The Maui News
Saturday, May 01, 2004
By MARK ADAMS, Staff Writer
HONOLULU -- Maui Sen. J. Kalani English spent weeks during this year's legislative session looking for ways to fund the state's Emergency Environmental Work Force. He finally had to resort to a little creative financing.
English had hoped to nail down $1.5 million to hire employees through the Research Corp. of the University of Hawaii to continue the fight against invasive species. Money proved tight as the last days of the session wound down and remaining fiscal bills competed against each other for a shrinking pool of dollars, but English kept the bill alive as he looked for a solution.
What he ended up with is a bill voted out of conference committee on Friday that adds the EEWF to the Hawaii Revised Statutes as a permanent entity. And it gives the new Hawaii Invasive Species Council permission to use a portion of the $4 million it is being given to fund the emergency workers, if needed.
The conference committee report says it's the Legislature's intent that the work force program "be funded through moneys allocated to the council to fulfill its important legislative mandate against the proliferation of invasive species." The bill goes to the floor of the Legislature for a final vote next week.
English said melding the work force with the HISC gives the council a strike team that can respond to emergencies if needed. The council has no direct authority to hire employees, but the measure allows it, through the Research Corp., to employ workers and send them out in the field on a regular basis to help with eradication efforts, the senator said. However, deployment will be the council's call.
Senate Bill 2134 states the role of the EEWF is to "provide labor to assist the counties . . . with eradicating invasive species throughout the state, including miconia, coqui frogs, fire ants and other invasive species populations."
Kauai Rep. Hermina Morita was a member of the conference committee and complimented English on his final solution to the problem, saying it was a creative way to get around the financing problem.
The Research Corp. will be required to submit an annual report to the Legislature on how EEWF members were used.
The work force was English's brainchild and was first established as a job-creation bill after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States created a significant drop in tourism numbers.
EEWF members were quickly put to work in East Maui eradicating mosquito-breeding areas. Mosquitoes carry dengue fever, and a recent outbreak of the disease threatened tourism on Maui, particularly in Hana where residents and visitors were hard hit.
Members of the Environmental Work Force have been given a major share of the credit for potentially saving the state millions of dollars that would have been lost if dengue fever had gotten a tighter grip on the islands.
On another environmental issue Friday, English won last-minute conference committee approval of a bill that cuts in half the amount of state tax charged for biodiesel fuel.
The state currently collects about $22,000 a year in biodiesel fuel taxes, English said, and the Legislature is willing to accept half of that to encourage the production and use of the fuel.
Senate Bill 1239 now goes to the floor of the Legislature for a final vote next week.
Mark Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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