Gov. Green signs environmental and responsible tourism legislation – Maui Now

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Gov. Josh Green speaks during a news conference today while announcing bills to expand the state’s efforts to preserve Hawai‘i’s natural resources and fostering sustainable tourism practices. PC: Office of the Governor

Gov. Josh Green signed into law Monday bills aimed at expanding the state’s efforts to preserve Hawai‘i’s natural resources and fostering sustainable tourism practices. However, one of the bills, House Bill 2475, is unpopular with commercial ocean activity operators.
“These bills represent significant steps forward in safeguarding Hawai‘i’s environment and promoting responsible tourism,” Green said. “They build upon several bills I signed previously that aim to protect our environment, further clean energy legislation and enact climate mitigation and resilience measures.”
Green said House Bill 2475 expands the regulation of commercial ocean activities in Hawai‘i’s state waters, targeting illegal operations and unpermitted commercialization promoted on social media. The legislation strengthens enforcement measures under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, safeguarding marine resources and public safety, the governor said.
Among other things, the bill provides that advertisements or offers of unpermitted commercial ocean use activities or commercial ocean recreational equipment are prima facie evidence that the commercial activity is operated at the location advertised or offered. (“Prima facie” is a Latin term that means “at first sight” or “on first impression.” In a legal context, it describes evidence that, on its face, is sufficient to establish a fact.)
In written testimony, Atlantis Submarines Maui General Manager Jim Walsh said it’s frustrating for a legal commercial vessel operator to see illegal companies doing business.
However, he expressed opposition to the bill as written because the measure places the burden of proof on the person charged with a violation. “This seems to me to be unconstitutional,” he said. “The burden of proof of a crime shall be on the government to prove, not the individual.”
“I think a better solution is to allow the police/(Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement) officers to do their job and question the passengers of a suspected illegal commercial boating operator,” Walsh said. “Good policing should be able fix this problem. The DOCARE officers fully know which vessels are suspect in this illegal activity. Ensure that they have the tools they need to appropriately address this problem.”
Lahaina resident and Gemini Charters Vice President George Garnes III submitted written testimony on Jan. 30 in strong opposition to the bill.
The bill imposes significant restrictions on commercial ocean activities in state waters, especially on weekends and holidays, Garnes said.
“As a sailing catamaran company, these proposed regulations would have a severe impact on our operations and completely jeopardize our ability to remain viable,” he wrote. “I understand the importance of effective ocean recreation management, and I appreciate efforts to strike a balance between conservation and commercial activities. However, the current language of the bill fails to consider the practical implications on businesses like mine, which are unfairly targeted and constantly blamed for various issues.”
Garnes added that “the boating industry on Maui is often unfairly singled out for environmental concerns, safety issues, or other challenges that are not solely within our control. While we are committed to responsible practices, this bill unfairly places the burden on our industry without considering the broader context and the shared responsibility of all stakeholders.”
Carrie Kinkade, director of Administration & Human Resources for Sail Maui, originally Paragon Sailing Charters Maui, said that Sail Maui has been in business since 1985, and the bill would “severely limit our company’s ability to operate, provide jobs for our employees, Maui residents, pay a livable wage, positively impact our local economy, and provide our residents, friends, family and visitors with wonderful lifelong memories while snorkeling, sailing, and whale watching along the coastlines of Maui and Lānaʻi.”
Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Dawn Chang submitted testimony in strong support of the bill, saying it will help state efforts to curb illegal commercial activity.
“There has been a rapid expansion of commercial ocean recreational activity within a relatively short period of time, leading to overuse of boating facilities, strain on natural resources, and user conflicts between recreational and commercial ocean users,” she said. “Many illegal commercial ocean operators claim that their customers are friends and/or family who are not paying for services, which hinders the Department’s efforts to enforce illegal commercial ocean activity.”
Other bills signed Monday by the governor include:
Senate Bill 3364, which mandates that the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority establish destination management action plans for Maui County, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Island, and Kaua‘i, fostering collaboration among state agencies, counties and advisory groups. “The plans aim to enhance visitor experiences, improve natural and cultural resources, develop a sustainable tourism infrastructure and promote regenerative tourism practices, with a particular focus on preserving and promoting Native Hawaiian culture,” according to the governor.
Senate Bill 2575, which prohibits seabed mining in Hawai‘i’s state marine waters, citing environmental risks. It also upholds Hawai‘i’s constitutional mandate for a clean and healthy environment. The act supports sustainable marine resource management while respecting Native Hawaiian cultural connections to the ocean.
Senate Bill 2721, which provides that certain criminal penalties (petty misdemeanor or a fine of not more than $1,000) are authorized for certain violations of ocean recreation laws.
“These bills collectively reinforce our commitment to sustainable tourism practices, environmental conservation and the preservation of Hawai‘i’s unique natural resources,” Green said.
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