In three weeks, 10 people died in waters off Maui.
The numbers are shocking. It has attracted the attention of state lawmakers, who have introduced a number of bills to remedy this.
Chad Blair from Honolulu Civil Beat is here to discuss the issue.
Paula Akana: Chad, lifeguards are a key part of all of this. Many of those deaths happened at beaches that either had no lifeguard, or after lifeguards had gone home. Let's go back to what happened last year at the legislature with lifeguards liability.
Chad Blair: Last session, the legislature decided to let a law expire that had given lifeguards a limited liability protection from lawsuits for the past 15 years. Testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of just making the law permanent. But one group was in opposition, a group of prominent personal injury lawyers who have strong connections to House leaders. So since July 1, lifeguards no longer have that limited immunity at state beaches.
Paula Akana: What's happening this year?
Chad Blair: This year there are a dozen bills to restore the liability protection. We'll be watching to see what happens with those. But there are also several bills to boost ocean safety in other ways, like providing $1 million in funding for the state to staff more lifeguards at beaches known to be hazardous to visitors and locals alike.
Paula Akana: Let's talk about a bill calling on the Hawaii Tourism Authority to help.
Chad Blair: Rep. Angus McKelvey is trying to find a way to get more funding for ocean safety by requiring the HTA, which works to attract all these millions of visitors each year, to use some of its tourism special fund, which comes from hotel taxes, on ocean safety programs. His bill got deferred, but its contents were stuffed into other bills, including one that attaches it to a measure dealing with how much money the counties get from the state hotel tax revenue, a controversial one for sure, making passage harder.
Paula Akana: The hotel tax is always the big issue for counties who say they don't receive enough. Response to that?
Chad Blair: Ever since the legislature capped the amount the counties receive - $103 million total right now, there has been a big fight each year. The counties really want to go back to the way it was, with them receiving a certain percent of the overall hotel tax revenues. That lets them receive more money when tourism does well, like it is now. They rely on that funding for things like emergency services, parks, roads and yes, lifeguards.
Paula Akana: 8 of those people who died on Maui were snorkeling, lawmakers have proposed a bill to try to educate those going snorkeling?
Chad Blair: There's a bill from Rep. John Mizuno that would force stores that rent snorkels to have a safety check list about snorkeling and the potential dangers. More people drown while snorkeling than any other activity, by far, and it's visitors who drown while snorkeling the most. Local residents very rarely drown snorkeling. Ocean safety experts support it but think enforcement will be a challenge. We'll be watching this bill and all the others as the session progresses.