AOPA achieved its top legislative priority in Hawaii on July 5 with the governor’s signature of a bill that decriminalizes minor airport violations that previously put the certificates and livelihoods of aircraft owners in peril.
The signature of Gov. David Ige on Senate Bill 2619 turned a potential criminal conviction for parking in the wrong place, or storing non-aeronautical items (such as golf clubs) in airport hangars into a civil infraction. There’s a world of difference between the two, as AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey noted in a March letter to the chairman of the state’s House Committee on Judiciary.
That letter was part of a broad-based, years-long effort to secure relief from a practice that took many aircraft owners by surprise when the state first began charging hangar tenants with a crime for storing a golf cart or pitching wedge inside the T-hangars at Honolulu International Airport. AOPA joined local pilots in protesting the state’s aggressive and disproportionate enforcement, and supported legislation in 2014 to decriminalize such violations.
Frustration followed, and AOPA renewed the push in 2017, starting with the formation of an aviation caucus in the state legislature. That group met for the first time in February 2017, and as lawmakers learned about this and other aviation-related issues from experts, a new bill got a more favorable reception, though still it did not pass.
In 2018, AOPA kept the pressure up, and worked with lawmakers to introduce a new bill, which became Senate Bill 2619.
Hearings were held, and AOPA joined local pilots, business owners, and aviation groups testifying in support of passage. In February, McCaffrey offered suggestions to improve the bill under consideration, most of which were adopted, though lawmakers ultimately decided to allow for a $500 maximum civil penalty sought by the state Department of Transportation, rather than the $200 maximum fine that McCaffrey had suggested was appropriate.
Michael Bailey, submitting written testimony as an individual, urged lawmakers: “Please pay close attention to any testimony submitted by Melissa [McCaffrey] ... Her input will give us our best opportunity to bring Hawaii statutes into line with the rest of the nation. She has data and experience at a national level that we lack locally. We need to stop [jeopardizing] pilot careers over this relatively trivial [issue] at our state airports. No other state does this to their pilots.”
The Experimental Aircraft Association, National Business Aviation Association, local aviation businesses, and many other pilots and aircraft owners joined the chorus calling for decriminalization, and the bill passed through a series of votes in April and May without opposition.