Thursday, May 3, 2001


Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Calvin Say and
Senate President Robert Bunda, center, held a news conference
Monday at the state Capitol about the session's accomplishments.

Public won, leaders say

By Pat Omandam

The 2001 state Legislature was expected to adjourn today after a 60-day odyssey that has gained more than a few nods of approval.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the public is the winner, with reforms in government services and in the state Public Employee Health Fund, as well as pay raises for public employee unions and for minimum wage earners.

"It's really a victory for the people at large, the community as a whole," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo).

He said there was a businesslike approach to the session and that lawmakers were not sidetracked by April's education strikes or by the rising concern -- and cost -- for compliance with the Felix consent decree.

The decree mandates that the state provide health and education services for special-needs public school students.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) said the collaboration with the House produced good changes to collective bargaining.

"I think for the Senate, what we set out to do was to look at change, to look at many of the different things that remind us of change. And that's what we did," Bunda said this week.

House Republicans, who last week complained the privatization and managed-competition measures were not real government reform, this week said it was the increase in the House minority membership that forced the majority Democrats to pass the privatization bill this year.

"We pushed for reducing the size of government, for tax cuts, for reductions in spending," said Rep. Joe Gomes (R, Waimanalo).

"Because of our numbers, we could recall bills out of committee and stop legislation that required a two-thirds majority. ... That's the reason we have a privatization bill and the health fund bill," Gomes said.

While changes to the Public Employee Health Fund came relatively easily in the House, the measure won narrow approval in the Senate.

The bill consolidates the state- and union-sponsored health plans into a single trust for active state employees and retirees.

Gov. Ben Cayetano was to sign the two reform bills today.

"The changes were needed to level the playing field at the bargaining table, as well as to keep the health system operating after the state auditor said state contributions to it could reach $1 billion in 2013," said House Majority Whip Scott Saiki (D, McCully).

Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Chun (D, South Kauai) said the health fund was among the rising fixed costs driving the new two-year $14.5 billion state budget.

"When you look at all these things together, you can begin to see the picture ... that we have to be able to control our costs," Chun said.

Despite these major legislative victories, Rep. Ed Case (D, Manoa) said the lawmakers stopped short of making basic changes to government that voters wanted.

The former majority leader and now dissident member said the biggest remaining issue on civil service -- allowing the state and counties to negotiate public worker contracts separately -- continues to falter because of union opposition.

Say said the timing was right for passage of these reform measures, which have been in discussion for several years.

"At some point in time, legislation will bear its fruit," he said.

>> HSTA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site
>> UHPA Web site

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