Advances on the invoice for reimbursement of search and rescue costs
A bill that would allow and in some cases require government entities to seek reimbursement of search and rescue costs was passed unanimously by its second appointed committee on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 700 would allow any government entity – usually county fire departments – to engage in search and rescue operations to claim reimbursement for expenses incurred if the need for the operation were caused. by the person in need of rescue.
Entities would be required to claim reimbursement if the person bypassed reasonable notice and / or signs and walked on a closed trail or left a marked hiking trail to enter closed private, state or county land.
The measure, introduced by Big Island Senator Joy San Buenaventura (D-Puna, Ka’u) and eight others, was passed 7-0 with amendments by the Senate Judicial Committee on Wednesday. It then goes to a reading in the Senate, where if passed, it will be returned to the House for consideration.
“It’s an interesting mix of people opposed and supportive of this one. I would like to continue the conversation and therefore I will suggest that we postpone the effective date of May 6, 2137 to continue the discussion, ”said committee chair Senator Karl Rhoads (D-Oahu) before senators . , including Hilo Sen. Laura Acasio, each voted ‘yes’.
Evidence submitted to the decision-making hearing was overwhelming in support of the passage of the measure, 11 supporting the measure and three opposing it. All but one of the letters of support for the measure were submitted by individuals calling on taxpayers to stop funding rescue operations from those who break the rules.
Pololu resident Brittney Kehaulani Hedlund said that in 2021 alone there had been five efforts to clear the valley and the six valleys beyond.
“More often than not, residents of this area will advise tourists who then decide to continue their trek despite posted signs, warnings and verbal instructions not to descend into the valley as they are not prepared to deal with flash floods. , with heartbreaking tides, strong currents and big waves, ”she wrote. “Moreover, when tourists and residents access other valleys via Pololu, they are in effect entering private property and should be fined not only for their extrication, but also for breaking the laws of the State and county. ”
The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources was the only non-individual to testify in favor of the measure, saying it supported any strategy to “encourage the general public to stay in authorized managed areas”, but referred back to the counties who actually undertake the operations.
Manuel P. Neves, president of the National Fire Council, said in his opposition that the reimbursement requirement may deter or delay prompt notification of first responder agencies.
“Such a delay in requesting assistance will worsen the situation, further endangering the lives of those involved and their potential rescuers,” he wrote in testimony filed Monday. “In addition, there is no mechanism to request reimbursement for these situations. Establishing a reimbursement mechanism will require a significant administrative effort on the part of the four county fire departments to establish and maintain. “
Another bill in motion in the Senate, Senate Bill 363, would also require reimbursement for hikers who must be rescued after leaving a marked trail or ignoring “closed” or “no trespassing” signs. In addition, it would add new penalties for minor offenses for illegal hiking. This measure died after failing to secure a single hearing this session.