Ronie Low, of the Sergeant-at-Arms office, and Belle Teixeira arrange flowers prior to the opening of the legislature at the state Capitol.

Legislators pledge
a bipartisan effort

Senate leader Bunda wants
mandatory drug screening
for high school students

Full speech texts:
Senate President Robert Bunda
Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings
House Speaker Calvin Say
House Minority Leader Galen Fox

By Richard Borreca

New calls to get tough with public school students topped the agenda as the Hawaii state Legislature opened this morning.

Legislature 2003

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The opening marked the first time in 40 years that the legislative majority and the governor were of different political parties and that split was clearly on the minds of both Democrats and Republicans.

"I intend to advocate a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration," Senate President Robert Bunda, said. "But, we do not intend to sacrifice common sense solutions in our quest for consensus.

"We are not without our own agenda for change," Bunda said.

House Speaker, Calvin Say, focused on the historic nature of Hawaii electing its first woman governor.

"The fact that she is also a Republican is not my concern," he said.

"She is our governor, we need each other's help and we must find a way to work together," Say said.

Despite the rain clouds outside, Republican leaders in both chambers gave balmy weather reports emphasizing the change in local politics.

"The sun is rising on better days in Hawaii," Senate GOP leader, Fred Hemmings said.

"Today a beautiful day has come ... the fresh breeze of change is blowing through our collective home," House Republican leader, Galen Fox said in his floor speech.

Both Republican leaders were clearly energized by the victory of Republican Linda Lingle in the Governor's race.

They adopted similar approaches, calling for bipartisan cooperation between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the Republican administration.

"We know that real change comes from Republicans and Democrats, business, labor, and government, working side-by-side to get the job done," Fox (R, Waikiki) said.

"With the majority party's help we are prepared to build a healthy bipartisan system of self-governance," Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said.

But Hemmings also took a few jabs at the Democratic majority, saying: "Hawaii is no longer inn the shadow of an all-powerful one party government."

During his speech, Bunda elaborated on his plans for a pilot drug-testing program for students in public school.

Bunda said the testing should be followed up "with appropriate and consistent solutions and penalties to show we mean business."

Bunda pointed to a plan in New Orleans, La. that is using mandatory drug screening in high schools.

"It is attempting to combat drug abuse by screening, detection and subsequent treatment during the formative and vulnerable adolescent years," Bunda said.

Bunda also called for the financing and construction of a "long-term treatment facility for drug offenders."

That idea has been considered by the legislature for the past eight years and former Gov. Ben Cayetano had tried to negotiate a deal to build a privately-run state prison. Since then, Lingle has said she also was in favor of some sort of increased state effort to build a treatment facility for drug offenders.

Bunda also revived the issue of state support for a mass transit system for Oahu, saying that traffic congestion has gotten to the point where something needs to be done.

"I believe it is time we dusted off our plans for a light-rail, mass transit system," Bunda said.

"It could link central points on Oahu with the City's proposed plans for urban Honolulu.

"Not only will mass transit speed the movement of people and ease traffic, but it will create construction jobs," Bunda said.

Today's session opened with native Hawaiians rallying on the lawn of nearby Iolani Palace to call attention to 2003 being the 110th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaii monarchy.

Sean Lesser of Haiku, Maui, waited at the entrance to the Senate gallery. Lester was part of the Ohana Coalition on Maui that helped Sen. Shan Tsutsui and Rep. Sol Kahoohalahala get elected into office this fall.

Lester said he expects this session to focus on budget issues.

"It's going to be a real tight fiscal time," he said.

For many inside the Capitol the concern was not about new programs, but for how the Legislature and the new Lingle administration will pay for existing state programs.

Hemmings said the state should cut taxes.

He urged that the excise tax be cut from 4 to 3.5 percent and that it be eliminated from food and medical service purchases.

"It is easy to see what taxes alone contribute to Hawaii's sad reputation of being one of the most expensive places to live in the nation," Hemmings said.

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