hospital bills advance
Senate budget planBy Craig Gima
comes with warning
and Pat Omandam
Bills to give the Board of Education taxing powers and privatize some of the functions of the state hospital are among the more than 350 measures advancing after marathon sessions in the House and Senate.
Other bills, sent by the House and Senate yesterday back to the originating body, give counties limited control over fireworks regulation and give retroactive pay raises to some union and nonunion state employees.
Perhaps the most controversial issue still alive is a measure legalizing industrial hemp.
Rather than being remembered for dealing with the economy, improving education or reducing the size of government, one state senator believes that bill may be the dubious legacy of this year's Legislature.
"What are we going to stand for?" asked Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae). "Mr. President, you and I had a passing discussion about how people remember us and what we do in the Senate for the oddest things. It is my belief they are probably going to remember us for the hemp bill and that's not the message that I want."
The bill to allow an industrial hemp research project passed by just one vote after about an hour of debate yesterday.
Hemp debateThose opposed to the measure believe legalizing hemp, a plant that is of the same species as marijuana, would hurt efforts to control drugs in Hawaii.
"What's next - ice, cocaine?" asked Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) who argued that law enforcement opposes the bill.
"For those of you who are going up (voting for the bill), may God have mercy on your souls," Kawamoto said.
But proponents argued that the industrial hemp bill is an economic development measure and not about legalizing marijuana. They note that a private investor is willing to spend $200,000 to sponsor the hemp research project.
Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga said industrial hemp does not contain enough of the intoxicating chemical in marijuana to make someone high. He said the bill requires oversight by the Drug Enforcement Administration and state Department of Public Safety.
"Trying to grow marijuana within this proposed quarter-acre research project is like trying to sell marijuana brownies at a SHOPO (State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers) bake sale," Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said.
Senate President Norman Mizuguchi's proposal to give the Department of Education the revenue from the state income tax and the ability to impose a sales tax passed by a 20-5 vote. But nine other senators expressed reservations about the measure.
Tax trepidation"This bill is a tax increase pure and simple," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai).
"If they (the Board of Education) can't handle their finances now, what are they going to do when they have a tremendous increase in the largess from more tax monies?"
Even some of those who voted for the bill said they did so because they said there were no other proposals to improve education.
"Silence really doesn't do anybody a favor. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away and putting something off for another year will not make it better," said Sen. Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue).
In the House, the Republicans failed in what they called a chance for real education reform when a proposed floor amendment to an education bill on new century charter schools failed to get enough votes.
Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) said the Republican amendment would have allowed the University of Hawaii and the counties - besides the Department of Education- to designate charter schools.
Fox said the idea is modeled after an Arizona public school system that relies on local school boards and school-level decision-making.
House Republicans acknowledged the amendment had little chance for approval by the majority, but Rep. Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona) said they had to try. House Republicans this session previously failed to get floor amendments passed on civil service reform and tax cuts.
"The reason I get up (to speak in support of these amendments) is because everybody says you ought to do something," Rath said.
"And right now, right here in this do-nothing Legislature, is our chance to do something."
Another issue that House lawmakers complained doesn't go far enough this session is a measure that allows the counties to regulate the use of fireworks while it makes the unlicensed possession, purchase, sale, transfer or use of aerial fireworks a misdemeanor.
Rep. Emily J. Auwae (R, Makaha) and others voted with strong reservations on Senate Bill 680 SD1, HD1 because they say police and fire officials testified a permit system actually increases the use of fireworks and doesn't address the health and safety problems related to New Year's Eve fireworks.
Also, Auwae said, there's concern the counties could be exposed to liability lawsuits relating to fireworks incidents. She hopes the bill can be expanded when it goes to conference committee in the next few weeks.
"I cannot just sit around and wait for Hawaii to go up in smoke," she said.
Privatization proposalMeanwhile, there was bipartisan House support for the Department of Health's plan to privatize the Hawaii State Hospital.
Health Chairman Alex Santiago (D, Pupukea) said since the Senate proposal appeared late in the legislative session, the House did the most responsible thing it could do - keep the bill alive for a conference committee debate.
Santiago admits the state had eight years to straighten out problems at the hospital; now something must be done.
"I see this as an opportunity to address the horrific conditions we have allowed this to fall into," he said.
Human Services and Housing Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley), who voted in favor of Senate Bill 1518 HD1, said the crux of the issue is not closing the hospital but how to make it comply with the mandate from the federal court.
"This bill probably is not the answer in its current form," Arakaki said.
Reps. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua) and Iris Ikeda Catalani (D, Ahuimanu) opposed the measure because they fear the community doesn't have the resources to help the 160 hospital patients and many will become homeless upon their release.
Bills backed to allow pay supplementsStar-Bulletin staffThe state House has passed two bills that allow the state schools superintendent and state librarian to receive compensation from private sources to supplement their annual salaries.
The state Ethics Commission had said the measures would violate state ethics standards because their salaries are set by state law. Instead of receiving additional compensation from private sources, lawmakers should have removed the cap on their salaries, Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Mollway had said.
Nevertheless, there was little debate yesterday when Senate Bill 1157 SD1,HD1 and Senate Bill 1276 SD1, HD1 were up for approval on the House floor. Only Reps. Jim Rath (R, Kailua-Kona), David Pendleton (R, Kailua) and Colleen Meyer (R, Kahaluu) voted against the bills.
Rath said he was opposed to increased wages, even if they are coming from private sources.
Senate budget planBy Mike Yuen
comes with warning
Yes, says Republican state Sen. Sam Slom of Kalama Valley, the Senate's Democratic majority should be proud that it is advancing a proposed budget that advocates less spending than what the House does.
But he also cautioned his Democratic colleagues, who control 23 of the chamber's 25 seats, that they shouldn't be overly self-congratulatory.
The Senate's financial plan, Slom added, delays various tax-relief initiatives for five to seven years.
"My only concern, Mr. (Senate) President, is that this does not give a signal of immediacy or urgency," Slom said before the Senate unanimously approved its budget bill. Three of the yes votes came with reservations, including Slom's.
Single mothers who are trying to make ends meet may not be able to wait seven years and may have to leave the isles, Slom said.
Under the Senate bill, the state would spend 3.3 percent more in general funds in the coming fiscal year, when compared with the current fiscal year. The House is advocating a 4.3 percent increase.
While the Senate is advancing a "good budget," it is also moving to House-Senate conference negotiations the proposal by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) that would create new taxes for education, added Slom, who voted against the measure.
Hawaii Revised Statutes