December 23, 2022

Hirono Bills to Protect Coral Reefs, Reconnect Families Separated by Korean War, Create New VA Advisory Committee Enacted Into Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Joe Biden signed into law three bills introduced by U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) to protect coral reefs, connect families separated by the Korean War, and create a new Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee. Senator Hirono’s Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act and Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act were both signed into law as part of the fiscal year 2023 (FY23) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as was legislation she introduced to create a VA Advisory Committee for veterans from outlying areas and the Freely Associated States.

Senator Hirono’s Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act is a bipartisan bill to help protect coral reef ecosystems in Hawaii and across the nation from increasing threats such as climate change, pollution, and direct damage from humans. The legislation directs the federal agencies that are members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to establish—individually or with one or more other agencies—a coral health prize competition in order to spur innovative solutions to preserve, sustain, and restore coral reef ecosystems at no additional cost to taxpayers. 

“Coral reefs are vital to Hawaii’s environment, providing a rich habitat for marine life while helping to protect our coastlines and prevent flooding. However, decades of pollution and ocean warming caused by climate change have left corals in Hawaii and around the world at risk of extinction,” said Senator Hirono. “As we work to protect and restore coral reef ecosystems, I’m glad that President Biden has now signed into law my legislation to create prize competitions that will help incentivize innovation and inspire creative solutions to protect coral reefs. I’ll continue fighting to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs and all of our natural resources for generations to come.”

The Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act, which Senator Hirono introduced in August, is bipartisan legislation that directs the U.S. Secretary of State to establish a formal process to help Korean American families reconnect with family members that remain in North Korea.

“No family should be forcibly separated. Nearly seven decades after the Korean War armistice though, too many Korean American families are still unable to connect with family members in North Korea,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation takes important steps toward ending this injustice by directing the Secretary of State to develop a process to reconnect these families. I’m glad to see this bill signed into law and look forward to working with the State Department to build on this progress.”

Also signed into law as part of the NDAA was legislation introduced by Senator Hirono and Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP) to create a VA Advisory Committee on United States Outlying Areas and Freely Associated States to advise VA on matters relating to veterans residing in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

“VA has a duty to provide quality, accessible care and support to all of our veterans, no matter where they live,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation will help ensure VA is aware of, and responsive to, the needs of U.S. veterans living in outlying areas and the Freely Associated States. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m glad to see this legislation signed into law to help VA better serve our veterans across the Pacific.”

As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hirono also secured numerous defense-related provisions in the FY23 NDAA, including $1 billion for the closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Oahu, as well as nearly $800 million for other military infrastructure projects across Hawaii.