County pushes beach liability bill

LIHU’E — Mayor Maryanne Kusaka and Kaua’i County Councilman Billy Swain have

asked a State House committee chairman to hold a public hearing on a bill to

indemnify counties in any lawsuits involving injuries at state beaches operated

by the counties.

If the Legislature approves the bill, Kaua’i County will

be able to post lifeguards at state beaches with dangerous swimming

conditions.

The bill has moved out of three Senate Committees and is being

reviewed by the House Judiciary Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

If the

committee doesn’t hold a public hearing on the bill by April 7, it will

die.

Of all the counties, Kaua’i had the largest number of drownings -13

last year.

The apparent drowning of a 35-year-old California man off

Polihale State Beach Thursday afternoon underscores the need for the passage

of legislation, said Beth Tokioka, county public information officer.

“It

is a sad coincidence that this is happening at a time when we are pushing so

heavily for this legislation,” Kusaka said.

The bill, if approved, would

require the state to defend and indemnify the counties when they are sued for

their operation of beach parks, whether or not they fall under the

jurisdiction of the state.

The state Attorney General’s Office is opposed

to the bill because the state would have no control over the actions of county

employees or of the county beaches.

As a result, the state should not be

mandated to defend or indemnify the counties under such circumstances, the AG’s

office maintains.

Kaua’i Sen. Jonathan Chun said a better solution than

indemnification would be to extend immunity from lawsuits to the county, the

same privilege granted to the state by law.

Extending immunity to the

counties would encourage the placement of lifeguards at dangerous state

beaches, he said.

All the counties would benefit from this protection from

lawsuits, Chun said.

Since 1970, 196 drownings, 150 of which have occurred

at state beaches, have occurred on Kaua’i.

In the past few years, the

county, at the request of Kusaka Administration, has increased funding for the

hiring of more lifeguards, the purchase of more safety equipment and upgraded

training.

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