Where's the legislation?
Isle lawmakers have failed to take action to improve the quality of life in Hawaii
AS the 2007 legislative session heads toward its May 3 conclusion, the question asked by many Hawaii residents is: Where's the legislation?
People around the state are describing this session as "do nothing" and "lackluster" for its failure to produce legislation to significantly better the quality of life in Hawaii. The responsibility for not accomplishing more to address our state's needs is squarely on the shoulders of each and every legislator.
Tax relief and health care reform are the two issues on which residents pleaded for the state's help. But the public's calls have been ignored by the Legislature because of an inability to exclude politics and embrace compromise.
Lawmakers could have provided overtaxed residents with meaningful relief through a comprehensive package proposed by the Lingle-Aiona administration that included raising the standard deduction, eliminating the general excise tax on essential foods, reducing taxes on families that need it most and providing a cash refund mandated by the state Constitution.
Residents around our state, and particularly on the neighbor islands, are clamoring for changes to the health care system. Lawmakers again had an opportunity to pass legislation from the administration. Doctors need relief from medical malpractice laws, which could have been reformed to cap the amount of damages and limit lawyers' fees. A revised Certificate of Need process would allow more hospitals, clinics, care homes and other services. This would, for example, help Maui residents gain a much-needed second hospital.
The 2007 Legislature would accomplish even less without Gov. Linda Lingle's multifaceted legislative package.
FORTUNATELY for residents, the governor's initiatives on affordable housing and innovation are advancing, and look to be the most significant achievements of this session.
Although final figures are still under discussion, homeless and affordable housing budgets could be increased by up to $100 million under the governor's initiatives. This would increase funding for the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund, the Rental Housing Trust Fund, support services at homeless shelters and transitional housing, and repair and renovation of public housing projects.
Increasing Hawaii's quality of life depends on reducing our over-reliance on land development as the primary driver of our economy. The Hawaii Innovation Initiative is a pioneering proposal to reform our state's economy and allow us to compete in a world increasingly focused on science and technology. Legislators have wisely supported most of the governor's programs in education, the economy and international affairs. They have, however, rejected key workforce development parts of the initiative.
Lingle isn't concerned about credit for these initiatives. She simply wants the needs of Hawaii's people met today, not next year.
Many residents wonder what exactly the Legislature has focused on for the past four months. For one, senators have been improperly distracted by distorting the confirmation process for department directors such as Peter Young of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. This wastes precious time and sets dangerous precedents for the future. There also has been a political push to curtail the governor's authority in filling legislative and judicial vacancies, entering into international trade agreements, and appointing members of the Hawaii Tourism Authority Board of Directors and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
WE TAXPAYERS have the right to ask, why is so much time spent on a "confirmation legislative session" instead of a session based on passing important measures to help make life better for all the people of Hawaii?
The direction of this Legislature is disappointing. It's foreseeable, and unfortunate, that as the session comes to a close, there will be a frenzied rush to pass bills, leading to hastily drafted legislation and missed opportunities.
Pat Saiki is a former member of Congress and a former state legislator.