Friday, March 26, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Would you kill for
a smoke? You may
have to

Bullet Tax hike plan sparks heated debate
Bullet Committee guts bills on gay rights
Bullet Bill would halve limit on donations

By Craig Gima


If you're mentally ill, sick or a criminal, you'd be able to smoke in state hospitals and prisons, but most other smokers would have to go outside under a bill that passed the House Labor Committee.

The provision to exempt those in state hospitals and prisons was put in the bill after John Radcliffe of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly told the panel a union employee was fired from the Hawaii State Hospital for not providing cigarettes for a patient.

Senate Bill 1231, HD2, on its way to the Judiciary Committee, also exempts dining areas and the convention center facilities from any state or county smoking bans.

Proponents of a workplace smoking ban want to see the bill applied to more than just state and county buildings.

Labor Committee Vice Chairwoman Iris Catalani (D, Kaneohe) wondered if the Legislature was sending a message to private employees that their health is not as important as public workers.

Chairwoman Terry Yoshinaga (D, Moiliili) said the committee cares about private employees but doesn't want to hurt private industry's flexibility during these troubled economic times.

"The message is we're trying to move forward on the issue and this is one step," said Rep. K. Mark Takai (D, Pearl City), who worked on the amended bill. "Unless we dealt with it this way, I don't think it would have a chance of leaving this committee."

Tax hike plan sparks
heated debate

By Mike Yuen


Opposition to a proposal to raise the state's general excise tax from 4 percent to 5.35 percent has escalated.

Accusations swirled on the Senate floor last night that the measure's two Democratic sponsors are misleading the public.

A few hours earlier, House Republicans hand-delivered a memo to the 23 Democrats who control the Senate, urging them to kill the proposal to raise the excise tax and use the funds to provide more money for education.

Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua) said lawmakers should be seeking greater government efficiency, rather than raising taxes.

Sen. Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe), and Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa) proposed the tax increase.

Nakata conceded that their idea could very likely die after a public hearing tomorrow. "I'm not going to hold my breath," Nakata said.

In a speech that Sen. Sam Slom punctuated by slamming the proposal onto the floor, the Kalama Valley Republican denounced Nakata and Taniguchi for "having the temerity to say that their bill exempts food from the general excise tax. But it is not in the bill!"

No Democratic senator rose to rebut Slom. "Sam was just doing a show. I didn't want to be part of his theatrics," Taniguchi said.

Exempting store-bought groceries from the excise tax was intended to be part of the proposal, but it was inadvertently left out, Nakata said.

Nakata added he would also change a provision that is in the proposed draft; it calls for drastically reducing the "pyramiding," of the excise tax at every stage of production, distribution and sale, to 0.5 percent after seven years. Just as the tax increase would start next year, so would the elimination of pyramiding.

"Adjustments (to the proposal) can be made," Nakata said.

The increase in the excise tax is estimated to raise about $470 million. After the revenue loss from nearly curtailing pyramiding, which small businesses have long opposed, and from exempting groceries, about $150 million would be left for the statewide public-school system and the University of Hawaii, Nakata said.

An educated work force is essential for Hawaii's long-term economic development, Nakata stressed.

Slom was incredulous that members of the Senate's Democratic majority would consider airing the proposal to raise the general excise tax after the Senate vehemently opposed a similar tax increase last year.

"Didn't we learn anything?" Slom asked. "I feel like I've been stabbed in the back. I feel like the taxpayers have been betrayed.

Committee guts bills
on gay rights

By Craig Gima


Civil-rights and gay groups say laws to protect gays from discrimination and violence are needed now.

But House Labor Chairwoman Terry Yoshinaga (D, Moiliili) says she needs another year to think about the effect of such laws, and her committee yesterday gutted two bills that would have protected gays against discrimination in public accommodations and allowed civil lawsuits and longer prison terms for hate crimes.

"We have an area of our law now that everybody's protected in going into a hotel, a restaurant, this type of thing and to say this particular group can still be discriminated against, knowing that discrimination occurs is profoundly unjust," said Allicyn Hikida Tasaka, executive director of the state Commission on the Status of Women.

But Yoshinaga said the bill (Senate Bill 1151, SD1) that would outlaw discrimination in public accommodation based on sexual orientation is controversial. She said she needs to study whether it could force an organization like the Boy Scouts to accept gays and whether it could have other unintended effects.

Some groups said Yoshinaga made the right decision.

"It's a real concern the bill would have been an invitation for a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts," said Kelly Rosati, executive director of Hawaii Family Forum.

Leon Siu, director of Christian Voice of Hawaii, said the bills would have created more problems than they would have solved.

Siu said one measure could create a conflict between a landlord's religious beliefs and the rights of gays. Siu and Rosati pointed to a recent ruling in Alaska that upheld the right of a landlord to not rent an apartment to unmarried couples because of a sincere religious belief.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Makakilo) supported Yoshinaga's decision to take out provisions allowing lawsuits and longer sentences for hate crimes in another bill (Senate Bill 605, SD1) because he said all violent crimes are hate crimes.

Bill Woods, chairman of a task force on hate crimes, said the bill passed by the Labor Committee was "beyond weak." He said it now just calls for the reporting of crimes and does not set standards.

Bill would halve
limit on donations

By Pat Omandam


The state Office of Elections would be assigned to the Department of Accounting and General Services, while the maximum amount someone could contribute to political parties would be cut in half, under measures moving in the state Legislature.

"This is something that is not popular with (political) parties, but I think is an important step in restoring the confidence in campaign financing," said Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).

The Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a bill -- sending it to the Ways and Means Committee -- that assigns the Elections Office and the five-member Elections Appointment Panel to the Department of Accounting and General Services.

The office is now administratively assigned to the lieutenant governor's office, but works independently under Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina.

The measure (House Bill 1471 HD1, SD1) also expands the duties of the elections panel to include a performance review of the chief elections officer and the elections process. And it allows legislative leaders to make appointments to the panel, all of which are now made by the governor.

Linda Aragon, Elections Office spokeswoman, said the panel's sole duties now are to select and appoint the chief elections officer. She added there is no review done of the top state elections official.

Yoshina and his office came under scrutiny by lawmakers, candidates and the public over complaints that a new balloting system used during last fall's elections misread ballots, especially in precincts with close races.

The Legislature last month ordered Yoshina to recount the 1998 general election. The recount, done earlier this month, confirmed the new system's accuracy but the controversy prompted lawmakers to propose ways to control the Elections Office.

Senators also approved another bill that subjects political parties to the same campaign contribution limits of persons, political action committees and unions.

The measure (House Bill 165, HD1, SD1) would set a campaign contribution limit of between $2,000 and $6,000 for donations to candidates, with the amount determined by the type of election race. The measure also limits individual contributions to political parties to $25,000 instead of the current $50,000 limit. It is headed for a conference committee.

Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said the billeliminates "soft money" contribution to candidates through political parties, which occurred during last fall's gubernatorial race.

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