Safe Routes to School bill clears last committee

LIHU‘E — The Safe Routes to School bill cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee, with amendments, Thursday, an important leap toward approval at the 26th state Legislature.

It was the last committee HB 2626 was referred to since crossing over from its originating body, the House of Representatives.

HB 2626 proposes a surcharge on traffic tickets of $10 and $25, depending on the place of violation, to be used to fund an islandwide Safe Routes to School program, which promotes children to walk and bike to school safely.

The staff at Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. David Yge, D-Pearl City, ‘Aiea, said the amendments were technical changes to make sure the special fund disbursement mechanism satisfies the state constitution. Basically, the amendments are to make sure the bill is legal, Yge’s staff said.

Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, said besides some technical amendments needed to clean up the grammar, there was a federal reference in the bill, which was creating some ambiguity. One of the amendments removes such reference and makes it clear it is a state program, he said.

“There was some conflict,” said Kouchi, adding that after the amendments “it should be easier to understand what the rules are.”

The deadline for the committee to file its report is Thursday.

From there the bill will go back to the House. The bill’s effective date, July 1, 2030, will  likely force it into conference, where the House and Senate will be able to iron out the bill together, according to Yge’s staff.

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.

The program is currently funded by the state Health Department’s Healthy Hawai‘i Initiative, through a tobacco settlement fund, but the funding is going to run out at some point, said Get Fit Kaua‘i coordinator Bev Brody, adding that this funding will eventually run out.

If the bill passes, it would provide a sustainable fund to the program, ensuring its continuation, she said.

The bill 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.

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