New laws scrutinize gas prices and boost tech
New Hawaii laws taking effect this weekend aim to scrutinize gas prices, fight genocide in Sudan and make the state's economy more high tech.
Other laws will crack down on copper thieves, allow for onsite drug testing and allocate money for union pay raises.
In all, at least 69 laws become active July 1, according to Gov. Linda Lingle's office. Some 113 other bills await her signature or veto.
Lingle faces a deadline today to signal which measures she intends to veto.
The gas pricing law requires oil companies to tell the state why fuel is so expensive in Hawaii, which typically has the highest pump prices in the country.
The law gives $1.2 million to the Public Utilities Commission to analyze fuel refining costs and profits in an effort to determine if oil companies are illegally gouging customers.
A separate bill awaiting Lingle's decision could reduce gas prices between 10 and 15 cents per gallon as it restores a lapsed ethanol tax break at a cost of $30 million a year.
"We're hoping the price of gas will drop immediately," said Majority Leader Rep. Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa). "If it doesn't, we hope the petroleum monitoring bill will explain to the consumer what happened."
Another law signed this week forces Hawaii to withdraw investments from Sudan in an effort to stop genocidal violence in the Darfur region.
It requires the Hawaii Employees Retirement System to stop doing business with companies that have active business operations in Sudan.
"We are part of the United States, a leader in the world, and we have to start taking positions such as this," said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
Several measures will try to upgrade Hawaii's economy to make it more attractive to technology companies and create more modern jobs.
A $400,000 appropriation will be spent to lease lab space in Kakaako to operate a tech incubator and innovation center. Another $500,000 will be used to promote aerospace development, in part through a facility on the Big Island that will have simulated moon outposts on volcanic terrain.
The copper thief law requires sellers to provide a notarized declaration that they have a legal right to sell the copper and makes the metal's theft a felony. The hope is that criminals won't have anywhere to sell copper ripped from utility poles, public restrooms and other government property.
The onsite drug testing law allows employers to use low-cost kits -- usually between $10 and $15 -- to test workers' saliva, sweat or hair for alcohol or illegal drugs, said Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser. The measure was supported by both companies and labor unions.
"If an employer believes someone is working in an impaired fashion, they can use this test," Smith said. "They recognized the importance of drug testing for everybody for safety purposes."
If the worker has intoxicants in his system, employers are then required send workers to a lab for traditional urine or blood tests.
Union pay raises were negotiated with the governor's office, ratified by collective bargaining units and approved by lawmakers.
Public school teachers get 4 percent raises in each of the next two years, but they must submit to mandatory random drug testing. State government employees also received 4 percent pay raises in each of the next two years.
Many other laws also start July 1:
» Residents will be able to place a security freeze on their credit reports.
» A pilot program will refer hospital emergency room patients with drug or alcohol problems for treatment.
» Drivers with alcohol contents above 0.15 will get stiffer penalties.
» Planning will begin for the 50th anniversary of Hawaii statehood in 2009.