Ferry bill catches favorable winds
» Gov. Lingle expresses optimism for the new legislation's success
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» A Senate bill is slightly more restrictive on environmental rules
The Legislature's special session is moving toward a Halloween conclusion, with the only question being how big a treat to give Hawaii Superferry.
» The House has a hearing set for 1:30 p.m. Monday in the state Capitol auditorium to take testimony on the Senate's Superferry bill.
» The Senate is scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. Monday. It is expected to refer the House's Superferry bill to one or more committees.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate readied slightly different versions yesterday of a bill that will permit Hawaii Superferry to sail between Oahu, Kauai and Maui while a court-ordered environmental study is done. If the proposal continues on its smooth course, the session will likely wrap up Wednesday.
Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday that the work done in the Legislature appears to show consensus, and she is "cautiously optimistic" that the session will produce the needed legislation.
The House passed a bill yesterday that permits the ship to sail and gives Lingle authority to set environmental guidelines. House Bill 1 also calls for an investigation of how the ship got the original permit, and for a task force to monitor the Superferry's compliance with environmental rules.
Senate Bill 1, meanwhile, is expected to be approved Monday. It calls for slightly more restrictive environmental guidelines and includes all the other restrictions in the House bill.
Environmentalists who successfully challenged the Superferry in Hawaii's courts say the proposed legislation is not protecting the environment and is unfairly exempting one business from Hawaii's environmental laws.
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Hawaii Superferry officials appear close to victory in their efforts to get the ship back into service next month.
The state Legislature, meeting in special session, is crafting a law exempting the ferry from the state's environmental protection laws while an environmental impact statement is prepared.
It is expected that the EIS would take up to two years to complete, during which the ship would be governed by the new law.
The bill would create new environmental guidelines for the Superferry and would remove the ship from the court order stopping it from sailing until the EIS is done.
In testimony, Attorney General Mark Bennett assured lawmakers that "acting to amend the law in light of a court decision is neither unprecedented nor unusual."
For instance, Bennett noted, in 1998 the Legislature passed a law that exempted the purchase of the Waiahole water system from the EIS laws.
"The Hawaii Supreme Court has interpreted the current law, but it is the constitutional responsibility of the Legislature to decide if that is how the law should remain," Bennett told the legislators.
Yesterday the House approved its version of the bill, which allows Gov. Linda Lingle to set environmental conditions for the ship's operation and also calls for a special committee to receive monthly reports on how well the Superferry is following environmental restrictions.
There were nine no votes: Reps. Della Au Belatti, Lyla Berg, Mele Carroll, Faye Hanohano, Hermina Morita, Scott Saiki, Maile Shimabukuro, Dwight Takamine and James Tokioka.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku) said the ferry should be saved because it could unite the islands.
"As Kamehameha bound these islands together as one nation, this ferry will bring this state together," Souki said.
The House measure goes to the Senate, which is readying a slightly more restrictive measure.
Lingle said yesterday that she sees consensus between the House and Senate versions of the bills.
"I think there's pretty much consensus overall, and I think we'll get a good bill that will recognize the importance of various environmental protections and yet make certain that the service is there for the people," Lingle said.
The Hawaii Sierra Club disagreed, saying the Legislature is granting an "unusual and risky unique privilege to the Superferry company."
Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club director, said the legislation under consideration "fails to adequately protect our environment while exempting Superferry."
The Senate bill, SB 1, is scheduled for a vote Monday, and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa thinks the House will agree to the Senate bill.
"What the Senate did was come up with a very good compromise. ... The Senate did the extra effort of going to the neighbor islands," she said.
The Senate bill includes all of the provisions of the House bill and adds conditions that the Superferry has to apply for a special federal permit, which would govern the precautions to be taken to avoid accidental whale strikes.
The Senate bill also calls for extra warnings and inspections to halt the spread of invasive species between the islands.
Lingle described herself as "cautiously optimistic" about the legislation's prospects.
"It's not over till it's over, but I've had a good experience of working with the leadership on both sides during this process," the Republican governor said.