Wednesday, May 1, 2002

In the state House, last night's marathon voting session took its toll on Reps. Roy Takumi, left, and Ken Ito.

Bottle bill among
OK’d proposals

By Pat Omandam and Crystal Kua

In a flurry of last-minute action last night, the state Legislature passed dozens of bills, including the so-called bottle bill, which would begin rebating a nickel deposit on beverage containers in 2005.

Proponents said the bottle bill would help keep the environment clean by encouraging recycling. But opponents questioned the bill's financing.

"Let me explain the bill to you -- it is a tax," Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) said.

Floor debate lasted well into the night as lawmakers debated bills in advance of tomorrow's close of the 2002 session.

Three measures were defeated after they failed to make it out of the 25-member Senate.

Two bills died in 12-12 votes. One requires a VHF-FM radio or an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon on ocean craft more than a mile from shore. The other bill requires employers retain at least 50 percent of current employees after a sale, transfer, merger and other takeover of a business. A majority of 13 is needed to pass a bill.

The third defeated bill would have prohibited teenage drivers from being on the road from midnight to 4 a.m. Sixteen senators voted against the bill. The bill's sponsor, Cal Kawamoto, said that while the measure was watered down, he said the bill was intended to educate young drivers to "Be careful."

Other measures that passed included:

>> A measure requiring care home patients to report violent criminal history to care home operators.

The bill was a result of the murder of Agapita Alcarez, an Oahu care home operator. She was killed last October by a woman patient who had committed another murder 17 years earlier and was acquitted by reason of insanity.

>> A bill that would cap the money received by the Hawaii Tourism Authority at $63.2 million annually, with $1 million of that amount going to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to help maintain parks and recreational areas.

House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) lamented that the transfer of the money is the first step toward eventually tapping money from the hotel room tax to use for the state general fund.

"I very much regret this movement, and it will hurt the future of Hawaii," Fox said.

House Transportation Chairman Joseph Souki (D, Wailuku) said legislators must be vigilant in protecting funding for the tourism authority, which is the state's main tourism marketing arm.

Souki said the tourism authority needs all the money it can get to market Hawaii, especially when the economy is down.

House Public Safety Chairman Nestor Garcia (D, Waipio) said improving state parks with this tax money will benefit tourists and residents alike.

"You have to make sure the product is good," Garcia said.

>> A bill that requires mandatory drug treatment for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders instead of a prison term. House Republicans were split on the measure.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua) said Senate Bill 1188 will help people stay out of prison and help with prison overcrowding. But Fox said it won't make a difference.

Instead, Fox suggested that more money be taken from the rainy-day fund for drug treatment, instead of making treatment mandatory.

"Why not use all the money in the rainy-day fund?" he said.

>> A bill for a 10-year, $75 million tax credit for a $650 million resort development at Ko Olina that would include a world-class aquarium and a marine education center.

Proponents said the measure would bring a major economic engine to the Waianae community, which supports the plan, said Rep. Michael Kahikina (D, Nanakuli).

"This measure will spur further development at Ko Olina and the surrounding area," Kahikina said.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Kapolei) said the development would expand an existing, thriving resort area. Rep. Willie Espero (D, Ewa Beach) said the benefits to the state would be far greater than the tax credits being proposed.

"We just need to pass this bill and let the private sector do what it does best -- that is, economic development," Espero said.

But opponents say the measure targets one specific location and one specific developer, something not usually done with state tax credits.

"The taxpayer ends up paying the completed cost for the facilities, and yet there is no way that they get any public benefit or title that would be transferred from these facilities," Sen. David Ige (D, Pearlridge) said.

Ige said the bill is a departure from past practice of targeting tax credits to benefit an industry or a specific type of work that is being encouraged.

"This takes the tax-credit concept way too far," said Rep. Ed Case (D, Manoa).

Case said the problem with this plan is there's no way to believe the project couldn't proceed with the tax breaks.

Rep. Jim Rath (R, Kona) said neighbor-island resorts were built without these tax credits. Moreover, Rath said, it creates government-subsidized competition within the private industry.

"Seventy-five million is a huge amount to be given to one developer," said Rep. Joseph Souki (D, Wailuku).

>> ANOTHER BILL would create the Hawaii Rx program, intended to reduce prescription drug costs. Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe) said the measure amounts to "price controls" that would be the subject of constitutional challenges. Senate Consumer Protection Chairman Ron Menor, however, called the measure "pro-consumer."

>> Private schools would be the beneficiary of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the issuance of special-purpose bonds to help finance construction of private school classroom buildings. Opponents of the bill said the measure violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state by allowing parochial schools to be included, while proponents said private schools also are in need of government help.

>> Legislation aimed at improving the mechanism for setting charter school funding also gained approval.

>> An approved bill intended to reform campaign spending laws could be potentially flawed. Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Bob Watada said that language currently in the bill would make limits on corporate contributions moot.

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