What’s next for lifeguards and our beaches after lawmakers fail to extend protective law

Time has run out for state lawmakers to extend protections for county lifeguards.

Lawmakers had until 6 p.m. Thursday to make a decision, and now lifeguards are left in limbo.

As the law is now, lifeguards are protected from being sued for most actions they perform on the job, but that law expires June 30.

Instead of protections, some lawmakers wanted to mandate the attorney general to defend lifeguards in court, but only for cases involving state beaches (Senate Bill 562). It would not apply to lifeguards who protect popular county beaches, like Ala Moana and Sandy beaches.

When Sen. J. Kalani English, Senate Majority Leader, introduced the bill, he originally called for the law to be extended through June 30, 2021.

“I’ve always advocated for the protection of county lifeguards and to provide them the tools they need to do their job,” said English. “I will continue to pursue this issue and introduce a bill next session to try to restore immunity for the lifeguards.”

Lifeguards say they’re going to look for other avenues to keep their protections in place. In the meantime, they’ll continue to risk their lives to save lives at our beaches.

“Going forward, we’ve just got to keep a positive mindset and whichever way it comes out, just be professional and we just keep on doing our jobs,” said Mel Puu with Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services. “When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if we have it or not. If there’s giant surf out there, we’re still going to go. If there are shark-infested waters, we’re still going to go, but the repercussions later is what we’re worried about.”

The union representing the lifeguards is also currently going through arbitration to secure a new contract.

We asked if Thursday’s result could possibly affect how that will be handled going forward. Lifeguards say it’s possible, but too early to tell how.

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