Governor, correct a wrong for lifeguards

An Open Letter to The Honorable Gov. David Ige:

As I’m sure you know, Rep. Scott Nishimoto, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, refused to hear SB 562 SD1, the bill which would have extended the sunset of Act 170 for another four years. His committee instead crafted a House version, SB 562 SD1 HD1, and although it does offer some very watered-down support to our lifeguards, this version no longer grants immunity to county lifeguards who guard state beaches.

Note: Our Kauai House legislators, as well as our own Senate President Kouchi, worked heroically to at least salvage this watered-down bill and we greatly appreciate their work.

Here on Kauai, our county guards not only guard the ridiculously busy Ke’e Beach State Park, they also pull off amazing jet ski rescues — in all sorts of ocean conditions — at remote state beaches all around Kauai. Other islands have an analogous situation.

Please note that Act 170 does not and never did grant immunity in cases of negligence. Rather, it serves to minimize frivolous lawsuits that are still expensive to defend (and therefore sometimes the decision is made to settle) and that drag down the morale of those who are being sued.

Although we respect that Mr. Nishimoto, backed by the powerful trial attorney lobby, has a legalese foundation for his decision, we feel that he badly and narrow-mindedly missed the boat in his thinking.

Lifeguards are at the bottom of the compensation ladder of professionals who malama our peoples’ safety. (I.e. doctors, nurses, firefighters, police, EMS). Fortunately for us, they love their work and they love keeping our people as safe as possible.

Their work requires great skill and courage as they hurtle into a large shorebreak to bring someone into safety, or as they pound their way to a remote beach on their screaming jet ski, just a speck in the midst of an ocean that can be wild and stormy and dangerous.

Their work furthermore requires great aloha since every day they are right there in front of our beachgoers, giving safety advice and making preventions (hundreds of thousands of these every year just on Kauai alone). They are obviously a hugely critical component of the health of our visitor industry and our tourism-based economy.

As an ER physician, I (Monty) get to see some of the people and families they save, and their work and enthusiasm and love is very special to my heart, not to mention the hearts of the people and families whom they saved! And of course even better news is that I never do get to see those who were saved by their near-countless preventive actions and conversations.

Making our lifeguards feel and be special is huge, and Mr. Nishimoto’s position has caused great damage in this regard. It’s been nothing less than a sharp and confusing slap in the face to our lifeguard men and women. It’s also put the safety of the many people who frequent state beaches at risk, since the county now has to question how far afield (i.e. away from their towers) our lifeguards should be advised to perform their lifesaving work.

We ask you Mr. Ige, assuming it’s in your power, to please revert to and sign SB 562 SD1.

•••

Monty Downs is a physician and president of the Kauai Lifeguards Association. Elaine Downs is a nurse.

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