Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Legislators kill education,
campaign reform bills

By Lisa Asato

When the 2001 legislative session ends tomorrow, campaign finance will not be reformed, tourism dollars will not be used to maintain state parks, and schools will not be getting extra money for computers and textbooks.

Legislature Other ideas meeting their demise this session would have extended the solar energy tax credit by seven years to 2010, offered an unspecified earned income tax credit aimed at helping the poor, and increased penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors working in strip bars and massage parlors. Also dead are two administration measures that would have beefed up state budget appropriations by an additional $27.5 million for school computers and $4.5 million for textbooks.

Yesterday, about a dozen members of advocacy groups spoke out against the bills' demise at a press conference at the Capitol.

Wearing black arm bands, most of the leaders came to mourn the "clean elections" bill that would have established a pilot program for publicly financed campaigns for the Honolulu City Council 2002 elections.

Scott Foster, facililator for the Coalition for Good Government,
sports a hat with a sign protesting a bill that had been
killed by the state Legislature.

The bill was initially killed in the Senate, revived in the House, then met its doom in conference committee, in which three of the state's top-grossing political fund-raisers held seats. They are Sens. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu-Pearl City), Donna Mercado Kim (D, Fort Shafter-Aiea) and Brian Kanno (D, Ewa Beach).

"This is the reform that makes all the other reforms possible," said Jean Aoki, legislative chair of the League of Women Voters. "Without it, you can't do anything because special interest groups are too strong with their money."

George Fox, president of Advocates for Consumer Rights, said, "The bill ... would have opened up the coming council races to many qualified first-time and more consumer-oriented candidates who could never hope to otherwise raise the kind of money needed to win.

"While this bill would not have leveled the playing field 100 percent, it would have gone a long way towards doing it."

Dr. Donald Topping, president of the Drug Policy Forum
of Hawaii, was among several citizens at the state Capitol
yesterday rallying for their defeated causes.

On the environmental front, lawmakers deferred until next year the high-profile bottle bill to give the beverage industry time to devise an alternate plan to boost the state's recycling numbers for bottles and cans. The measure would have imposed a 7-cent fee upon purchase, 5 cents of which would be refunded when the container was returned.

Supporters said similar programs have been successful in other states, while the beverage industry argued it would increase costs, which would be passed on to consumers.

Also deferred until 2002 is a bill that would have allotted $4 million a year for two years from the Tourism Special Fund to maintain state parks.

Donald Topping, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said he was most disappointed by the Legislature's failure to pass a measure that would have treated first-time, nonviolent drug offenders instead of incarcerating them. It would have taken "a step in recognizing drug addiction as a public health problem and not a crime," he said.

Scott Foster, facilitator for the Coalition for Good Government, said all the groups vow to return next session and try again. "Some of these issues can perhaps be more easily passed during an election year," he said.

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