2008 legislative session failed to deliver
Yesterday, lawmakers adjourned the 24th session of the Hawaii state Legislature. While progress was made in some areas, overall this session was, in a word, lackluster.
On the positive side, the Legislature agreed to Gov. Linda Lingle's bold and critical proposal to modernize Hawaii's harbors during the next six years. This $842 million plan, developed in collaboration with the Hawaii Harbors Users Group and supported early on by the Legislature, will implement infrastructure improvements to meet the growing needs of the state's major commercial harbors, following decades of neglect and disrepair. Harbors are our state lifeline. Currently, 98 percent of all goods and materials brought into Hawaii come via our commercial harbors.
We also appreciate the Legislature's support of most of the Lingle-Aiona proposals to protect and enhance our environment and properly manage natural resources. These measures include expedited procedures to remove a grounded vessel before it damages fragile coral reefs. In addition, the Legislature approved measures to provide the Department of Land and Natural Resources with tools and resources to enforce our environmental laws, including increased fines for illegal activities and encroachments on conservation land. The Legislature approved the governor's request to allow private donations and contributions into the Land Conservation Fund. And legislators finally took action on a bill that embodies what Lingle proposed for the past several years to save important agricultural lands from urbanization.
We appreciate the Legislature working with the administration to pass a bill that will provide an additional tool as we continue the process of acquiring the Turtle Bay property and preserving the land on Oahu's North Shore. This legislation sends a strong signal to the owners as well as potential buyers that the state is serious about moving forward with the acquisition. The measure received overwhelming support from the community and many individuals and organizations who took the time to testify or submit testimony.
But it is disappointing that the Legislature had the opportunity to do so much more -- and didn't.
It missed the opportunity to significantly build upon the success of the governor's STEM initiative -- programs that encourage the development of science, technology, engineering and math skills in our youth and workforce. Lawmakers also failed to invest in creative academies in high schools, as well as programs such as the Music Enterprise Learning Experience (MELE) at Honolulu Community College, which would further nurture and develop the artistic and creative talents and skills of our residents.
Despite these setbacks, the Lingle-Aiona administration will continue to partner with the private sector and federal organizations such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics, the National Endowment for the Arts and others to create more successful STEM and MELE programs throughout our state. We will not let down our youth.
Lawmakers had an opportunity to modernize the Bureau of Conveyances by allowing Hawaii residents to file documents online, but blocked this common sense solution that was proposed by the administration in collaboration with the industries that utilize the bureau's services. This simple step would have addressed the majority of the decades-old concerns regarding security, efficiency and accessibility of the bureau. However, despite their past impatience with the bureau and the Legislature's mandate to implement changes, lawmakers are making Hawaii residents wait another year before they can access the bureau online. This is particularly disappointing for neighbor island residents, who must continue to file documents by mail or in person in Honolulu.
Special interests again prevailed in pushing to kill bills to reform the mortgage brokerage system, despite the meltdown in the subprime mortgage industry at the national level.
Partisan politics attempted to curtail a governor's authority to declare a state of emergency, thus jeopardizing the state's ability to respond in an emergency. It is ironic this comes at the same time when neighbor island legislators and even a member of the congressional delegation are asking the governor to use these same emergency powers in response to the decision by Aloha Airlines to cease its interisland cargo operations.
Important measures to facilitate the building of affordable housing, provide equitable funding for charter schools, give tax relief for our most needy residents, implement long-overdue medical malpractice insurance reform and support social service programs were not acted on, despite the public's overwhelming support for these priorities.
It is disappointing that the Legislature failed to take bold action in so many other critical areas that are needed to help improve the quality of life for the people of Hawaii. Instead, lawmakers were once again content with sustaining the status quo.
To paraphrase a famous T.S. Eliot poem, this legislative session started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Let us all hope there are new faces and new energy to work together for real solutions next year.
Barry Fukunaga is Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff.