Still Alive at the Hawaii Ledge

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 6, 2012
Chad Blair

Even the mammoth state Capitol was not immune from Tuesday's unrelenting stormy weather.

Around 5 p.m., as the House of Representatives continued its marathon floor session — the Senate, as usual, had wrapped things up hours earlier — the lights in the chamber flickered before emergency power kicked in.

Still, both chambers managed to plow through hundreds of bills that faced a Thursday deadline.

The Senate agreed to a regulatory structure for an undersea power cable, accepted charging 10 cents for single-use checkout bags, directed more money from the rainy day fund — rainy day! — to needy social programs, extended tax credits for digital and film production, required out-of-state vacation rental owners to hire local managers and set up a gambling commission to study gambling.

The House, which finished business by 6 p.m., approved red light and speeding cameras, promoted aerospace research and development, taxed Internet sales, authorized toll roads, eliminated junior kindergarten, exempted lobbyists who are task force members from the State Ethics Code, criminalized disorderly conduct at the Capitol, strengthened mortgage foreclosure laws, awarded people who blow the whistle on those who fail to pay their fair share of taxes and helped facilitate broadband expansion.

There was the usual disagreement on critical bills.

In the Senate, Clayton Hee spoke strongly about his reservations about the state's proposal to give $200 million in Kakaako land to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to settle ceded land claims. While voting in favor of the measure — which he said was "unfair" — Hee made it clear that the legislation will face further scrutiny.
House Democrats and Republicans, meantime, clashed at length over whether to enact a state bank, ease environmental laws on some development, allow probation for drug offenders and make the Office of Planning responsible for granting or denying special management area permits for coastal lands.

Thank goodness for Sen. Mike Gabbard, then, who got laughs for donning lei made of plastic bags to speak in support of the 10 cent fee for single-bag use. A good chunk of the revenue will go to preserve precious state watersheds — no doubt overflowing under the current deluge.

All of these bills now have to be heard by the other chamber, and then face conference committee.

Lawmakers will meet again Thursday to hear other measures; the crossover deadline for budget bills is March 14.

'So-called Settlement'
Sen. Hee said the "so-called settlement" for the OHA-Kakaako deal was not milestone legislation "but actually a poor representation of what is owed to Native Hawaiians."

To illustrate the "sad history of these islands," Hee read from the 1993 apology from President Bill Clinton that acknowledged the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom a century before. The senator said Senate Bill 2873 fell far short of reconciling what had been addressed in the apology.

Hee, a former OHA chair, was particularly critical of OHA trustees.

"Who am I to challenge their wisdom?" he asked. "I am a native son of Hawaii who believes that they are wrong."

Hee continued: "I give fair notice that this settlement is not fair ... it represents a colossal misunderstanding of the native people."
But four other Hawaiian senators — Malama Solomon, Pohai Ryan, Brickwood Galuteria and Gil Kahele — spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a good first step toward resolving long-standing claims in ceded-land revenues owed by the state to OHA.

'Socialistic, Harebrained'
House Minority Leader Gene Ward said there was no need to study the idea of a state bank, because Massachusetts had already studied North Dakota, the only state that has its own bank.

Another Republican, Rep. Barbara Marumoto, a Republican, called the idea "socialistic" and "harebrained."
But Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro, backed up by fellow Democrats, said the idea of a state bank was a "work in progress" that is worth studying.

Oshiro also pushed a plan for Hawaii to tax Internet sales, which he said could bring in $10 million to $50 million per year.
"They are not paying their taxes," agreed Rep. Isaac Choy.

Still, most Republicans and several Democrats voted no on the measure.

The party members also fought over a plan to sentence to probation some drug offenders rather than lock them up. Democrats see the idea as part of a "Justice Reinvestment" initiative to empty prisons of nonviolent offenders, but some Republicans worry about public safety.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican, was particularly incensed at a bill allowing for exemptions to the state's law on environmental impact statements. After decades of passing legislation designed to protect natural resources, Thielen said the laws were being "washed away."

"It's a sad day, Mr. Speaker," she said.

Democrats like Cindy Evans, Derek Kawakami and Pono Chong, however, countered that the bill was narrowly crafted and should not be interpreted as a broad exemption to EIS law.

"It strikes the right balance," said Kawakami, who said the state needed to move construction projects more quickly through the permitting process.
Easing the permitting process is key to the majority's desire to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects to stimulate economic growth — the top priority of the Legislature and the governor.