Bag Bill, Gutted and Replaced, Clings To Life

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 30, 2012
Sophie Cocke

Lawmakers are scrambling to keep alive legislation that would charge consumers a fee for single-use bags at the check-out counter.

The tactic: gut and replace.

At the beginning of this week, only one of two bills that would impose a five cents 1 fee on bags was still alive. House Bill 2260 died a mysterious death last month, when House Majority Leader Pono Chong, who opposes the bill, said he made an administrative mistake. (You can read about it here. The other, Senate Bill 2511, passed three committees almost unanimously — Republican Sen. Sam Slom voted against it — and moved over to the House.

But this week, supporters began to worry that the House would kill this version, too.

Only one committee still has to hear the bill — House Finance — before it would go to conference and a full floor vote. But the Finance Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on it, one method of stopping it, and it must do so before a Thursday deadline.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, the head of the Finance Committee, who is in charge of scheduling the bill for a hearing, could not be reached for comment.
But the measure’s supporters, including Sen. Mike Gabbard, say that they heard Oshiro wasn’t going to hear it.

Thus, the reincarnation of the legislation on the Senate side.

“We are moving into the conference phase, so the plot thickens,” said Gabbard.

Senate leaders took House Bill 2483, which dealt with climate change, gutted it, and inserted the single-use bag bill into it.
The description of the bill still reads: “Amends the Hawaii State Planning Act to include climate change adaptation priority guidelines.”
But the bill’s language now starts: “The legislature finds that the excessive use of single-use checkout bags presents an unnecessary hazard to the natural environment.”

The measure will now go to two Senate Committees — Energy and Environment, and Ways and Means — where it is likely to pass easily. (Both committees passed the bill last time.)

But the bill’s final passage still faces significant hurdles. Once it goes to a vote by both the House and Senate, Oshiro will still have to sign off on it before going to the governor.

The new bill will at least keep the measure, and mounting political pressure, alive in the case that House Finance kills the senate version.
“At least we have a vehicle, so we will see what happens,” said Gabbard.

The single-use bag bill has attracted broad support, with testimony on the measure being overwhelmingly in favor of it. And it has the backing of not only environmental groups, but also large grocery stores.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has also encouraged passage. Much of the revenue from the fees — about $11 million a year — would go to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources for watershed protection. Protecting the state’s freshwater resources is an issue that the governor has stressed is critical to the state.
The fact that the bill has struggled in the House, in spite of the support, has angered its supporters.

“It’s perplexing,” said Robert Harris, executive director of the Hawaii Sierra Club, which is strongly supporting the measure. “It is completely internal (to the House), and it is relatively secret opposition. I just don’t know who, what or why is holding this up.”

Members of the Finance Committee, who were busy in hearings Friday, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Asked about what could be holding up the legislation, Gabbard said:

“I wish I knew. I wish I could have some intel I could share with you. I really don’t. All I know is that it stalled over there.”