Bill targets reckless
hikers, swimmers

People who do not exercise
reasonable care would be
billed for rescue costs

Getting lost may cost you more than a cold night in the mountains, under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 1222, introduced by Sen. Shan Tsutsui, would put teeth in an existing law that allows government to seek reimbursement for search and rescue operations. It does so by specifying what situations are subject to reimbursement so officials can enforce the law.

"There are times when guys go out in rough seas, or they are unprepared and they go hiking, and it puts the search and rescue personnel at risk," said Tsutsui (D, Wailuku-Kahului).

As former Big Island mayor, Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Government Operations and Transportation Committee, said she recalls the Big Island having to use the county helicopter to rescue people who had ignored warnings signs and gotten trapped during volcanic eruptions.

"It is needed; there have been incidents that take a lot of time and energy," said Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa).

The bill was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week and is expected to pass the Senate next week, according to Inouye.

The bill would allow county or state officials to charge for a rescue if the person "failed to exercise reasonable care or violated laws against trespass or laws intended to protect the public safety, or disregarded warning." Reasonable care is defined as showing that you had some knowledge of the existing weather conditions, or had a cellular phone or the proper maps.

John Clark, deputy fire chief, said the Honolulu Fire Department is charged with making mountain rescues and that it is considered part of their job.

"If you are out there and you need help, we are coming and coming free," Clark said.

Search and rescue officials, however, said the proposal's best feature would be as a possible deterrent.

Ralph Goto, Honolulu ocean safety administrator, who is in charge of the city lifeguards, said it is common to see beach goers put themselves at risk.

"In our environment you see (people) all the time go out into the surf when we have put the warning signs up.

"It (the bill) would serve as a deterrent, I think it would be great," Goto said.

"Our guys have to go out and get them. We consider it part of our job," Goto added.

"We are mandated to make rescues in hazardous terrain," Clark said. "Our taxpayers pay for our services and part of our mission is performing rescues."

Clark worries that if too many restrictions are put on persons who need to be rescued they will not call for help.

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