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Hawai‘i’s historic 2024 legislative session comes to a close

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i lawmakers wrapped up the 32nd biennial legislative session on Friday in largely ceremonial fashion that included a traditional display of unity, but also cast final votes on a few momentous bills.

House Speaker Scott Saiki called this year’s session, which began Jan. 17, one of the most historic in Hawai‘i.

Senate President Ron Ko­uchi said “amazing” work this year began with concern over having to cut funding for important needs in order to provide resources to help Maui recover from the Aug. 8 wildfires. Yet, by the end of the session, spread over 60 main working days, lawmakers had delivered $5 billion in tax cuts over eight years, put $300 million into the “rainy day” savings account and kept core services and programs level while also appropriating about $1 billion for Maui relief.

“You all did an incredible job to make sure that everyone in Hawai‘i was helped,” Kouchi (D, Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau) said on the floor of the House after the Senate adjourned its business.

After Kouchi addressed House members, senators who had not already left for lunch appointments or to catch neighbor island flights home joined House members in a circle holding hands to sing “Hawai‘i Aloha.”

Singing the song on the last day, known as “sine die,” of the annual legislative session is a tradition, though it had been interrupted during the coronavirus pandemic and in 2019 when Senate leaders knocked on a locked door leading to the House chamber and were not admitted to join the House in song. Kouchi on Friday described that episode as a miscommunication, though some perceived it as a snub.

During floor sessions Friday in the House and Senate, lawmakers recognized four colleagues who are giving up their seats for other endeavors after contributing a combined 68 years of service in the Legislature.

The four, all of whom had lei piled high on their shoulders, are Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D, Nanakuli- Waianae-Makaha) and Reps. Cedric Gates (Waianae-Makaha), Bert Kobayashi (D, Kahala-Kaimuki-Kapahulu) and Scott Nishimoto (D, Moili‘ili-McCully).

Shimabukuro was elected to the House in 2003, and in 2010 was appointed to replace then-Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who was elected to Congress.

On the Senate floor, Shimabukuro called her 22 years in the Legislature an amazing journey. She did not say why she is leaving, but said it followed much soul searching and that she will focus in part on her work as an attorney at a nonprofit legal services office.

Gates plans to run for Shimabukuro’s Senate seat. He joked to House colleagues, “When I got in at the age of 23, I was full of energy and hope. Look at me now, age 30. I may be a little less hopeful, but I still have the energy to run away from this place while I still can.”

Kobayashi, who served in the House and Senate from 1978 to 1994 and then returned to the House in 2012, thanked colleagues for their support, help and putting up with him.

“I know that you will carry on and do well in future years,” he said. “There is so much to do, and so much that can be done better.”

Nishimoto spent 22 years in the House, and got there six months out of law school at age 28. He thanked past and present colleagues in the Democratic and Republican parties, saying, “I’ve always thought of you as family. I thank you for all the lessons that you’ve taught me, for your friendship and for your mentorship over the years.”

Nishimoto plans to compete for a seat on the Honolulu City Council held by former House Speaker Calvin Say.

Before the send-offs, the House and Senate on Friday passed three big-ticket bills.

One of the measures, House Bill 40, appropriates $300 million for the state’s emergency and budget reserve fund, also known as the “rainy day” fund, which has a $1.5 billion balance, along with a $135 million appropriation to a trust fund to pay for future retirement benefits of Hawai‘i government workers.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, focused on financial legislation, said the appropriations in HB 40 represent fiscal responsibility.

“It’s a proactive step towards ensuring Hawaii’s financial resilience in the face of uncertainty,” Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa-Whitmore Village) said on the Senate floor.

The House and Senate also passed HB 2374, making an emergency appropriation of over $375 million to provide roughly 16,000 local government workers with hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic under arbitration awards.

Another bill passed Friday was Senate Bill 3068, which appropriates $470 million to help pay for Maui wildfire recovery work in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Sen. Angus McKelvey (D, West Maui-Maalaea-South Maui) expressed gratitude for the work on SB 3068. “This is so critical,” he said. “I thank all my colleagues on behalf of Lahaina.”

Rep. Linda Ichiyama (D, Fort Shafter Flats-Salt Lake-Pearl Harbor) also praised the bill. “I think that this measure shows the incredible leadership, coordination, thoughtfulness and hard work by both the House, the Senate, the administration (of Gov. Josh Green) and the County of Maui.”

Saiki, in closing out the House floor session after the Senate had already finished, characterized this year’s session as historic.

“When we began this session on Jan. 17, there was so much uncertainty in our state, and I know that each of you felt that uncertainty,” said Saiki (Ala Moana-Kakaako-Downtown). “We were in the aftermath of the Lahaina wildfire. We were faced with disaster preparation. And we were unsure about the fiscal situation of our state. But you pulled through. And this session, in my opinion, is a historic session when you look at all of the accomplishments that you have produced.”
Source: The Garden Island

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