LIHUE — State and county representatives are celebrating the passage of a measure that pushes back the sunset clause on a law that allows county lifeguards to operate on state beaches.
They were hoping for forever, but will settle for a three-year extension on Act 170, they said.
Bill 1024, passed Thursday by the state House of Representatives, will continue to provide counties with legal immunity — except in cases of gross negligence — so that they can provide lifeguard services on four state beaches, including Kee on Kauai’s North Shore.
“The County of Kauai and its Ocean Safety Bureau is incredibly pleased with this outcome,” Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman said. “Our job as first responders is to keep our residents and visitors safe as best we can, and this bill helps us to continue to do that.”
A number of bills, including 1024, were introduced this legislative session in an attempt to do away with the sunshine provision of Act 170 altogether. Bill 1024 was later amended to extend the sunset date of June 30, 2014, by three years.
“This measure extends that exemption, but more importantly allows our lifeguards to continue to ensure the safety of our local beachgoers and visitors,” Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-Wailua-Haena, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.
Between 1970 and 2008, there were eight drownings at Kee. Since 2008, however, when the lifeguard tower went in, there haven’t been any.
As the representative of Kauai’s North Shore, Kawakami said he sees firsthand what a large role lifeguards play in the protection of state beaches.
In 2012, for example, there were 28 rescues, 16,572 preventions, 120,648 beachgoers and no deaths at Kee. And last year, there were 42 rescues, 16,423 preventions and no deaths, according to Kawakami.
“For the past eight years, I, along with the Kauai delegation, have been working diligently on this important issue to support the men and women who risk their own lives on a daily basis to protect the people of our island and visitors alike,” Rep. James Tokioka, D-Koloa-Wailua, said in a statement.
Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, said he was very happy to see the sunset date get put off once again.
“We, of course, were hoping for the home run, to have the sunset eliminated,” he wrote in an email. “But, we’ll be back over there in three years to do it all over again.”
The most recent drowning at Kee occurred in 2007, when a 37-year-old pilot for U.S. Airways died while snorkeling.