with the concern, and look forward to working with the administration to address it before it becomes a problem,” she said.

Bill 135, another measure passed by the council and signed by the mayor, would prohibit the sale, use or distribution of nonmineral-based sunscreens in Maui County, amid concerns over the potential toxicity of sunscreens to marine and freshwater aquatic organisms, particularly coral.

While Victorino said he signed the bill to demonstrate his “strong commitment to preserving and protecting our natural resources, especially our coral reefs,” his administration is prepared to reevaluate the ordinance and, if applicable, propose changes to the council.

He said an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will review the state of science on the use of sunscreen ingredients that are currently marketed in the U.S., their fates and effects in aquatic environments and the potential public health implications associated with reduced use.

The committee’s recommendations could come after the findings of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the spring.

“Before this ordinance takes effect, proper evaluation and consideration needs to be given to ensure the laws we have in place are supported by the most up-to-date scientific research and literature available, and take a holistic view on the impacts of this legislation may have to both marine ecosystems and public health alike,” Victorino wrote, noting there are other contributors as well that harm the marine environment.

The bill is set to take effect Oct. 1, 2022.

Council Member Kelly King, who introduced the bill, said in an email Tuesday that while she is pleased with the mayor signing the bill, “it is concerning that he is signaling a desire for it to be potentially watered down before its effective date.”

“The law is based on the most up-to-date scientific research and literature available, and it takes a holistic view as to the impacts on marine ecosystems and public health,” King said.

She also noted the “overwhelming support” the bill has received from the community, along with Craig Downs, who is widely known as a global leading expert on sunscreen chemicals and their role in coral reef decline.

The bill also was supported by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, researchers, environmental organizations and local youth, according to a joint news release last week from King and the DLNR.

King added that in multiple meetings, concerns from lobbyists for the sunscreen and dermatology industries “did not stand up to Maui’s environmental protection efforts when adequate alternatives to chemical sunscreens are abundant.”

She acknowledged that there are many contributing factors that may harm marine ecosystems and coral reefs but that the council is addressing those as well.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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