Marijuana decriminalization, Steven Tyler Act Senate bills head to House

Hawaii News Now - March 5, 2013
Mileka Lincoln

Thursday is the first Crossover at the State Capitol -- meaning if a bill doesn't move from the House to the Senate or vice versa, it's likely dead this legislative session.

After weeks of committee hearings, floor discussions and draft amendments, hundreds of Senate proposals are now heading to the House-- including a marijuana decriminalization bill, which passed unanimously today.

"It does not make smoking marijuana legal or lawful," clarified Senator Clayton Hee, addressing his colleagues in support of Senate Bill 472, Senate Draft 1.

Instead it would make possession of one ounce or less a civil violation punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

"Studies indicate by moving the illegal activity of smoking marijuana from the criminal calendar to the civil calendar, taxpayers would save $9 million," said Senator Hee.

The last time Senators passed a similar bill, Representatives declined to hear it-- but one bill that is expected to get House support is green infrastructure financing.

"This would truly help us bring power to the people," advocated Senator Mike Gabbard, during discussion on the floor.

Senate Bill 1087 would eliminate the high up front costs for solar and other renewable energies by allowing customers to repay loans on their electric bills over time. It passed with 23 ayes, 1 no (Senator Sam Slom) and 1 excused (Senator Ronald Kouchi).

"This is really going to open up PV [photovoltaic] systems and other clean, renewable energies to everyone," said Senator Gabbard. "It's such an important bill that it drew the attention of national energy experts who came to Hawai'i to say that this would be the first in the Nation."

Another bill that has drawn a lot of attention across the country is the proposed "Steven Tyler Act", which passed today despite concerns it violates the First Amendment.

"My final remarks to Mr. Steven Tyler as he sang so eloquently, 'Dream on. Dream on," said Senator Sam Slom, as he addressed his opposition to the bill.

Senate Bill 465, Senate Draft 1 passed with 23 ayes, though Senator Laura Thielen did so with reservations; and 2 noes (Senator Sam Slom and Senator Les Ihara).

The bill would allow people to sue if they feel their privacy is being violated by someone taking an "offensive" photo or capturing video of them in a private moment.

"We're the only state in the Union that has privacy in our constitution. We have a very strong privacy law, even penalties for egregious behavior. So to pass this bill for one type of people -- celebrities, particularly on Maui -- I think is really inappropriate," said Senator Slom.

Other closely watched proposals that will move from the Senate to the House, include a bill requiring sexual assault victims access to emergency contraception-- though, a religious exemption amendment was denied.

"Even Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, allows for exemptions for religious purposes," said Senator Slom, who voted against Senate Bill 1109, Senate Draft 2. "This does not recognize religious liberties for either individuals or institutions such as hospitals. Everybody wants to give the best care and take care of anyone who's been raped or assaulted or anything else, but that's not the point-- there is care that is available but to force people to go against their religious beliefs I think is overstepping the boundary."

Also crossing over from the Senate to the House, a minimum wage raise to $8.25 starting next January-- with $.50 increases the following two years.

Senate Bill 331, Senate Draft 2 passed with 23 ayes, though Senators Donovan Dela Cruz, Mike Gabbard, Clarence Nishihara, Russell Ruderman, Malama Solomon, Laura Thielen, and Glenn Wakai did so with reservations; 1 no (Senator Slom) and 1 excused (Senator Kim).

During her address on the Senate floor, Senator Solomon expressed her concern about using the Honolulu region consumer price index to determine the minimum wage.

"The neighbor islands, especially the island of Hawai'i is at a very much lower economy -- in terms of where they're at, and I'm supporting it simply because the judiciary chairman mentioned that this is not the final product," said Senator Solomon, before adding, "I'm hoping that as the bill progresses that we will be able to address these concerns so it's a question of fairness when we're making these decisions."

Senate Bill 693, Senate Draft 2 which would establish a three-year red light traffic camera pilot program also passed with 21 ayes, though Senators Kalani English, Gilbert Kahele,Clarence Nishihara, Russell Ruderman, Maile Shimabukuro, and Malama Solomon; 4 noes (Senators Josh Green, Hee, Brian Taniguchi, and Slom).