OHA 2024 Legislative Summary: Successful Outcomes for Several Bills Impacting Hawaiians

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By Michele McCoy, OHA Public Policy Advocate and
Chantelle Belay, OHA Public Policy Manager

Top of mind as the the 2024 Legislative Session opened in January was the destructive wildfire that devastated Lahaina last August; Maui’s recovery was indeed a top concern for legislators this year.

Fortunately, state revenues exceeded expectations and thanks to the unexpected budget surplus, the legislature was able to pass and fund bills that have both near and long-term benefits for the lāhui. Enforcement and compliance of existing protections were also key components of the successful session.

The following is a summary of some of the key bills and a resolution for which OHA provided testimony and other advocacy. These measures addressed issues of great concern to the lāhui and/or sought to raise awareness of these issues. All were passed by the legislature and transmitted to Gov. Josh Green for signature.

HB2074 (Relating to Kaiapuni Education): This is one of the most significant bills that passed. It allocates funds to the Department of Education for kaiapuni (Hawaiian language immersion) programs and establishes three full-time equivalent (3.0 FTE) kaiapuni education curriculum specialist II positions and 10 full-time equivalent (10.0 FTE) kaiapuni classroom teacher positions. This measure will have both short and long-term benefits for Native Hawaiians by ensuring that future generations have access to a quality kaiapuni education by providing desperately needed resources and funding.

SB2289 (Relating to Kalaupapa): Providing an important nexus for historic preservation with an important link to Hawaiʻi’s past – and ensuring the community’s participation in deciding its future – was this bill which would require the Department of Health (DOH) to include Kalaupapa Settlement details and updated information in its annual report, as available, regarding the permanent transfer to other governmental or qualified non-governmental entities the powers and duties of the DOH over Kalaupapa Settlement. The measure also requires the DOH to report on its community engagement efforts with community stakeholders and the Molokaʻi community.

SB2575 (Relating to the Environment): Another important bill designed to help protect Hawaiʻi’s fragile environment for future generations will prohibit the mining, extraction, and removal of minerals from the seabed in all State of Hawaiʻi marine waters, with certain exemptions. This measure prohibits the issuance of any permit for, or in connection with, the development or operation of any facility or infrastructure associated with the mining, extraction, or removal of minerals from the seabed within Hawaiian waters.

SB3154 (Relating to Regulation of Archaeological Activities): This related bill clarifies that failure to comply with approved mitigation commitments, conduct an archaeological inventory survey, or comply with other administrative requirements pertaining to archaeology approved by the Department of Land and Natural Resources shall result in civil and administrative violations. This measure was part of the governor’s package, and we anticipate his signature.

SB2591 (Relating to Burial Sites): This bill imposes fines on private landowners who fail to disclose burial or archaeological sites on their property, providing protection for these important sites. Requires that fines collected be deposited into the Hawaiʻi Historic Preservation Special Fund.

SB2659 (Relating to Regenerative Tourism): This bill is an effort designed to change the tourist industry, which funds much of Hawaiʻi’s economy, by not only bringing Native Hawaiian voices into decision-making processes but also by respecting Hawaiian cultural values. The idea is to incorporate a regenerative framework into the Hawaiʻi State Planning Act by expanding objectives and policies for the visitor industry. This measure requires periodic updates to the Tourism Functional Plan, specifies elements to be included in the Tourism Functional plan, and requires an update to the existing Tourism Functional Plan.

Finally, the legislature passed HR21/HCR32 which requests that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs identify the scope of Native Hawaiian cultural appropriateness for the purpose of addressing Native Hawaiian social/economic disparities. A hopeful move toward addressing the long history of injustice in Hawai’i.