Legislators tackle cost of living
Key measures are still alive as the crossover deadline nears
As lawmakers reach the first major deadline of the legislative session this week, dozens of key measures are still in play.
Among them are the governor's proposals to promote innovation, a constitutionally mandated tax cut, streamlining for affordable-housing projects, increased pedestrian safety and a host of other issues that will be vetted further by each side after they complete work on their own bills before exchanging them.
The crossover deadline is Thursday, although lawmakers will take up most of the bills today.
"For us, our theme this session is the cost of living in Hawaii and trying to address issues on affordability to keep the people here in Hawaii," said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa).
"Whether it's housing, alternative energy, health care or disaster preparedness, in one way or another, they all relate to addressing cost of living and making it more affordable for our people to live in Hawaii," he added.
This year's crossover will not feature two of the more controversial bills -- physician-assisted suicide and civil unions -- after they were defeated in committees earlier this year.
Bills still alive include some of those that cover Gov. Linda Lingle's proposals to shift the state's economy away from land development and toward high-tech jobs and innovation.
"We're looking at all those measures and seeing which ones rise to the top," said House Economic Development Chairman Kyle Yamashita (D, Pukalani-Ulupalakua). "We want to see what the Senate does."
Caldwell added that some of Lingle's innovation ideas are similar to proposals introduced by Democrats in the past. While Lingle's specific bills might not be alive, most of the concepts are alive in other measures that are moving.
"They're all there to move forward to the next level, to the Senate side," he said.
One of Lingle's proposals expected to come out of the Senate is a bill that would require the state Employees' Retirement System to consider investing some of its money into Hawaii venture capital opportunities.
Lingle had called for $100 million to be set aside from the fund. The Senate Ways and Means Committee deleted the specific amount, while the House Finance Committee tabled the measure altogether.
"We were troubled with requiring the ERS to invest in highly risky kinds of ventures dealing with high tech, where the failure rate is high," Caldwell said. "We didn't want to gamble with retirees' money."
Meanwhile, work also is scheduled to begin tomorrow on the biennial budget.
House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said he expects next week's Council on Revenues forecast to be either unchanged or revised downward.
At its previous meeting, the council had kept its predictions for modest economic growth for the rest of the 2007 fiscal year and all of 2008, but downgraded its forecast for subsequent years.
"That's why we're taking a very conservative approach right now -- very conservative," Oshiro said.
A look at some measures still alive as the House and Senate approach their first major deadline of the session. Thursday is the day each chamber must complete work on its own bills before exchanging them for further debate and crafting.
House Bill 351: Establishes the photo red-light imaging detector system program. Authorizes counties to implement the program.
HB 791: Requires oil refiners, gas stations and distributors to make available premium gasoline with no ethanol.
HB 1001: Creates a pilot project that aims to streamline the permitting process for affordable-housing projects.
HB 1008: Creates a three-year pilot program to provide insurance for poor children whose families do not qualify for other state or federal health care coverage.
HB 1268: Among other initiatives, establishes the Hawaii Excellence Through Science and Technology Academy Program to increase the readiness and motivation of public high school graduates to pursue post-secondary training and career options in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
HB 1434: Provides a mandatory tax credit to taxpayers pursuant to the state Constitution.
HB 1905: Grants Department of Land and Natural Resources the right to enter property, public or private, to inspect dams.
Senate Bill 917: Appropriates funds to the Department of Public Safety to develop a plan by Jan. 1 to bring all female Hawaii prisoners incarcerated in mainland prisons back to the islands by July 1, 2009.
SB 990: Appropriates funds for greater monitoring and analysis of oil industry pricing data.
SB 1191: Appropriates funds for a pilot study to identify state and county intersections where the time to cross the intersection is insufficient for elderly pedestrians.
SB 1285: Exempts the sale of liquid fuels and alcohol fuels from the general excise tax; increases the fuel tax by 1 cent a gallon.
SB 1365: Requires the Employees' Retirement System to consider the allocation of funds for Hawaii venture capital investments, unless it is not prudent to do so.
Source: Hawaii State Legislature