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Bill advances to fine hikers for search and rescue efforts in closed areas

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It seems like every year the state Legislature takes up a measure that would allow county and state agencies to seek reimbursement on search and rescue operations.

Rep. David Tarnas of Hawaiʻi Island, who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, said that in all his years in the Legislature, he's never seen testimony from the state on a bill of this nature.

"This the first time that I since I've been around that we actually have testimony in support from a state agency, the Department of Law Enforcement, and in support from the Hawaiʻi Firefighters Association," Tarnas said.

Despite opposition from the State Fire Council and Honolulu Police Department, the committee passed Senate Bill 786 forward, in the hopes it will have a chance this session.

The bill would require the city to charge people who need to be rescued while in areas closed to the public.

"Such a delay in requesting for assistance may exacerbate the situation, further endangering the lives of persons involved and their potential rescuers," Maui Fire Chief Bradford Ventura wrote in testimony.

Typically, the arguments against charging for rescues is that it would deter calls for help, and that there isn’t currently a system for collection.

Robert Lee, the union president of the Hawaiʻi Fire Fighters Association, stood in support of the measure.

"If you go ahead and you charge, then you'll create some kind of mechanism to collect, I mean, that's just like everything else," Lee said. "The police, they have something in place to collect for tickets."

Lee said it's "old-school thinking" that people wouldn't call for help, further endangering themselves.

"When you're in trouble, you're going to call, you're not gonna think about money," Lee said. "People don't think about it when they call an ambulance, and they deal with it afterwards."

The measure will now go to the House Finance committee.

"I think we need to figure out a solution to this," Tarnas said.

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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