The Senate leadership has reshuffled some of the key committee assignments as it readies for the start of the 2017 legislative session in January.
Sen. Will Espero will take over as chairman of the Housing Committee, which had been led by Sen. Brickwood Galuteria. The committee is expected to take up high-priority proposals relating to the state’s homeless problem and lack of affordable housing.
Espero has previously served as vice chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, which includes oversight of law enforcement. He became an outspoken advocate for police reform measures, arguing for greater public transparency about police officers who have been disciplined or forced to resign, and urging the county police departments to do a better job in testing sexual assault kits.
Espero received some resistance from the Honolulu Police Department. Earlier this year Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who is under investigation by the FBI, accused Espero of “building his political reputation on the backs of my officers,” in an interview with KHON.
Espero responded that it’s in his purview as a lawmaker to hold the department accountable.
Espero told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday that he didn’t think his advocacy on behalf of police reform measures had anything to do with being moved off of the committee that oversees public safety. He said he will continue to speak out about police issues in his role as a senator.
“I found that the people want accountability in our law enforcement, and what I found was that they saw that nobody was speaking up and nobody was making an issue the way I have been,” he said.
Espero said he is looking forward to tackling housing issues as the new Housing Committee chairman.
Sen. Clarence Nishihara will remain chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee. Sen. Glenn Wakai will take Espero’s place as vice chairman.
Committee chairmen hold substantial power over which bills progress through the legislative session, and can kill measures by not scheduling a hearing for them.
In other changes, the committee on Water, Land and Agriculture has been split into two: the Water and Land Committee and the Agriculture and Environment Committee.
Sen. Karl Rhoads will lead the Water and Land Committee. This is Rhoads’ first term as a senator. He served for a decade in the House of Representatives, where he led the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Mike Gabbard will assume the chairmanship the Agriculture and Environment Committee, which could tackle issues such as rapid ohia death, which has killed millions of trees across Hawaii island, and the GMO issue, which is expected to gain new momentum this session with critics of biotech vowing to take their fight to the Legislature after county ordinances restricting the cultivation of GMO crops were overturned by the courts.
Sen. Josh Green will lead the Human Services Committee, taking over for Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, who chose not to run for re-election this year.
Sen. Kai Kahele, who won his first election to the Senate this year, will be chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Kahele had taken the place of his father, Sen. Gil Kahele, who died at the beginning of this year.
Sen. Ron Kouchi remains Senate president, and Sen. Jill Tokuda remains chairwoman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Other committee assignments include Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health; Wakai, chairman of Economic Development, Tourism and Technology; Sen. Michelle Kidani, chairwoman of Education; Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chairwoman of Government Operations; Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, chairwoman of Hawaiian Affairs; Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of International Affairs and the Arts; Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, chairman of Judiciary and Labor; and Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of Transportation and Energy.
Galuteria will be vice chairman of Hawaiian Affairs.