Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We need your help!

To all local and visiting paraglider pilots, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, mountain lovers, friends, spouses, neighbors: the Hawaii climbing community has been working with the state to draft legislation to improve public access to state land. We need your help in three ways: (1) join us at the Capitol on Thursday at 2 pm, (2) submit testimony online, and (3) sign the petition. Oh, and (4) spread the word. We just got late notice about the hearing at the State Capitol, and our presence and support will be extremely helpful. I will be there, and a few others have already agreed to join me. If anyone else is free, please consider coming out. Let me know or post here if you can make it. Details in the letter from the climbing folks below.

Attention hikers, mountain bikers, paragliders, trail runners, and other HAWAII mountain trail users:

We have urgent news that requires your attention in order to improve and preserve access to Hawaii public lands. If you're in a hurry, skip below for links to help us.

Some of you may already know that liability concerns have driven the State of Hawaii to shut down numerous hikes and climbing areas in the past year and a half as a result of two large 2012 settlements ($20+million) for hiking related deaths. The good news is the climbing community and other sports enthusiasts collaborated with certain legislators and the Hawaii Attorney General’s office to develop a new bill, Senate Bill #SB1007 (HD1), currently up for reconsideration by Hawaii’s 2014 legislature.

This new bill will amend, and make Act 82 permanent, thereby resolving some State liability concern, return access to several Oahu closed sites, and prevent further closures of public lands. Act 82 in its current form protects the State from NATURAL hazards (strong currents, steep precipices, loose rock, etc.) when the State posts signage warning of such. The new bill will amend Act 82 to give the State protection from NON-natural hazards on unimproved land as well. Non-natural hazards could include bolts installed in cliffs, unauthorized / unsanctioned trails, paraglider launch sites, fixed ropes on unofficial hiking trails, downhill biking tracks and ramps, etc.

Because our mountain sports are inherently risky and injuries and deaths on State lands occur regularly, the Attorney General’s office has said this legislation must pass if they are to reopen closed areas and to prevent additional closures. If you do not want to see more of Hawaii’s public lands shut down, please tell your legislators how you feel. (We will provide below, some links for you to easily do this).

Senate Bill #SB1007 (HD1) is a carryover from last session and already has tremendous support from the Senate, where it passed unanimously in the 2013 session. However, we need to make sure it passes this week’s upcoming hearing by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, January 30th at 2:00 p.m. in Room #325.

Keep in mind there is strong opposition to the passage of the bill, and they lobbied hard in the last session to ensure that our efforts were stalled. Known as the Hawaii Association for Justice (formerly the Consumer Lawyers of Hawaii) and representing Hawaii’s approximately 4,000 trial attorneys, this group has opposed similar liability reform legislation for the past 12+ years. It is their opinion that the public is better protected with existing laws which hold the State entirely liable for the actions of individuals on State land, but we all know this is simply not true. We value our sports and the mountains because they include some inherent risk and we believe those who engage in such activities should assume responsibility for their actions. Instead of making our mountain sports safer, the efforts of the Hawaii Association of Justice result only in the enrichment of trial attorneys at the expense of taxpayers along with the closure of public lands to those who value them most – us. The only way to overcome a well-financed and well-connected lobby is with large numbers of vocal people. So this week is really when we need to come together - we ideally need a few hundred mountain enthusiasts to submit testimony and attend this hearing!

What exactly you can do, and when, in order of importance:

1) Plan to attend the Hearing - Senate Bill #SB1007 (HD1) is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday, January 30th, at 2:00 p.m. in room #325 inside the Capitol. Please contact your employer now and request some time off (if you can). A group of us will meet on the Makai side of ground floor of the building 20 minutes beforehand for a briefing. Sometimes the hearings run a bit long, so plan to be there for two hours if possible.

2) See the sample testimony letter below, copy the text, click this link, which will take you to the Legislature’s website for submitting testimony on this specific bill, fill out the form, and submit the sample letter. Of course, we welcome and encourage you to modify the sample letter or write and submit your own.

