Pot tax and furlough tax survive, cross over from Senate to House


POSTED: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Furlough Fridays would be gone, marijuana for medical purposes would be taxed $30 an ounce and gas-powered leaf blowers would be outlawed in Hawaii as the Legislature moves to the halfway point.

The bill to allow the sale of medical marijuana, Senate Bill 2213, would allow the counties to license “;compassion centers”; that could grow and sell marijuana “;to persons who are certified for the medical use of marijuana and their primary caregiver.”;

The House and Senate exchanged bills yesterday, to meet a deadline for bills to “;cross over”; to the other chamber. The Legislature is set to adjourn April 29.

Lawmakers passed more than a dozen specific tax and fee hikes on companies, tourists, drivers and residents as they try to add up enough money to plug the state's projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall.

Neither the House or Senate approved measures raising the general excise tax, but the idea could be revived later using a bill still pending from last year's legislative session.

Representatives also backed off a proposal to take the counties' hotel tax money for use by the state, instead passing a bill yesterday limiting the counties' share of that cash to $94 million.

Under the marijuana bill, the drug would be given out according to existing state medical marijuana laws, but the bill provoked a debate on the Senate floor. It eventually passed 20-4.

“;I don't think this is helping to alleviate the drug problem,”; said Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake- Foster Village).

Windward Oahu Republican Sen. Fed Hemmings said the Federal Drug Administration should test marijuana before people sell it.

But Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) defended the bill, calling the arguments against it “;offensive to many in our community whose only relief from cancer or HIV is thorough the use of marijuana.”;

The bill and its special $30-an-ounce tax now goes to the House for further consideration.

The Senate also offered to spend $86 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund to restore the remaining public school furlough days through 2011.

But SB 2124 requires that the money be released “;upon negotiations of the parties necessary to execute the restoration of instructional days.”;

Senators noted that the Legislature had said in October that it was willing to use money from the rainy day fund to restore furlough days, but the schools, unions, governor and school board have not been able to agree on a deal.

“;The Board of Education and the teachers union have held parents and students hostage. We are giving extortion money to unions,”; Hawaii Kai Republican Sen. Sam Slom said.

But Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki) said Hawaii already offers “;the most meager education in the nation. ... This will provide a course to remedy the problem if only temporarily.

“;I am the parent of a senior at McKinley (High School). We will never know her full potential because we are not giving her the education that we had,”; he said.

The bill moved to the House with 'no' votes by GOP Sens. Slom and Hemmings.

The Senate did find agreement in its dislike for leaf blowers and voted unanimously in SB 2356 to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Electric leaf blowers could be used, but not on Sundays or state and federal holidays, although government operation of leaf blowers would be permitted.

Senators also passed SB 2441, which would make it a Class C felony to intentionally kill an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. That offense is punishable by up to five years in prison. Hemmings cast the lone vote against the measure.

In the House, lawmakers said they could raise $2 million by adding a $20 tax whenever someone applies for licenses or permits. House Bill 2877 would require that businesses pay an extra $20 when they apply for any permit or license with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, including business licenses, corporate filings or registering a trade name.

The Tax Department would charge an extra $20 for applicants for excise tax, liquor tax or tobacco tax licensees.

“;Asking struggling businesses for $20 more is irresponsible,”; said Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai).

The bill passed to the Senate with five 'no' votes in the House.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.