Lawmakers listen: Hawaii Island Representatives and House leadership hear community input

Lawmakers listen: Hawaii Island Representatives and House leadership hear community input

WAIMEA — More than 100 community members attended a Lawmakers Listen town hall meeting hosted by State Rep. David Tarnas and House leadership at the Waimea School Cafeteria on Tuesday evening.

State House Speaker Scott Saiki, Vice Speaker Mark Nakashima, and Majority Floor Leader Dee Morikawa attended the meeting to hear community input and address questions about the legislative session.

Tarnas shared updates on several bills he has sponsored this session, including HB1153, which would allow remote testimony, such as by phone or video, in legislative hearings; HB765, which would require state plans to address sea level rise; and HB1152, which would fund stakeholder engagement for the development of fisheries management plans statewide.

Tarnas also presented certificates from the State Legislature to Nau’i Murphy and Shelby Loo, two Waimea Middle School teachers who have achieved National Board Certification, the most respected professional certification for U.S. K-12 educators.

“Education is so important to our communities, and great teachers like you make it all possible,” Tarnas said.

Prior to the meeting, the House leadership delegation toured the Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School STEAM building, which was constructed using $16 million of State Capital Improvement funds, and has been hosting project-based learning, community meetings, and professional development classes, among other programs, since opening in 2017. Tarnas is advocating this year for an additional $1 million of Capital Improvement Project funds to complete safety, security, and weatherproofing upgrades to the building, which experiences severe flooding during heavy rain and wind. Addressing his fellow legislators, Tarnas highlighted the positive impact of prior CIP funding at Waimea Middle School, as well as the critical need for upgrades to assure students’ safety and the building’s longevity.

At the public meeting, community members’ questions and concerns covered a wide range of topics.

Several attendees, who had traveled from Puna to attend the event, raised questions and concerns about funding for lava disaster recovery efforts. Vice Speaker Nakashima, who chairs the House’s Big Island delegation, provided an update on HB1180, which will appropriate $60 million in state funds to the County of Hawaii for “disaster relief, recovery, mitigation, and remediation.” Nakashima said legislators understand the urgency of lava recovery for Puna residents, and that the bill is slated to be approved and enacted on an accelerated timeline.

A group of five middle- and high-school students from Keaau attended the meeting to voice opposition to a proposed rocket launch facility in Keaau, delivering personal, and at moments tearful, testimony.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex-Hawaii, proposed by the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, is currently in the process of producing a draft environmental assessment, which will be open for public commentary once it is released.

One attendee at the meeting asked for improved public access to mauka forest lands for non-hunters’ recreational use.

“I know that public access to our mauka lands is a big issue,” Tarnas said. Tarnas sponsored legislation to fund planner and abstractor positions within Na Ala Hele, the state’s trail access program, to focus on creating easements and other recreational access points to public lands. Although that bill (HB1082) did not receive a hearing this session, Tarnas said he is committed to continuing to advocate for public lands access.

Rep. Morikawa commented that public trail access in mauka lands is also lacking on Kauai, which she represents, and that legislation supporting trail and recreational land access would benefit communities statewide.

Other topics raised by attendees included education funding, transportation safety, cannabis decriminalization, renewable energy, fisheries management, and funding for first responders and paramedics in West Hawaii.

This public meeting, Saiki told attendees, is the product of the Hawaii State Constitution, which mandates the Legislature’s five-day recess during the session, allowing legislators to return to their districts and hear input from their constituents.

Public testimony on any state legislation can be submitted online through the State Legislature’s website, Representative Tarnas, who represents House District 7 (North Kona, South Kohala, and North Kohala), can be reached at or 586-8510.