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Hawaii Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto

New law bringing changes to Hawaii Tourism Authority

Robbie Dingeman,  Jul 20, 2009

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has gained some flexibility to deal with various tourism emergencies, taken over some research staff, and lost some nonvoting board members — including the state tourism liaison — under a bill passed by state lawmakers.

With Hawaii's no. 1 private industry suffering more than a year of big drops in the number of tourists arriving, there's been increased scrutiny on the Hawaii Tourism Authority and what the agency is doing to help the industry survive and recover.

The state legislature passed HB 754, which was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. But that veto was among the 38 that were overridden last week by the legislature.

The law broadening the scope of access to tourism emergency funds won support from the industry, the Lingle administration, and the Democrat-controlled legislature.

State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert, a Lingle appointee, praised the move and said she was glad to see lawmakers earmark some of the proceeds from an increase in the hotel room tax.

Rep. Joey Manahan, who serves as House Tourism Committee chairman, has explained that lawmakers sought to add additional funds during the second year of an increase in the hotel room tax.

Manahan estimated that would work out to US$7.5 million for the tourism special fund starting July 1, 2010.

But Wienert wasn't happy with the move to remove her and three other non-voting members of the Lingle administration from HTA's board. The others are the directors of the Department of Transportation; Department of Land and Natural Resources; and the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

Wienert said she'll continue to work closely with the board and staff, including president and chief executive officer Mike McCartney.

Wienert said she's more concerned with the move that transferred tourism research and statistics from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to HTA, which in turn hires the people to do marketing.

In her veto message, Lingle said that move "has the ability to jeopardize the independence and accuracy of the research."

She added, "It is critical that the agency charged with achieving tourism goals separate itself from the agency responsible for measuring how well those goals have been met."

Wienert said she's hopeful that the staff will be managed "so it doesn't taint that data." And she noted that the staff won't physically move away from the other researchers.

"They will remain in their offices," she said.

New law bringing changes to Hawaii Tourism Authority
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