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A look back on the legislative session

LIHUE — State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka summed up the 2019 legislative session like this:

“It wasn’t home runs for us this year, but I would categorize it as a lot of singles,” he said.

Tokioka, along with state Reps. Dee Morikawa and Nadine Nakamura, and state Senate President Ron Kouchi, his right arm in a sling due to rotator-cuff surgery, gave their annual session summary at Thursday’s Lihue Business Association meeting.

They talked about the proposed minimum-wage bill, the North Shore’s continuing recovery, vaping, affordable housing and success with capital improvement project funding.

“We will continue to do good for our island,” Morikawa said to the crowd of about 60 people at Duke’s Canoe Club restaurant at the Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club.

Nakamura said a priority was the North Shore. Residents there are concerned about traffic congestion with the pending reopening of Kuhio Highway beyond Hanalei, which has been closed due to damage since the April 2018 flooding.

The potential problems with illegally parked cars on both sides of the narrow highway has been heightened as residents there “started seeing what it was like to reclaim their community.”

“This is what I consider one of the hot spots,” Nakamura said.

One part of the solutions is a bill that increases fines for illegal parking to $200 from $35. The funds from those fines, she added as the crowd applauded, will be split between the state highway fund and the county’s law enforcement agency.

“This is a model I would like to see in other areas,” she said.

Tokioka explained why he was against the proposed minimum-wage bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $15.10 an hour over five years.

“It all sounds good, let’s raise it to $15,” he said.

But he said the impacts on restaurants would be significant, including higher prices and fewer jobs.

He recounted a story of a friend who runs a restaurant who said this about increasing the minimum wage: “It’s going to hurt the small folks.”

Tokioka said many stores hire people with disabilities but might not be able to afford to continue to do that if wages climb too high.

“Those are the unintended consequences,” he said.

He said in Honolulu, more than 100 restaurants opened in the last two years — and more than 200 closed.

“And that’s even before this minimum wage,” he said.

While supporting the concept of higher wages in general, Tokioka said, “I think that it’s something we need to strive for, but we have to be very, very careful.”

He said he voted no on every minimum-wage proposal that came before legislators.

“I wasn’t satisfied the people we wanted to help were going to get help,” he said.

Capital improvement projects were a highlight for Kauai’s legislators.

Before the House of Representatives adjourned its 2019 session, it passed $89.1 million in CIP funding for fiscal year 2020 and 2021 for projects across Kauai County.

Those projects included:

w $3 million for Kapaa High School;

w $2 million for Kekaha School;

w $8.7 million to the Kauaʻi Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation;

w $12.2 million total for the Kalaheo-Lawai-Omao Water System for improvements, provided the county provides matching funds equaling 20 percent of the state funds;

w $23 million total for Lihue Airport improvements;

w $15 million total for Nawiliwili Harbor improvements;

w $4 million total for Port Allen Harbor improvements;

Kouchi spoke of strong partnerships between agencies, government and legislators for that success.

Despite having the smallest delegation at the Legislature, and despite not agreeing on everything, Kauai’s legislators got things done for the island and its people, he said.

“The only way to achieve that goal is for us to work together,” he said.

Legislators were asked about taking steps to prevent youth from using vaping devices, referred to at the meeting as a “rising epidemic.”

“We know we have an epidemic of elementary and middle school students who are using vaping devices regularly,” said Tommy Noyes.

“It is a huge problem, not just in our state, but in our nation,” Nakamura said, who voted for a ban on flavored vaping products, which did not pass this year.

It will likely be brought up again next year.

“It’s hard to fix it in one legislative session,” Tokioka said.

“You’ve got our 100 percent support on this issue,” Kouchi said.

On trying to create affordable housing, Kouchi said, “the key is to have shovel-ready projects.”

The county and the state need to look at new strategies.

“Whatever we’ve done hasn’t worked,” he said.

Tokioka said they want community groups to present specific proposals they would like to see their legislators work on.

“Hopefully, we can help achieve some of those goals,” he said.

Legislators heard about 3,000 bills during the sessions, but fewer than 300 passed into law.

“There are thousands of things people are concerned about,” Tokioka said.

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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