By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
A bill that would further reduce Hawaii animal quarantine fees has passed the Senate Transportation and Military Affairs Committee, but not before facing opposition from the department that operates the quarantine program.
Senate Bill 204, which faces a reading by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would appropriate $500,000 from the state general fund to help reduce quarantine user fees.
The bill is aimed primarily to help military families moving to Hawaii. Military leaders here for years have complained about the high cost of quarantine fees affecting military people who are stationed here.
But the state Department of Agriculture, which operates the animal quarantine station in Halawa, opposes the measure because a federal law approved in October will soon reimburse military families moving to Hawaii $275 for quarantine costs. The $275 is per family, regardless of the number of pets they bring.
Military officials estimate that 1,645 military pet owners, or about 35 percent of the states annual quarantine users, move to Hawaii every year.
State agriculture director James Nakatani said the Legislature appropriated $500,000 last year to provide short-term assistance to quarantine users until the federal money kicked in. The $500,000 appropriation lowered the 30-day quarantine fee from $655 to $545 until the end of June this year.
"Since funds under this (federal) appropriation are expected to become available shortly, a state general fund appropriation is no longer necessary," Nakatani testified.
But Senate Transportation and Military Affairs Committee Chairman Cal Kawamoto, D-19th (Waipahu, Pearl City), said families moving here with pets, particularly military personnel, deserve a break in quarantine costs.
The state Department of Agriculture has raised quarantine fee rates significantly since 1999 because of a legislative mandate that the quarantine facility be self-supporting.
Approximately 4,500 animals were quarantined in Hawaii last year, generating about $3 million of revenue. State officials estimates it costs $2.6 million to operate the Halawa facility.
Kawamoto said the latest proposed state money would allow the 30-day quarantine fee to remain around $545.
"The bill is primarily for those who are forced to come to Hawaii because of military assignment," Kawamoto said. But the state appropriation would allow a reduction in fees for civilians and military, he said.
Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Hawaii Business Roundtable, and Hawaiian Humane Society testified in support of the measure, which passed the committee Tuesday.
Kawamoto said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, is considering another federal bill for 2003 that would continue reduction in quarantine costs for military pet owners. Worldwide, about 3,000 U.S. military people with pets are assigned annually to areas with quarantines, which also include the United Kingdom, Australia, Iceland, and Guam.
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