Monday, March 29, 2010

Hawaii Environmental Reform Bill Deferred Indefinitely

On March 25, 2010, the House Committee on Finance (FIN) recommend that SB2818 SD2 HD2 be deferred indefinitely.

SB2818 started off in the Senate, where monumental changes to Hawaii's environmental review system were proposed based on a study prepared by the University of Hawaii (the study is still not finalized). The University's recommendations included rewriting Hawaii's environmental impact statement law, HRS Chapter 343, which is decades old and has the benefit of judicial interpretation.

Concerned that reform recommendations from the University did not include input from necessary stakeholders, the Senate created a working group. While the working group deliberated, the bill passed the Senate, mostly intact as proposed by the University. However, in the House, the bill was gutted, primarily removing changes to HRS Chapter 343. Instead of dismantling the Hawaii environmental review process, the House focused its attention on reorganzing the environmental council and the office of environmental quality control.

On March 19, 2010, the House Committee on Judiciary (JUD) issued Standing Committee Report No. 903-10. JUD made various technical amendments, but notably, it made the following statement:
[A] working group has been assembled to address concerns regarding changes to Hawaii's environmental review policy, which were proposed in this bill when it was introduced. Although this bill is being kept alive so that the working group may have more time to refine its proposed measure, your Committee has grave concerns regarding the lack of public notice that will attend any backdoor insertion of new provisions.
The statement seemed to indicate that passing a reform bill this session was premature. But the most telling sign, and death knell for the bill, was JUD's amendment of the effective date of the bill to December 21, 2058. This is the state legislature's roundabout way of ensuring that if a bill is accidentally passed (unfortunately it happens) it would not go into effect right away.

Does this mean environmental reform is dead for this legislative session? I would not count your chickens just yet. There are rumors that proponents are seeking a "backdoor insertion of new provisions" into a different bill. This is a common sleight of hand by our state legislators, whereby they insert substantive language into a so called "short form bill." The only requirement being that the short form bill title is germane to the newly inserted language. Stay tuned.

For more on environmental law reform in Hawaii, see Legislative Updates.

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