It’s easy to imagine the scene at the big square building in Honolulu, Wednesday Jan. 17, opening day of the 2024 legislative session.
There will be “pomp and circumstance,” important people rubbing shoulders with other important people, high-minded rhetoric spoken from the floor of the House and Senate chambers, and a common message intended to dampen expectations.
Maui, rightfully so, will be the lead topic and strong commitments will be made to do everything possible to help our friends and neighbors in Lahaina.
The state budget and lack of money will be the next point made. Various speakers will stress that the Legislature will likely have to delay many important and pressing needs. My hope is after dampening expectations (a smart political move in an election year), our friends at the Legislature will then on May 3 sine die, surprise us and far exceed them.
Balancing the budget, and paying for basic essentials is always an issue. However, it’s also always true there are many ways new money can be found without impacting the average local resident. Increased taxes and fees for visitors, off-island investors, and large multinational corporations are a good place to start.
Passing a publicly funded “Clean Elections” measure requires only modest first year funding since 2026 is the earliest it would take effect. It’s a top priority of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i and sitting in every single key position in the House and Senate is a Hawai‘i Democrat.
Strengthening SNAP benefits for low income families is actually an economic driver bringing in more federal dollars that are spent in local grocery stores and farmers markets. Allowing these benefits to be utilized in local restaurants further helps our small businesses.
Other initiatives that will have a zero budget impact include:
Require rental car companies to be “all electric” within X number of years. Increase tax rates on gasoline powered rental cars to incentivize the transition. This will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and provide an inventory of used EV’s for purchase by local residents. Require hotels to provide charging stations.
Ban the sale or prohibit the use of cancer causing chemicals within X number of miles from schools, hospitals, houses, parks, and drinking water sources.
Allow traditional birthing attendants to legally attend and support home-birthing upon the request of an expectant mother who has been fully informed as to attendants qualifications. House Majority Leader and Kauai Representative Nadine Nakamura will play an influential role in determining the future of this measure. For background and updates go to the Hawai‘i Home Birth Collective: https://hihbc.org/.
Prohibit the incarceration of people who’ve not been convicted of any crime and are awaiting trial, unless they’re considered a flight risk, have a history of violence, are chronic reoffenders, subject to restraining order, or the crime they’re accused involves violence. Almost half the people in jail (at $253 per day), are “pre-trial detainees,” who are poor and cannot afford bail.
Prohibit referral of bills to the Finance or Ways and Means committee unless there’s a direct budget impact. Require bill amendments be in writing and available for public review at least 48 hours in advance of the vote. Prohibit bill deferral by committee without a vote.
Require affordable housing permit processing to take precedence over all other permitting requests. This doesn’t mean cutting corners, but does mean affordable housing for local residents must always be at front of the line.
Pass a House and Senate Concurrent Resolution calling for a complete ceasefire in Gaza-Israel similar to the Resolution passed by the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i.
Well there you have it — 12 different public policy proposals, 3 that raise money, 1 with modest and phased in costs, and the rest with minimal to zero budget impact. I’m absolutely sure that advocates walking the halls at the Capitol today, the armchair quarterbacks at home watching, and those guys in suits smiling and shaking hands, can come up with many more.
Now we just need the political will.
That will happen when you call your district representative and senator, and ask them politely to make it so.
Find your district Rep/Sen contact info here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/
Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island