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HB 548 and SB 1207 Violate Freedom of Speech

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

There are two proposed bills in the State of Hawai‘i’s legislature that threaten the First Amendment. HB 548 in the House and SB 1207 in the Senate are companion bills that aim to hold writers and publishers of visitor guides and websites “that invite, attract, or encourage” tourists to trespass on private property liable for if a visitor is injured or dies. There is a detailed breakdown of this controversial issue on mediacoalition.org.

The fuel to this fire is the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, which is pictured above and directs tourists to Kipu Falls. According to the Garden Island News, the lands adjacent to the waterfall are owned by Grove Farm Company. Since 2008, three tourists died while visiting Kipu Falls, which is prompting HB 548 and SB 1207. The logic of these bills are easy to understand, but the execution of these pieces of legislature is detrimental to our freedom of speech and Hawai‘i tourism. There is a hearing today at the capitol for HB 548 scheduled for 1:20 p.m. If this bill is passed it still needs to be signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie into law, but I fear that if it does become law then it will set a dangerous precedence for all authors and publishers. Consequently, I’m in Maui and won’t be able to attend, but I submitted this testimony (italicized below) in hopes that our elected officials will make the right decision to protect the First Amendment.

I’m a Native Hawaiian journalist. I cover surfing for the Star Advertiser, ESPN, Surfing Magazine and Contrast Magazine. It’s a dream job. I write about surfing, which is a sport and cultural practice of my ancestors, but its danger is its allure. Any fool knows that he‘e nalu (wave sliding) is dangerous. Surfing is who we are and I’m constantly telling people to come to Hawai‘i– the birthplace of wave riding– to come see it firsthand. Visitors should use their heads whey they get to Hawai‘i, but I refuse to censor myself as to the dangers of surfing. People frequently die surfing or experiencing the world-class waves of the North Shore, but I will not stop from documenting the surf to protect the wealthy homeowners on the Seven Mile Miracle. I understand the logic behind protecting private landowners and the State of Hawai‘i from lawsuits, but a bill like this, HB 548, infringes on our First Amendment right of free speech. It should be void for vagueness because it’s written so poorly that it would be unenforceable. No writer or publisher should be held responsible for the negligence of a tourist. This bill is detrimental to tourism, the First Amendment and sends the wrong message to the rest of the world about Hawai‘i. Why don’t landowners just put up a sign absolving them of any liability? It would save taxpayers a huge chunk of money instead of hearing and debating bills that violate freedom of speech.

Kipu Falls, Kaua‘i.

Kipu Falls, Kaua‘i.