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Council Approves Second and Final Reading of Sunscreen Bill

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After more than three hours of public testimony Wednesday morning, the vast majority of which was in support of protecting human health and the island’s coral reefs, the Hawai‘i County Council approved the second and final reading of Bill 167, prohibiting the sale and distribution for sale of any non-mineral sunscreen on the Big Island.

The council approved the measure 6-2, with members Ashley Kierkiewicz and Tim Richards voting no and Sue Lee Loy absent. Kierkiewicz and Richards cast their no votes, asking the council to hold off on moving forward with the legislation to get additional information after a sunscreen study by the National Academy of Sciences is completed. The results of that study are expected later this year.

Non-mineral sunscreens use active ingredients other than titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says they are the only two active sunscreen ingredients regarded as safe and effective.

Bill 167 was proposed by students at Innovations Public Charter School in Kona and modeled off a similar bill that Maui County passed last year. According to Councilman Holeka Inaba, one of the council members who introduced the bill, noted the measure’s intent is to support efforts to protect the environment, especially the island’s shorelines and coral reefs.

State legislators took up the issue in 2018, passing Act 104 which bans the sale of sunscreens containing two chemicals — oxybenzone and octinoxate. The two chemicals commonly found in sunscreens are harmful to coral reefs. That law went into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

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Some council members had concerns with the original version of the bill while discussing it on first reading during the council’s June 1 meeting. An amendment submitted by Inaba addressed those concerns, which included aligning it more closely with language in the state legislation and changing the measure’s wording from making it unlawful to provide or provide for distribution of non-mineral sunscreen to “it is unlawful to sell, offer for sale or distribute for sale any non-mineral sunscreen without a prescription issued by a licensed health care provider.”

The amendment also changed where money from fines levied for violations of the measure from the Solid Waste Division to the general fund to be used by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation for mineral sunscreen dispensers, educational materials and related purposes, prior to approving the bill.

The council approved the amendment 8-0, with Lee Loy absent, prior to passing Bill 167’s final reading.

“We’ve heard hours of testimony today, with multiple community groups, and we’ve had robust discussion about this topic,” Inaba told his fellow council members before asking for their support.

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The bill’s co-introducer, Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, thanked everyone who submitted testimony in support of the measure. She said the measure allows the county to make sure only mineral sunscreens are available on the island, helping the millions of people who visit each year — who make the best effort to get sunscreen that won’t do any harm when they arrive — make the best choice.

She also urged her colleagues to approve the measure.

Councilman Aaron Chung said in the event studies or new information are released that show the council made the wrong decision on the measure, it can be changed in the future. But the bill can help protect the island’s coral reefs and the overall health of the Earth, so he would vote in favor.

Council member Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder agreed, saying it’s best to err on the side of the environment at this point.

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The prohibition will go into effect in December.

In other business Wednesday:

  • Council members voted down Resolution 441, which would have lowered real property tax rates for residential tier 1, affordable rental housing, commercial, industrial, agriculture or native forests and homeowner properties. A majority of the council agreed lowering the rates would provide much needed relief for many island residents, albeit not until the next fiscal year, but several expressed concern after county Finance Director Deanna Sako said lowering the rates would generate enough funds to cover the county’s budget, it would be just enough. The resolution failed on a vote of 4-5, with Inaba, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, Villegas and Chairwoman Maile David being the only ones voting in favor.

Watch for more from Wednesday’s council meeting on Big Island Now.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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