Legislative crossover tightens focus on bills
Campaign fund measure moves on amid debate
STORY SUMMARY »
From giving homeowners the right to have a clothesline to dedicating more state tax money to the University of Hawaii, the state Legislature yesterday started to map out the details of the 2008 session.
Lawmakers spent the day voting on bills on a self-imposed deadline to move legislation from one chamber to the other.
The issues included:
» A proposed constitutional amendment raising the retirement age for state judges to 80 from 70, which would permit Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon to remain on the bench.
» Encourage the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs to save electricity by requiring the use of more efficient household lights.
» A bill to purchase the Turtle Bay Resort for an unspecified amount.
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In one of the most divided votes of the day, the Senate Democratic majority split on whether to make it easier for corporations to donate to local politicians.
Senate Bill 2204, which passed 18-7, would stop a Campaign Spending Commission court challenge on corporate campaign contributions and let politicians accept as much money from corporations as they can from the public.
The campaign spending bill was among the few hundred measures voted on yesterday as House and Senate members prepared to exchange their respective bills for more debate and crafting.
In the Senate, Democratic policy leader Sen. Les Ihara, along with Democratic Sens. Clayton Hee, Mike Gabbard and Lorraine Inouye, joined three of the Senate's four Republicans in voting against the bill.
The bill was filed in reaction to a Campaign Spending Commission decision that allowed corporations to give no more than $1,000 in aggregate to all candidates. The bill would treat corporations the same as other political donors and allow corporations to give to an unlimited number of candidates.
"I believe corporations already have too much political power," said Ihara (D, Kaimuki-Palolo).
"Twenty-two states already have complete bans on corporate contributions. If this bill passes, Hawaii would be the first state to reverse this trend by increasing rather than decreasing corporate donations," Ihara said.
The bill now goes to the House, which last week refused to vote on a similar bill.
After the vote, Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club executive director, said the bill could be unpopular.
"It doesn't foster the citizen democracy that we all believe in. This isn't a bill that they can take home and brag about. It is a blemish on one's voting record," Mikulina said.
The bill was supported by most Democrats, including Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, who said it restored the law to the way it was before the Campaign Spending Commission limited contributions.
"I believe the main thrust of the campaign spending law is to provide transparency. So long as the expenses and donations are known -- the public can decide," Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said in a floor speech.
Discussions in the House went as expected, with most Democrats supporting the majority's position with debate raised on several issues by the chamber's seven Republicans.
Some of the most pointed debate focused on the creation of new special funds, particularly for the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii.
House Bill 2521 would set aside 1 percent of general funds in each of the next six fiscal years, about $50 million, into a new special fund dedicated to repair and maintenance projects at the University of Hawaii. That money, along with $50 million in general obligation bonds, would go to the UH system each year for the next six years.
Rep. Colleen Meyer, the GOP's floor leader in the House, voted in favor of the measure but expressed concerns that the university would receive $100 million a year for six years without having to come back to the Legislature to show how the money was being spent.
She added that the state's needs could change in the coming years.
"I think it's irresponsible to earmark this money," said Meyer (R, Laie-Kahuku). "It doesn't give us much flexibility. You never know what the next year is going to bring."
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, the House Finance Committee chairman, said the measure highlighted the Legislature's commitment to the university. He said that in hearings on the bill, the university indicated that it had a repair and maintenance backlog of about $249 million.
Measures crossing chambers
A look at some of the measures passed by the House and Senate as the Legislature approaches the first major deadline of the 2008 session. Tomorrow marks the deadline by which each chamber must complete work on its own bills before exchanging them for further debate and crafting.
Senate Bill 2933: Allows use of clotheslines on privately owned single-family houses regardless of rules or contracts by homeowner associations forbidding them.
House Bill 2401: Authorizes the issuance of $20 million in special purpose revenue bonds to Oceanlinx Hawaii LLC for planning, design and construction of a wave-power energy facility on Maui.
SB 2956: Signals intention to raise the state surcharge on rental cars. The tax is now $2 and could go to $3 or higher, but the specific rate was left blank.
HB 2515: Appropriates $26 million in general obligation bonds to finalize the sale of the Kukui Gardens housing project.
SB 2913: Gives local airlines a tax break on aviation fuel bought for use on flights between the Hawaiian Islands. This is the third time the bill has been pushed.
HB 2521: Requires 1 percent of general fund revenue during a six-year period to be deposited into a new fund dedicated to repair and maintenance projects at the University of Hawaii. Money from the fund plus general obligation bonds totaling $100 million would be earmarked to the university yearly for the projects.
SB 2081: Requires the governor to give 30 days' notice to the Legislature for felons up for consideration for a gubernatorial pardon.
HB 2558: Authorizes the Department of Human Services to conduct unannounced visits to inspect a parental home in which a household member was convicted or adjudicated for certain offenses of child abuse or neglect. Establishes a pilot project for follow-up visits.
SB 3227: Clears the way for the Aloha Tower Development Corp. to assist in the state harbors revitalization plan and funds the new harbor plan.
HB 2626: Designates the Hawaiian monk seal as the state mammal.
HB 3016: Authorizes Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation and resources enforcement officers to use Taser electroshock guns in performing their duties upon receipt of accreditation or recognition.
SB 2898: Proposes an amendment to the state Constitution, subject to voter approval, to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges to 80.