Saturday, October 27, 2001



Lawmakers debate
workers’ aid, gov’s
emergency powers

They are addressing bills to cope
with security issues and the
state's economic crisis

By Pat Omandam, Richard Borreca and Crystal Kua

Gov. Ben Cayetano said he plans to ask the state Legislature in its regular session in January to use some of the state's $213 million Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to deal with expected budget shortfalls due to the state's economic downturn.

"I would ask them to use it to shore up expenditures we will incur in social services," the governor said yesterday.

"There is no question there will be a greater demand for social services. You find that pressures on families are accelerated, domestic violence increases and it is important to have a plan to deal with these things," he said.

For now, however, lawmakers during this emergency special session are poised to give the governor emergency powers next week to deal with the crisis over the next eight months.

It is part of a package of 15 bills to help Hawaii individuals, families and businesses most affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

There also is legislation to immediately address increased security measures at state airports, harbors and highways, and to lure more tourists back to the islands.

These bills include providing temporary health insurance for those unemployed since Sept. 11, one of the hallmarks of this third special session of the year, said House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa).

Another measure takes $5 million of the airport's revenue fund, with Federal Aviation Administration permission, to market and promote the safety of Hawaii's airports.

Most lawmakers favor the idea, but Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) questioned whether it is legal to spend those dedicated special funds in such a way.

"This bill is too wide open," Slom said.

Republicans also challenged whether it was right for the Legislature to move $33.2 million in tobacco settlement money to the state's rainy-day fund. Oshiro called it simply a housekeeping measure, while state Rep. William Stonebraker (R, Hawaii Kai) said it was inappropriate.

"I don't think it's right," he said. "I don't think we should vote for it."

There was bipartisan opposition in both the House and Senate against building a new University of Hawaii medical school in Kakaako, but not enough to stop its approval.

Objections ranged from how the proposed "UH health and wellness center" was funded, the lack of a business plan and the apparent rush by UH officials and the governor to use this economic crisis to push through the project.

"This bill should be addressed in 2002," said state Sen. Rod Tam (D, Nuuanu).

Meanwhile, legislative leaders and the governor were able to reach a compromise on another bill dealing with income tax credits of up to 10 percent for hotel and residential construction.

During floor debate yesterday, the Senate adopted and then approved an amendment stating these tax credits are non-refundable, meaning developers won't be able to get any more money back from the government than they paid in annual taxes.

Cayetano said the bill, as introduced, would have resulted in a gift to developers.

"The main concern that the governor's office had had was basically that we don't give any subsidy or we don't grant anybody a windfall of monies from the state, and so that was the primarily the reason why we had a floor amendment today," said Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa).

House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said the House likely will adopt the Senate version following a hearing on Monday. Since the House and Senate measures are different, the special session will be extended a day until next Wednesday, when legislators will hold final readings on these measures.

The most controversial and longest debates in both chambers yesterday were on the bill that gives the governor emergency powers for eight months to deal with the economic crisis.

The measure, which faced bipartisan opposition in both chambers but was passed yesterday, empowers the governor to suspend any statute, rule or order to ensure continued business activity in the state, minimize job layoffs and protect public health, safety or welfare.

House and Senate Republicans attempted to amend the bill on their respective floors but those efforts failed. Slom said this bill does not do what it's supposed to do and its passage means legislators have acquiesced the powers to the governor.

"We do not vest all powers in to the hands of one man," added state Rep. Charles Djou (R, Kaneohe).

"Anybody who votes on this bill is voting to abolish the right of checks and balances of government," said House Labor Chairwoman Terry Nui Yoshinaga (D, McCully), one of three House Democrats who voted against the measure.

House leaders have repeated assured members the bills have enough checks and balances and that there must be unity in government during this time of national uncertainty.

Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) added she was stunned at comments and suggestions the bill creates a dictator in Cayetano.

Most of the comments she's received has more to do with people being against Cayetano and not the bill, she said.

"They just don't want the governor to have these powers because they just don't like him," Hanabusa said.

"This is not an issue of whether we like the man or not. This is an issue of, what are we going to do?" she said.

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