Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Job security bill could
backfire on economy

AT a time when Hawaii desperately needs investors, the House Labor and Public Employment Committee has approved a bill that would discourage them. The measure would require buyers of Hawaii companies to retain all employees for one year after the companies changed ownership.

Job security, of course, is the aim. But the legislation could backfire. What investor would accept such a commitment when there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere without that requirement? Who wants to buy a business if it means taking on employees you don't want?

The Chamber of Commerce called the proposal "unprecedented intrusion into the rights of purchasing employers -- who may be risking millions of investment dollars -- to select employees appropriate for their goals and objectives."

Support of the measure predictably came from representatives of the ILWU, which represents thousands of hotel workers. That is understandable because the union's primary mission is to defend its members' jobs -- even if the measures it supports would be self-defeating.

But legislators should know better. Chairwoman Terry Nui Yoshinaga said, "We want the kind of investment that's going to make a commitment to Hawaii, because it's not just about money; it's about people's lives. You want to attract and retain the aloha spirit." Incredibly, Yoshinaga said she did not believe the measure would discourage investors.

Yes, it's about people's jobs and lives, but also it's about creating a healthy business environment that can attract investment. Thousands of jobs have been lost in Hawaii's weak economy. Passing laws that discourage investment won't save jobs. Preserving the aloha spirit is tough when business is bad.

Despite strong public discontent with the condition of the state economy, the Democrats maintained their stranglehold on the Legislature and the governorship in the November elections.

Approval of this blatantly anti-business bill by the House Labor Committee is an indication that at least some Democrats didn't get the message that the economy needs help. The good old days when the state could afford to appease the unions with anti-business laws are gone. The economy is gasping for breath. Legislation like this bill would throttle it.


Handgun lawsuit

GUN manufacturers who assumed they were shielded from the barrage of firepower from gang wars suddenly are taking cover. A federal jury in Brooklyn has found 15 arms suppliers negligent and nine liable for damages in a lawsuit brought on behalf of victims in seven shootings.

The arms makers are worried, viewing the verdict as a breakthrough. The cities of New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Bridgeport, Conn., have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers. Similar suits are planned in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Gary, Ind.

The manufacturers' argument that they are no more responsible for shooting deaths than automakers are to blame for traffic fatalities seems reasonable on the surface. However, in recent years there has been a trend of making handguns smaller, more rapid-fire and more powerful -- making them more effective for criminal purposes.

In the Brooklyn case, the gun manufacturers were accused of oversupplying stores in Southern states with lax gun laws, knowing that some would be bought by people in New York City who would sell them to criminals and juveniles. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley notes that his city, which disallows gun sales, is ringed with gun stores that supply weapons to Chicago gangs.

More than 90 percent of the increase in homicides from 1985 to 1993 involved crimes with handguns. Meanwhile the number of pistols made in the United States rose by 92 percent and deaths by handguns 48 percent. During those years, the proportion of handgun homicides involving semiautomatic pistols rather than revolvers jumped dramatically.

The Brooklyn verdict will probably be appealed unless the judge sets it aside. If it stands, it may have huge repercussions in the manufacture and marketing of handguns.


Food irradiation

THE value of irradiation of food has received significant new recognition with the decision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the irradiation of red meat as a way to combat food-borne illnesses. The USDA endorsement should bolster efforts to operate an irradiation plant on the Big Island, although that facility is currently intended only for treatment of papayas and exotic fruits for export.

Under USDA's proposed new rule, radiation would be permitted but not required for treatment of refrigerated or frozen uncooked meat and some meat products. Irradiation is currently the only known method to eliminate completely a potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria in raw meat. The technology can also significantly reduce levels of other bacteria on raw products.

Irradiation has been used for years in many countries on produce, spices, poultry and other foods and has the endorsement of the World Health Organization. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration also approved the process for red meat. Irradiation entails administering low-level doses of gamma rays or electron beams. On a recent space mission, John Glenn and his fellow astronauts ate irradiated food.

The purpose of irradiating fruits in Hawaii is to kill fruit-fly larvae and thereby make the fruits acceptable for export. The process also retards spoilage. The economic benefits to Hawaii could be considerable. However, it's important to note that irradiating food can save lives.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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