The 2016 Legislative Session is coming around the bend towards the finish line. April 14th is the deadline by which all bills from either the House or Senate must have been approved by both chambers to be considered for passage. This date is known as Second Crossover, after which conference committees of each house hammer out the final form and details. Conference Committee can be the place where good bills are improved, bad bills are made worse and many bills go to die a silent death.
I am paying particular attention to two bills at this time: HB2501, Relating to Water Rights, and HB1850 Relating to Taxation. One bill would subvert the state water permit process and the other could provide a shield for illegal vacation rentals to hide behind.
Our last article spoke of the East Maui Water Fight and how Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) seeks to overcome an inconvenient court ruling through HB2501. The last remaining Big Five plantation company is closing its sugar operation at the end of this year and has not announced any specific plan for diversified agriculture or need for continued water diversion, yet they want the legislature to protect their claim to all the water they have ever used.
The court ruled A&B could no longer continue to divert an average 164 million gallons per day out of the East Maui watershed based on temporary permits first granted in 2001. The court made the very sensible determination that A&B must secure a long term lease. End running this court decision with special legislation will not solve the underlying issue that A&B is fighting to control more water than they can possibly justify. Water is a Public Trust; it does not belong to any one entity.
HB1850 would allow companies like Airbnb to collect taxes from vacation rental owners and pass them on to the state. While I agree that vacation rentals should pay appropriate taxes, I do not support this bill as written because it will likely promote more illegal activity and further erode zoning and county management of residential areas.
This bill should be amended to require companies like Airbnb to verify that property owners have Transient Accommodation Tax licenses and legally operate under county ordinance, and reference the TAT licenses when submitting the tax. The bill should not restrict the Department of Taxation from its audit authority of these companies and it should be clear that the new law does not supersede county authority for zoning and enforcement.
I am working with like-minded Senators to defeat HB2501 and to amend HB1850. We have a chance, but we are well aware that other legislators are pushing these bills forward and the outcome is not certain. Let the conferences begin!
Mahalo to Chair Kathleen Pahinui and the North Shore Neighborhood Board for hosting a special meeting regarding the Shark’s Cove Development at Waimea Valley on April 6th. The owners announced they will voluntarily withdraw their three individual lot permits and apply for one master permit, they will immediately look into placing portable toilet facilities on site, and they will improve their communication and cooperation with the immediate neighbors and the greater community. It is too bad they did not do this from the start, but it is much appreciated that they are doing this now.