East Hawaii News

Big Island Lawmakers Join Aerospace Caucus

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A caucus formed this week at the state Legislature has its sights on the stars.

Or at least in the near future, on aviation training, and learning to live on the moon and nearby planets.

The Hawaii State Legislative Aerospace Caucus is made up of 17 members of the House and Senate, including five from the Big Island.

Its mission is to boldly promote a variety of bills with aerospace connections currently under consideration by lawmakers.

Some relate to the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems located in Hilo.

Senate Bill 2583 legislation would provide PISCES with $500,000 for an engineering assessment of establishing a laser communications ground station in Hawaii.

This emerging technology is replacing the current use of radio communications between spacecraft and the Earth, and was successfully demonstrated in late 2013 with an experiment involving the Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Environment Explorer spacecraft now orbiting the moon.

Another pair of bills would provide $250,000 – to be matched by the state of California – to continue PISCES’ research involving study of ways for humans to survive on other planets.

The legislation has some notable support, including testimony submitted by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

A third measure would appropriate $1.5 million for various PISCES’ efforts and its preliminary development of a research and development park.

Another pair of companion bills would appropriate $450,000 for staff for the new international flight training center established last year at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College.

The caucus is also promoting legislation that features aviation with an eye toward civil liberties.

Senate Bill 2608 would prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, except by law enforcement agencies and only then under certain conditions.

The bill notes that the new technology carries potential for abuse.

“In recognizing the progressive opportunities that unmanned aircrafts provide, the legislature also recognizes its duty to protect Hawaii residents from threats to their constitutional right to privacy,” the bill said.

It said that nine states passed legislation last year regulating government deployment of unmanned aircraft.

Senate Bill 2582 would take the matter a step further, requiring individual consent or a search warrant for the use of drones to track individuals.

Another of the caucus’ bills involves the down-to-earth topic of taxes, and would exempt any funding received for construction of a space-launch facility in Hawaii from its general excise tax.

Leaders of the caucus say the legislation is a step toward helping Hawaii to be a leader in the aerospace industry.

“Nothing ignites the imagination like space,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, one of the caucus’ four co-chairs.

Another co-chair, Rep. Gene Ward, said the industry can have practical as well as lofty goals.

“Aerospace can be a game changer for our economy,” Ward said.

Big Island members of the caucus include Sen. Russell Ruderman and Reps. Cindy Evans, Faye Hanohano, Mark Nakashima and Clift Tsuji.


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