Safe Routes to School bill moves forward

LIHU‘E — A proposal winding its way through the state House of Representatives would force drivers caught speeding through school zones and other areas to pay higher fines that would help pay for the Safe Routes to School program for children.

House Bill 2626 on Friday morning cleared the House Finance Committee. The bill, also known as the Safe Routes to School bill, proposes a $10 surcharge for moving traffic violations and a $25 surcharge if those violations are committed in a school or construction zone.

The surcharge would fund a statewide Safe Routes to School program, implementing safety initiatives designed to encourage more children to walk or ride bikes to school.

“Making it safe for our children to walk and bike to school will increase their physical and mental fitness, provide an antidote to childhood obesity, establish good habits that will keep them healthy into adulthood, reduce the congestion and risk of school traffic, lower greenhouse gases and reduce fossil fuels,” Kaua‘i County Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura stated in written testimony submitted to the state Legislature.

HB 2626 was introduced Jan. 25 by 16 state representatives, including all three Kaua‘i representatives — Reps. Derek Kawakami, D-14th District, Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District, and Dee Morikawa, D-16th District. On Feb. 13. the bill passed the House Transportation Committee, and on Feb. 16 it passed a second reading.

Get Fit Kaua‘i, a nutrition and physical fitness coalition, started the Safe Routes to School/Walking Bus program more than a year ago at Kapa‘a Elementary School. Children are encouraged to walk to school every fourth Wednesday of the month. The program since has expanded to Koloa, Kilauea, Kalaheo and Kapa‘a’s St. Catherine’s schools on Kaua‘i.

Funds for the program come from the state Department of Health’s Healthy Hawai‘i Initiative, through a tobacco settlement fund, but the funding is going to run out at some point, Get Fit Kaua‘i coordinator Bev Brody said on Feb. 7. If the bill passes, it would provide sustainable funding to allow the program to expand and continue operations for many years, she said.

Brody submitted written testimony in support of the bill. So did Kaua‘i County Engineer Larry Dill, state Superintendent of Education Kathryn Matayoshi, Kaua‘i Path President Sally Jo Manea, Kaua‘i Planning Director Michael Dahilig and Wilcox Elementary School Vice Principal Paul Zina.

Dahilig stated in his written testimony that the bill would support the county’s “Complete Streets” resolution.

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