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Make voices heard now on state, county issues

There is a lot going on this week, with a mix of good and bad, policy and politics.

Here are six different things going on right now that deserve your attention:

First the bad: Despite strong testimony from neighbor-island residents and medical professionals in opposition, a joint House committee passed HB1286. This measure, introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki and strongly supported by the travel industry, would prevent any individual county from establishing its own COVID travel rules. Under the guise of needing a “statewide uniform travel policy,” this measure would require every county to follow a “one-size-fits-all” and a “one-test” COVID travel policy.

HB1286 is simply bad policy. State regulation should be a “floor and not a ceiling.” An individual county, due to its unique circumstances, should be allowed to implement stricter standards if they believe it’s in the best interest of their community.

It will be more than interesting to see where the Senate President, Kaua‘i Sen. Ronald Kouchi, goes with this. Kaua‘i’s three 3 representatives will also be voting on this issue in an upcoming floor session. and I am sure all of Kaua‘i will be watching closely. Rep. Dee Morikawa, as a co-introducer of the measure, is in an especially interesting political position.

Now on to other important public-policy measures on the table: SB676, increasing the minimum wage from $10.10 to $12 effective July 2022, has passed unanimously in the Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts. Over 180 individuals and groups testified in support, with only 22 in opposition.

While not $15 or $17 (which is considered a basic subsistence wage), $12 is at least a decent step in the right direction, with an implementation date far enough out to allow the COVID economy to rebound. Pandemic or no pandemic, 27 other states are increasing their minimum wage this year. Hopefully Hawai‘i will be number 28.

Your testimony is needed today in support of increasing local food production. SB335 is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee for this Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m., and testimony is due 24 hours in advance. SB335 mandates the Agribusiness Development Corporation lease out at least 50% of its land to farmers and ranchers whose business is “local food production.”

Why does there need to be a law requiring the agency managing state agricultural land to actually lease that land for local food production? The answer, according to a recent state audit, is that the ADC’s management has failed miserably over the past nearly-30 years to fulfill its mission.

The ADC, in my opinion, should actually be abolished, but until then it needs to be tightly controlled. The ADC manages over 22,000 acres of state-owned agricultural land, most of which is located on Kaua‘i. The vast majority of this land is not used to produce food, certainly not food for local consumption. Spoiler alert: The large fields of corn you see are mostly “seed corn” intended for export and used to produce ethanol, cattle feed, and high-fructose corn syrup. No one actually eats this corn.

Another excellent public-policy proposal that deserves your testimony in support is SB768, scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee Thursday, Feb. 11, at 3 p.m. This measure requires all car-rental companies to convert to 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2035. This is a huge step in the right direction toward eliminating the use of carbon-based fuel in Hawai‘i. Please testify!

Should people collecting unemployment have to pay state income tax on that income? I don’t think so, and thankfully others apparently feel the same way. HB26 and SB614 both seek to provide relief to the unemployed by abolishing this tax, and deserve support as well.

I encourage all to be involved, offer testimony and share your thoughts and concerns with your own district representative and senator. All that you need to know can be found at capitol.hawaii.gov. On this site you can find contact information, submit testimony and read the actual bills. Just register, plug in the bill number (HB### or SB###) and you are good to go. Searches can also be conducted based on topic key words.

Last, but certainly not least, is an important, Kaua‘i-specific issue that deserves your attention. The county’s Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund Commission will meet for the first time in almost a year tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 11, to discuss the potential acquisition of the Alakoko “Menehune” Fishpond. Written testimony should be submitted to openspace@kauai.gov This is an excellent opportunity to support the public acquisition of a unique and valuable piece of our history, culture and ‘aina.

The above six items represent just a small-but-important slice of what is going on in the world of Hawai‘i policy and politics. Readers are encouraged to get informed, get involved and take action in support or in opposition, as may be appropriate.

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Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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