HILO — Two state Senate committees have voted to advance a House bill that would reconfigure how the aerospace industry is managed in Hawaii with amendments that some argue limit the duties and resources of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The bill was originally aimed at eliminating the office of aerospace development, the aerospace advisory committee and the state unmanned aerial systems test site advisory board. It also would transfer administration for other programs to the University of Hilo at Hilo and the state Department of Education.
However, the bill was amended earlier this week to cut back the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s ability to conduct activities other than marketing and promotion, removing its authority to develop policies and form advisory boards and limiting the amount of funding it could draw from the Tourism Emergency Special Fund.
The bill will head to the Senate floor for a vote after passing the Senate Ways and Means and Commerce and Consumer Protection committees, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Saturday.
The committees voted Friday and made changes that would allow Hawaiian cultural programs administered by the Authority to continue and place requirements on the agency to ensure its tourism marketing is culturally sensitive.
Hawaii Tourism Authority President John De Fries said Friday the bill attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
“It felt like it was trying to fix something that was not broken, and when we commit ourselves to doing that, the prerequisite is that we have to break it,” said De Fries, who attended a joint hearing by the committees.
Hawaii state Sen. Glenn Wakai, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the bill was necessary to rein in the agency after it paid on average $244 per Japanese tourist who visited the island as of February compared with $5.70 in 2019.
“We need to hold HTA accountable,” Wakai said. “Moving them from special funds, where they can just do whatever they want and continue to do as they please, and making them now general-funded holds them accountable to us and the taxpayers to make sure they’re spending our appropriation wisely.”
Wakai also said the agency’s remaining budget can still be used to market events and continue promoting Hawaiian culture.
It is not immediately known when the Senate would vote on the bill.