HONOLULU (AP) - A key state House committee advanced a bill Thursday evening that limits the state's liability on public lands, relieving outdoor enthusiasts worried that litigation fears could lead to parks being shut down.
The House Finance committee passed a bill (SB 1007) aiming to protect the state against lawsuits when hikers or rock climbers injure themselves on public lands. The protection was set to expire in June, but the bill would make that protection permanent.
Extreme sports fans like mountain bikers and paragliders worry that if the protection expires, the state may shut down some popular, picturesque areas. They said passing the bill could save the state money.
"The cost of putting up signs and maintaining those signs is going to be considerably less than the possibility of paying for lawsuits," said Mike Solis, owner of Mountain Bike Hawaii, based in Laie, near Oahu's North Shore.
Rock climbers in particular have been pushing for the bill, because climbing areas have been closed since 2012, when a girl was injured while climbing at Mokuleai Crag, a popular rock climbing spot also on Oahu's North Shore.
"I'm a rock climber. This is what I love doing, and now I don't have it," said Dawn Burns, a Sunset Beach resident. "It's like taking ocean access away from surfers."
Mike Richardson, who owns the rock climbing store "Climb Aloha," said his revenues have nose-dived since the closures. Sales of recreational equipment fell 70 to 80 percent, he said. The climbing park closures hurt tourism because rock climbers will choose to go to Costa Rica or other destinations instead of Hawaii, he said.
"For the last two years, we've gotten 200 emails or more, asking, 'What's the situation? I want to come there, is stuff open yet?' " Richardson said. "I haven't been able to take my son climbing for the last two years."
Advocates were relieved that the bill, which languished on the committee's list of bills for more than a month, was heard and approved before a legislative deadline to pass bills out of committees.
"I'm happy that the committee passed it out," said Debora Halbert, a rock climber from Manoa. "We spent the last week trying to get it scheduled."
The bill now goes to the House floor. It passed the Senate earlier this legislative session but is likely to go to a conference committee because it changed.