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Senate ready for special session


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POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

Senate leaders say they are ready to come back into session to halt next year's Furlough Fridays.

Senators said a special session could be held as early as mid-December.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa made the announcement after meeting with Senate Democrats yesterday.

The news was greeted with praise by community groups that have been pressing lawmakers, education officials and Gov. Linda Lingle to stop the furloughs that are keeping public school students away from their classrooms.

“;This is another step towards a compromise, and that is what we asked for, so we think it is wonderful,”; said Jo Curran, spokeswoman with Hawaii Education Matters, a citizens group formed to lobby for educational issues.

Her group, along with S.O.S. Hawaii, will be helping homeless schoolchildren today because it is a furlough day. Schools are closed, and the children might not have enough to eat for breakfast and lunch.

The organizations plan to provide lunches, books, toys and basic hygiene items to families experiencing homelessness in Kakaako Park and the Ala Moana area, according to Curran.

The session is needed to pass amendments to the state rainy day fund law so that $50 million can be transferred to the schools to pay for some of the furlough days. But lawmakers are finding that to be a complicated process.

“;I didn't leave the meeting overly enthusiastic or optimistic,”; state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Honouliuli) said.

According to Lingle's plan, other furlough days would be eliminated by using noninstructional days.

Today the House Democrats are expected meet and also signal they are willing to hold a special session.

House Speaker Calvin Say noted, however, that he still wants to make sure the teachers are able to approve a new contract with the furlough day changes. Hanabusa said she agrees with Say.

“;We don't want to be in position to have them say we rammed it down their throats,”; Hanabusa said.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa) discussed the furlough issue yesterday with Randy Perreira, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, who said the HGEA has some concerns about the Lingle furlough plan.

“;Some of his members have expressed the fact that whatever comes of this, there should be fairness in how everyone is treated,”; Taniguchi said.

Senators have said they are getting repeated calls from HGEA members concerned that the teachers would get a contract significantly better than the one they the HGEA approved, which for most members calls for 21 furlough days in each of two years. The 17 furlough days for teachers is based on a 10-month year.