3) In addition to the above, take just a few seconds to click this link which will lead you to our most recent change.org petition.

4) Please forward this letter by email, tweet, Facebook, etc., to everyone you know, including mainland friends or related interest groups (eco-tourism is an important part of the local economy, too) that have interest in keeping Hawaii’s public mountain areas and sports open and ask them to support this effort.

We are optimistic that we can get SB 1007 HD1 through the legislative process this session and protect our access to public lands. However, we really need everyone who enjoys the mountains to please join us and support this effort!

Mahalos Everyone!

Sample testimony:

We, the undersigned residents of Hawaii and/or possible visitors to Hawaii very strongly support the passage of SB 1007 (HD1) and any provisions that will make this legislation permanent.

We support this measure because we cherish our right to freely enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities in Hawaii’s mountains including hiking, biking, trail running, climbing, paragliding and other activities. We are baffled by the State’s current absence of liability protection, which has led to ongoing closures of climbing areas, hiking trails, and other scenic sites due to the State’s legitimate fear of lawsuits. We strongly believe that public lands need to remain open to the public. It is patently absurd that the State should decide when, where, and how people are able to experience Hawaii’s natural wonders - especially when such decisions are made largely based on liability risk assessments. It is time to take a significant step toward tort reform and shift our landowner liability paradigm toward something sensible, sustainable, and sane.

In comparison to other western states, Hawaii’s recreational liability statutes are sorely lacking. We do not want to see access to mountain sports across the Hawaiian Islands denied or restricted because a minority group of 4,000 trial attorneys holds the rest of us hostage. We strongly disagree with previous testimony against liability reform in Hawaii that suggests that the status quo is in the best interest of the public, or that the status quo will keep us safer by holding the State liable for accidents (such as the Brem case in 2012). We are a responsible group of citizens who recognize the assumed risks in engaging in recreational activities on State lands. We believe that individuals who choose to go hiking, climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, or who choose to engage in any other recreational use of public lands, should do so at their own risk.

Without the passage of this bill, the State of Hawaii is left with very little protection from litigation resulting from injuries that occur on State lands. We believe the lack of liability protection is wholly untenable, especially given the ever-growing popularity of mountain recreation to residents in Hawaii and visitors comprising our tourist economy.

This bill is an agreeable compromise. It notably does not provide the State with absolute immunity, but does require that those engaging in hazardous recreational activities accept the risks associated with their actions. This bill will effectively balance State responsibilities (to maintain public trail systems and to warn of possible hazards) with the responsibilities of individuals to keep themselves safe and adequately prepared. Thus, we fully endorse this essential legislation and urge the Hawaii State Legislature to pass it into law.

Sincerely,

(your name)

8 comments:

Thom said...

I will be at the meeting on Thursday.
I signed the petition already.

Rich. said...

If it was just my job in the way of my attending I would have easily signed out but I have court ordered Drivers Ed all day Thursday & Friday. It would be tough getting outa that one!

DaveZ said...

SIgned.
Aloha!

river16guy said...

Signed! Let us know how it goes.

Jayson said...

Signed and passed on. Good luck and Mahalo for your efforts!

Brazilian Ray said...

in one of the paragliding facebook group pages I had this interesting comment...
Jan Laïs Signed ... USA Country of freedom!???
about an hour ago ·

Raimar van den Bylaardt II The freedom to sue anybody for almost any reason makes us hostages of the "system" which is controlled by politicians and Lawyers who capitalize and enrich themselves at our cost. This bill will return the freedom to us and that's why it is so important for everybody to sign it. Thank you for your time. Aloha!

Dan Hill said...

Any update on the results of the hearing?

Alex said...

Dan, the measure passed the Judicial Committee, and now it's on its way to the Finance Committee, after which it's up for a floor vote in the House, after which the differences between the House and Senate versions will need to be negotiated. But this first step has set the tone and we're hopeful we can continue with this momentum.