Monday, March 10, 2003

Lingle lauds
lawmakers for 3 E's

The governor says the Legislature
is focusing aptly on the economy,
ethics and education

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Although many of her proposals have been dying in committees, Gov. Linda Lingle has not been altogether disappointed in the work of the 2003 Legislature so far.

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"I feel very good," Lingle said last week, "that the three issues that I outlined at the beginning of the session are the three that have taken up the most attention at the Legislature, that is, restoring trust in government, expanding the economy and improving public education.

"That doesn't mean there was agreement with me on everything, but it meant that people understand these are the most important issues facing the state," Lingle said.

Lingle's assessment of the Legislature came Friday, the day after the deadline for the House and Senate to complete work on all bills -- except the state budget -- and exchange them for further discussion and crafting.

Although roughly 40 percent of the administration bills introduced in the House and Senate failed to pass out of their respective chambers, Hawaii's first Republican governor in 40 years said she remains committed to her agenda.

"The legislative process is just that: It's a process and it's over on May 1st," Lingle said. "I'll maybe talk about some of these things later on, knowing that the Legislature has the ability to revive things whenever they want -- and they always seem to have a way if it's something important.

"My responsibility is to show them why things are important, and I intend to continue to do that throughout the session."

Lingle has tried to do that so far by being more visible in the halls of the Capitol than her predecessor, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, and testifying at committee hearings on some of her key bills.

Among those was a proposal seeking to let voters decide a constitutional amendment to break up the state's centralized school system into seven locally elected boards.

That measure was tabled by committees along with other administration proposals for sweeping education reform that included removing public school principals from unions, making their employment contingent upon student achievement and community input, and removing the cap on the number of charter schools allowed by law.

Both the House and the Senate approved their own plans to bring school governance closer to communities without abolishing the school board, noting that the governor's plan would take at least five years to implement.

"The objective from the education perspective was to focus on what we can do right away and do what we can to mitigate against some of the severe education budget cuts," said Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki). "We think that's the more pressing issue."

Among Lingle's proposals that have won support are bills that would require insurers to continue offering mental illness benefits on par with physical illness, consolidate the Aloha Tower Development Corp. into the Hawaii Community Development Authority and limit the state's liability when outdoor enthusiasts are injured on state parks and hiking trails when proper warning signs are in place.

The Senate also has advanced her proposal to offer tax credits for people who purchase long-term care insurance policies. The House shelved the governor's proposal in favor of its own long-term care tax credit proposal.

Lingle has her eye on other key dates such as Wednesday, when the Council on Revenues is scheduled to release its next tax revenue forecast, and March 20, when the House must transmit the budget over to the Senate for consideration.

"Most of my attention right now is focused on the budget," Lingle said.

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