Outdoors groups hit lawmaker with ethics complaint


HONOLULU — Rock climbers, mountain bikers and other outdoors enthusiasts filed an ethics complaint Thursday against a Hawaii House lawmaker over changes her committee made to a trails bill.

The proposal would have guarded the state from lawsuits if hikers, paragliders and others get hurt on state-owned land.

Outdoors enthusiasts supported the measure, hoping it would allow Hawaii to reopen lands that were closed after accidents led to the state being sued for millions of dollars.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, a Democrat representing Makiki, moved a stripped-down version of out of the House Finance Committee, removing some major provisions. The House passed the amended version Tuesday as even fellow Democrats criticized the changes.

The complaint filed Thursday says Luke’s work as a personal injury attorney affected her decisions as committee chairwoman.

Luke said she had no conflict on the decision because the solution she prefers — having people sign waivers before attempting risky recreation on public land — would better protect the state from lawsuits.

“It’s taking a front-end approach,” Luke said. “The end result would be making sure we have great access to public lands but ensuring the state have full immunity — not like what was in the bill.”

Beyond recreational enthusiasts, the attorney general’s office and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources also testified in support of the bill (Senate Bill 1007).

“The state shouldn’t be liable,” said Mike Richardson, a signatory to the complaint and the owner of Climb Aloha, a rock-climbing shop in Honolulu. “People are going to do these things whether we warn or not.”

One of the provisions removed said warning signs would be sufficient to protect the state from lawsuits over man-made features of unimproved land, such as rock-climbing holes or mountain bike ramps.