JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
It was a night of last-minute phone calls, reviewing bills and drafts, and negotiations yesterday, the last day for all bills to be approved by conference committees. State Rep. John Mizuno, third from right, discussed paperwork prior to entering the committee room.
State legislators position bills
Economic reports hinting at a slowdown have lawmakers wary of handing out funds
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State lawmakers put the final touches on legislation yesterday, trying to work out agreements on hundreds of bills ahead of next week's adjournment of the 2008 session.
Unlike past years, when lawmakers were flush with surplus tax dollars, some operations faced cuts while nonprofit groups saw little, if any, money in the form of grants-in-aid.
Budget negotiators gave final approval this week to a $10.7 billion supplemental budget.
The budget includes $5.3 billion in general funds, about $44 million less than what Gov. Linda Lingle proposed.
Most state agencies had their discretionary budgets cut between 2.5 percent and 4 percent.
The state Legislature is scheduled to end next week.
Monday: Closed-door caucuses to hammer out final bills
Tuesday: House and Senate in session all day for debate and voting on bills
Wednesday: House and Senate in recess
Thursday: Final votes and adjournment
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State lawmakers worked into the evening yesterday to put the final touches on bills and dole out the limited state money that was available as they look ahead to next week's close of the 2008 session.
Unlike past years, when state coffers were flush with surplus tax dollars, most government operations faced spending cuts, while nonprofit groups saw little, if any, money in the form of grants-in-aid.
Virtually all bills were waiting on approval of the supplemental budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
House and Senate negotiators finished the $10.7 billion supplemental budget bill late Thursday.
It includes $5.3 billion in general funds, about $44 million less than what Gov. Linda Lingle proposed in her supplemental budget sent down in December.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The state Capitol's third-floor committee conference room buzzed with activity. Meetings lasted through the evening, and legislators and aides ran around in the darkness trying to get signatures on bills while other legislators and lobbyists begged to be heard.
Lawmakers have estimated that three straight downward forecasts in revenue projections left them with about $847 million less than they had when the two-year budget was passed last year.
"It is a very conservative budget," said Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka), vice chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. "We're looking at the fact that it seems the economy is slowing down."
Economists have been warning of a slowdown since last year, as tourism numbers fall and construction has started to level off.
Earlier yesterday, Lingle tried to paint a rosier picture in a speech at the annual conference of the Hawaii Economic Association.
Lingle blamed the media for focusing on negatives such as the rising price of oil, the subprime mortgage crisis and recent shutdowns of local companies including Molokai Ranch and Aloha Airlines. But she also argued that those events did not accurately reflect the state of Hawaii's economy.
Due for a vote next week
A look at some of the major issues coming up for a final vote before the Legislature ends next week:
House Bill 3377: Establishes a new judicial task force to draw up rules for installing ignition interlock systems on cars of persons convicted of drunken driving. The new law would mean that drivers convicted of DUI would have to pass a breathalyzer test before their vehicle would start.
HB 2557: Limits compelled disclosure of sources or unpublished information for journalists, newscasters and persons participating in collection or dissemination of news or information of substantial public interest. Establishes exceptions.
HB 3002: Creates the offense of habitual solicitation of prostitution, a misdemeanor, if a person commits three offenses related to prostitution within a 10-year period.
Senate Bill 644: Requires developers to install solar water heaters on all new single-family houses built starting in 2010. The bill allows for exemptions for areas that do not have enough sunlight or houses built with other energy-saving devices.
SB 2218: Gives judges discretion to decide whether someone convicted of violating a domestic abuse temporary restraining order or protective order shall be placed under electronic monitoring supervision.
SB 2373: Requires pharmacies and retailers to maintain an electronic log of sales of pseudoephedrine and related products and transmit the information to the Department of Public Safety Narcotics Enforcement Division on a monthly basis.
SB 2843: Requires manufacturers of electronic devices to collect and recycle electronic devices and establishes the Electronic Device Recycling Fund.
"Our state's economic growth has slowed, but it has not stopped," Lingle said. "Many important indicators show moderate growth. That, when contrasted with the rest of the nation, is a fortunate position for Hawaii."
But lawmakers took a conservative approach in crafting the budget.
Most state agencies had their discretionary spending budgets cut between 2.5 percent and 4 percent. Grants-in-aid, which many nonprofit groups rely on for operations, were slashed.
Lee said few groups received general money for operational costs. Most of the grants were in the form of bonds for construction projects. Exact numbers were unavailable as lawmakers worked out details late into the evening.
"There are very few," Lee said. "Just a handful."
Budget conferees also set aside about $22 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, money as a safeguard against more people potentially turning to welfare programs in bad economic times.
The Lingle administration, in particular Human Services Director Lillian Koller, has been criticized for its creative use of the TANF money for nontraditional welfare programs in areas such as art and music.
Republicans have defended the use of the money, noting that welfare rolls have been reduced under Koller's guidance.
Rep. Colleen Meyer (R, Laie-Kahuku) said Koller's use of TANF money supports programs that "lift people up and get them moving in the right direction."
Of the move to restrict use of the money, "this just kind of ties the hands of the department," Meyer said. "I just look at it as kind of micromanaging."
Lee noted that all agencies and organizations would have to make tough spending decisions to get through the current economic period.
"Many of the bills we passed out (yesterday) actually passed out without an appropriation," she said. "We're asking some of the departments to work to accomplish their goal without money."