Monday, February 21, 2011

Hawaii Bill Would Punish Travel Writers for Tourists Who Trespass

Today's Prayer:

"Dear Lord, please spare us from the folly of legislators."

This time, the focus is on the state house in Hawaii. (Whew, they're saying at the statehouse in Phoenix, where there is always a full menu of crazy on tap. And hold on, Texas legislature, we know you're still in the loon-race).

There's legislation making its way through the Hawaii state legislature that will hold travel writers and publishers of things like print and online travel guides, including Web sites, liable for damages suffered by readers who might trespass on private land while visiting the state.

Here's a copy of the House version of the legislation.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is strongly protesting this nutty proposed legislation. A committee of the Hawaii House of Representatives has already given unanimous approval to the measure.

In a letter to the Hawaii Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee, the publishers association called the legislation "ill-conceived." Pointing out that such a statute would inevitably be struck down on First Amendment grounds, the association urged the legislature to find alternative ways to address whatever it is the state house worthies think needs addressing ... oh, "trespassing."

The association's freedom to read director, Judy Platt, said: "The approach taken by this legislation would have a profound and unacceptable chilling effect not only on AAP members who publish travel guides, but on the robust free marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is intended to protect. The courts have simply not allowed this to happen, and the Hawaii legislature needs to be reminded of that."

Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-Lihu‘e-Koloa, a sponsor of the House bill, said the law would target writers and publications that encourage people to go to dangerous places such as Kipu Falls, in Puhi, knowing that to get there the readers will have to walk through private property, according to this account in The GardenIsland of Kaua'i.

The publication quoted Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i, saying that some travel publications encourage tourists to break the trespassing laws. "Some of the guide books say that all of the locals disregard the no-trespassing signs," said Kouchi, who co-introduced the Senate bill.

The bill is moving along. It's a great overreach, an insult to the First Amendment.

How much of an overreach? Well, take these examples from the bill's text (italics are mine): "The legislature finds that visitor Web sites and visitor guide publications may invite potential visitors to trespass ..." ... "The representations made by these visitor Web sites and visitor guide publications may put potential visitors at risk by describing attractions or activities that are located on remote private properties or that are only accessible through remote private property, without adequately describing the inherent dangers associated with these attractions and activities. ..."

Imagine what a First Amendment lawyer could do to that language in a legal challenge. Wait, that language wouldn't even stand up in traffic court.

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s approximately 280 members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies.

Hawaii, by the way, has been struggling with a sharp decline in tourism, a decline that has only recently apparently bottomed out. As Arizona has found out, stupid and unconstitutional laws create an image problem and discourage tourism and meetings business, which Hawaii can scarcely afford to do.



Steve Kalman said...

It seems to me that a law saying a travel writer who advises readers to ignore no trespassing and safety warning signs would be liable for the cost of rescue (to the state) or for environmental repair (to the homeowner, who might be responsible to the state for that) would have a chance of passing a first amdt reasonable test.

This law seems to go far beyond that, and as you say, will fail on first ammdt grounds if the full legislature is foolish enough to enact it.

See also said...

Steve: Granted. Still, here's the gist of the law's intent, from a senator who co-sponsors it: "Some of the guide books say that all of the locals disregard the no-trespassing signs," said Kouchi, who co-introduced the Senate bill. Thanks for the note.

Maya Bandu said...

This is some of the biggest freedom of press BS I've ever heard. Every few months it seems like someone tries to create some thought police legislation for the rich elite in the name of the "masses," and it falls flat on its face. No Way Bubbo!

Ian said...

Politicians are not the best and the brightest; they're the jocks and the student council officers from schools never featured on the front page of the New York Times unless a student with a gun tries to reduce average class size.

Given the idiocy of our current federal legislators, this Hawaiian silliness is not surprising. It's a wonder that they aren't trying to simply ban tourists, never mind that Hawaii has only two reasons for existence, military bases and tourism.