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Saturday, May 1, 1999



Hawaii State Seal

Legislature leaves
excise tax as-is

Pro-business representatives
are upset that more wasn't done
to help business during the
session that's almost over

Bullet Gov loses two, wins one in Senate
Bullet State would pay OHA $16 million

By Mike Yuen
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

Public workers unions got their retroactive pay raises.

But small businesses will still be burdened by the serial imposition of the 4 percent general excise tax at every stage of sales and production, as a visibly upset House Economic Development Chairman Robert Herkes this morning blamed the Senate for killing the so-called "depyramiding" measure.

Herkes (D, Volcano) also accused Senate conferees of sabotaging another bill intended to revitalize the economy -- tax breaks for hotel and resort renovation, seen as an important way to boost the state's No. 1 industry, tourism.

Told of Herkes' complaints, Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairman Andrew Levin said that the Senate conferees weren't playing games. The Senate's goal this year has always been the passage of a depyramiding bill, said Levin (D, Volcano). He added the Senate could still agree to the House's version of depyramiding on Tuesday, when both the House and Senate are scheduled to take final action on bills.

Meanwhile, Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said he might ask the House's majority Democrats whether the legislative session should be extended to resurrect any measure. But for an extension to be put in place, the Senate needs to give its approval, too.

The House leadership conducted a post-mortem this morning after a frantic 20 minutes leading up to a midnight deadline in which House and Senate conferees rushed to sign final bill committee reports. In a bizarre scene in which democracy in action seemed hyped up on adrenalin, harried legislative aides scrambled to push committee reports in front of pen-wielding lawmakers.

One assistant for Sen. Brian Kanno (D, Ewa Beach) didn't move fast enough; he was stripped of the report he was carrying by a faster- moving aide. A lobbyist's assistant jumped into the fray, getting lawmaker's signatures for one particular bill.

Making the cut, or maybe not

Even after House Chief Clerk Patricia Mau-Shimizu declared that the midnight deadline had passed, Sens. Marshall Ige (D, Kaneohe) and Jan Yagi Buen (D, Waihee) signed one bill. Measures signed after midnight would be rejected, Mau-Shimizu said.

An economy-boosting measure that would have exempted exported professional services from the excise tax failed to meet the deadline.

But making the deadline was a measure to cut state and county contributions to the government workers' retirement fund by $280 million in order to provide retroactive pay raises, primarily for county public workers. Another bill earmarked $166 million for state workers' retroactive pay increases.

Last night, representatives of the public employees unions gravitated toward Senate leaders, creating the impression that the Senate was particularly concerned about the pay raise bills for government workers.

"We had a lot of bills that were tied to pro-business development, and they never did get the (Senate's) signatures," House Speaker Say said. "I'm a little disheartened."

Say appealed to the business community to give the Legislature -- at least the House -- another chance. He said he didn't know if the Senate held pro-business measures in conference, intending to kill them at the last minute.

"But it is a concern I brought up with (House) leadership at this point," Say added. "I feel I didn't play any games with anyone."

Asked if he thought the Senate was playing games, Say replied, "You've got to ask them that question."

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) could not be reached; he was behind closed doors with Russell Okata, his boyhood friend who is executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association union.

Judges get a pay raise

House and Senate conferees did approve a $12 billion operating budget for the fiscal biennium that begins July 1. It keeps needed state services and adds funds only for federally mandated education programs and new schools, said House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo) and the Senate's Levin.

Lawmakers agreed to give Hawaii's 79 state judges their first pay raise in nine years with a 27 percent increase over the next two years. However, new judges would have to wait until they are 55 before they can collect state retirement.

The increases would push the annual salary for the Supreme Court's chief justice to $120,370, Circuit Court judges to $110,210 and District Court judges to $103,860.

Conferees also approved a measure that determines how the $1.3 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement that the state will receive over the next 25 years would be used.

Twenty-five percent would go to anti-smoking education, control and prevention; the Department of Health would get 35 percent to promote healthy lifestyles; and 40 percent would be set aside in a "rainy day" fund to help the state endure tough economic times.


Gov loses two, wins
one in Senate hearings

Pat Omandam
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

Shock waves emanated from the State Capitol this week as the Senate shot down the confirmations of Attorney General Margery Bronster and state budget director Earl Anzai, key figures in Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration.

Their dismissal, which came almost entirely at the hands of fellow Democrats, touched off a public outcry, including allegations of Senate vote-trading, Bishop Estate influence and public union arm-twisting.

Meanwhile, three-time Cayetano nominee Gregory Pai finally won approval by the Senate to the Public Utilities Commission.

Other key action this week:

FIREWORKS BAN

House and Senate conferees last night could not reach middle ground on what to do with the fireworks problem, and so the issue was left unresolved this session.

Stricter laws on aerial fireworks were proposed, but many lawmakers wanted the measure to also address regulation of common fireworks -- or at least leave it to the counties to do so.

TUITION WAIVERS

Conferees last night could not agree on University of Hawaii tuition waivers for native Hawaiians. The only option left is if the Senate on Tuesday accepts the amended House version of the Senate bill.

MINIMUM DRIVING AGE

Conferees agreed to raise the driving age to 16, and anyone under age 18 would have to take a driver education course before he or she could get a license. Teens presently can get a license at 15 years, 3 months.

The bill also increases penalties for people who are convicted of driving under the influence if they have passengers who are 15 or younger.

HAWAIIAN ISSUES

Conferees agreed on a plan to pay claims of mismanagement against the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

The measure calls for a five-member compensation commission to study ways to pay more than $16 million in awards to Hawaiians whose claims against the DHHL were heard by the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Individual Claims Review Panel.

Lawmakers, however, deferred for a year a bill that allows for an elected Hawaiian Homes Commission. Lawmakers need more time to figure out how to hold an election only for those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood.

CRIME BILLS

Lawmakers agreed on a package of crime bills, including a measure that requires a defense attorney to prove that the defendant in a manslaughter case was under extreme mental or emotional distress during the crime.

Other measures set mandatory nine-month jail terms for those convicted for the fourth time of misdemeanor theft. Minor sex offenders, such as peeping Toms and flashers, who are also convicted for a fourth time face the same jail term as well as a mandatory sex treatment program.

Habitual felons of violent crimes face life in prison without parole; butterfly knives would be illegal to carry; and it would be a Class "C" felony to secretly videotape people in bathrooms, under other bills.

NEXT WEEK

Following a one-day recess Monday, the House and Senate will take final votes on all bills on Tuesday and then adjourn the session. An extension is possible.

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