Wildfire prevention and helping Maui recover from the blazes top Hawaii lawmakers’ agenda

HONOLULU (AP) - Airport After this, lawmakers are going to meet for the first time this week Burning of Historic Lahaina Awakened the state to the deadly and costly threat posed by wildfires in an era of climate change.

The tragedy refocused the attention of lawmakers. Now, fighting and preventing wildfires and helping the island of Maui recover from the blazes are at the top of the agenda as Hawaii's Legislature returns for a new session this week.

"It really set us up in a different way," said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura, the House majority leader and a Democrat.

The fire on August 8 killed 100 people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, and displaced 12,000 people. Experts predict this will happen cost $5.5 billion To replace structures exposed to fire.

Investigators are still studying how the fire started. High winds from a powerful hurricane passing south of Hawaii helped The flames spread rapidlyAs happened with drought and non-native fire-prone grasses.

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Another fire in early August burned about 20 homes in Kula, a town on the slopes of Haleakala volcano.

Nakamura said House Democrats will look at wildfire prevention needs across the state and develop an understanding of what the state Department of Land and Natural Resources needs to do a better job.

The House Wildfire Prevention Working Group, formed after the fire, recommended several new measures, including public awareness campaigns to prevent wildfires and tax or insurance incentives for wildfire-protected structures. The working group recommended that the state maintain fire-fighting aircraft and other equipment specifically to fight forest fires.

The Senate majority said in a news release that it is committed to creating a fire risk task force and seeking permanent funding for the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, which is the hub for wildfire prevention and mitigation.

Democrats have a landslide majority in both chambers, controlling 44 of the 50 House seats (one seat is vacant) and 23 of the 25 Senate seats.

Gov. Josh Green, a Democrat, asked lawmakers in December to appropriate $425 million For Maui cleanup and emergency shelter, and millions more to reduce wildfire risk statewide.

University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore said that after Lahaina it was clear that state agencies needed more money to manage forests and other natural resources. This may help revive the proposal considered last year Charge visitors for a year-round pass To visit state parks and trails.

Moore said the bill would be popular during an election year.

"Lawmakers might want to advertise something like this in their re-election campaigns," he said.

Nakamura said the Maui fires have exacerbated a problem that has long existed: the proliferation of vacation rentals across the state.

There are thousands of Lahaina residents who lost their homes in the fire still living in hotels Five months after the fire because there is not enough housing for them, even with tourists renting condos among them. Many wildfire evacuees have left Maui because they cannot find a place to live.

Nakamura said lawmakers could revisit legislation that has previously failed that would have given counties the authority to phase out short-term rentals.

Moore hopes lawmakers will continue efforts to address one of Hawaii's most persistent challenges: Statewide housing shortage and the high cost of housing that is fueling migration of native hawaiians and other local-born residents of the state. But any measures would likely be "marginal improvements" rather than a dramatic overhaul, he said.

“I think you're going to see more of what we've seen in the past, which is trying to figure out what's the right mix of regulatory reforms and subsidies and rental assistance,” Moore said. "

He said the people who need affordable housing most are a large, unorganized group that has little influence over the legislature. That said, groups that care passionately about regulations that restrict or slow housing construction — for example, rules governing historic preservation or environmental regulation — are more easily able to organize and advocate. .

Nakamura said there will be an emphasis on zoning to allow more housing on individual lots and putting money into a fund that subsidizes affordable housing development.

Nakamura said there is a widespread understanding that Hawaii needs more shelter for residents, describing how he has spoken to business leaders and people in the tourism and health care industries who say their workers need housing. Is.

"If they can't find affordable rent and can't use their skills in Hawaii, we all lose," he said.

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