HAWAII STATE CAPITOL Photo: Emily Metcalf
HAWAII STATE CAPITOL Photo: Emily Metcalf

REPORT FROM THE SENATE MAJORITY –  The Hawaii State Senate adjourned on this final day of the 2012 Legislative Session, passing many bills in support of its priorities set forth at the beginning of the session.  Throughout the second year of the legislative biennium, the overarching themes and priorities of the Senate were in alignment with Governor Abercrombie’s “A New Day in Hawaii.”

“We advanced important measures with the citizens of Hawaii in mind, hoping to make our State a better place to live for everyone now and in the future,” said Senate President Shan Tsutsui.

“I commend everyone in the Legislature for their hard work this session and I thank those who came to be part of the process and let their voices be heard,” said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

The Senate Majority, whose members are Democrats, remain committed to improving the quality of life for the people of Hawaii.  Here are highlights of the Senate Majority’s accomplishments:

Job Creation & Creating a Sustainable Economy

Although Hawaii is experiencing a steady economic recovery, many people are still unemployed or under-employed, especially in the construction and trade industry.   Realizing this grim reality, the Senate made job creation and creating a sustainable economy a top priority through its flagship initiative, The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012.  To accomplish this goal, the Senate was able to include in excess of $414 million for repair and maintenance projects in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) portion of the budget for fiscal year 2013, pursuant to House Bill 2012.  The funding will allow for the creation of more than 4-thousand shovel-ready jobs for all trades in the construction industry – from carpenters to consultants, and help put money in workers’ pockets and give companies confidence to begin hiring again.

 

The projects will focus on smaller repairs and maintenance to address aging infrastructures and to extend the useful life of existing state-owned assets and facilities; energy conservation and sustainable improvements; and health, safety and code requirements.  Not only the state departments, but everyone in the State will benefit from this funding.  All trades in the construction industry will prosper, as well as businesses that provide goods and services to the industry.

 

Highlights of the funding are provided as follows:

 

The Department of Education will receive $296M in FY13, including $116M that has been appropriated for classroom renovations and school building improvements to address the departments’ repair and maintenance backlog, $10M for electrical upgrades to support the rapidly evolving technology that is imperative to keep students competitive in the global economy, and $30M in various lump sum appropriations for schools throughout the State to address Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, health and safety and special education needs.

 

For the University of Hawaii, over $80M was appropriated for capital renewal and deferred maintenance as well as health, safety, and building code requirements, System wide. Additionally, to address significant growth in student enrollment at the community colleges, an additional $27.5M was provided to the community colleges, as well as $10M for Kapiolani Community College to begin construction of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific.

 

Additionally, over $60M has been provided for Hawaii Public Housing Authority to continue to upgrade its units and help to shelter low-income families; $35M has been appropriated for the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation to help tackle the repair and maintenance needs at community hospitals statewide; $26M has been provided to the Department of Agriculture and Department of Land and Natural Resources to allow them to continue their efforts to maintain the State’s irrigation systems, as well as rivers, reservoirs and dams statewide, including $1.1M to upgrade, repair and reinforce the Hanalei River breach which was made worse by the recent heavy rains.

 

Finally, to shore up our safety net, many community programs run by non-profit organizations were provided a total of $20M to assist them in the continuation of services and programs throughout the State.

 

To further continue supporting our top industry, strategic investment was made in our tourism industry through Senate Bill 490.  The measure develops and implements new initiatives to significantly increase travel and tourism in the State, taking advantage of an executive order signed by President Obama to ease access for international travelers.  The expanded visa programs would help provide up to an estimated 154,000 jobs in Hawaii. China in particular is a rising market for Hawaii’s tourism industry, with unprecedented growth potential.

Looking ahead into the future of tourism, the Senate supports an emerging market, such as Space Tourism, which has the potential of being a billion dollar global industry that could significantly increase state revenues, provide new aerospace jobs, and rejuvenate economic development in the Kalaeloa area.  The ground work for the industry is established through Senate Bill 112, which appropriates funds for the application for a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

People and Children

As a result of our State’s steady economic recovery, the safety net continues to need strengthening. There are many who still suffer job loss and significant wage and benefit reductions.  The Senate Majority is mindful of the struggles of Hawaii’s most vulnerable citizens and supports efforts to assist them.  Child welfare, domestic violence shelters, MedQuest, and various shortfalls across the Department of Human Services were addressed in the State Budget, House Bill 2012.

Additionally, since the closure of Hawaii Medical Center-West, hospitals on Oahu are faced with an increased volume in patient admittance.  The Senate provides support for the hospitals system through House Bill 304.

With the growing demand of health care, Senate Bill 2939 appropriates funds for the St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii, formerly known as Hawaii Medical Center-East to improve its facilities and services in the interest of the health, safety, and wellbeing of residents.

The Senate also continues its strong support for education. Notably, the Senate has underscored education as a top priority.  Through the State Budget, key areas of investment were made in the student weighted formula, student meals, Community Schools for adults and student transportation.

To strengthen Hawaii’s Charter School system, Senate Bills 2115 and 2116 increase accountability in the governance of Hawaii’s Charter schools that will foster improved student outcomes.  Senate Bill 2115 establishes clear lines of authority and clarifies the relationships, responsibilities, and lines of accountability among stakeholders of Hawaii’s Charter School System.  Senate Bill 2116 appropriates funds to help with the transition.

The Senate believes early life experiences lay the groundwork for a child’s lifelong learning and providing high quality early learning programs that are affordable and accessible for all children are critically important for ensuring the success of Hawaii’s keiki.  Working in concert with the Governor’s Early Childhood Education Initiative, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 2545, which establishes the Early Learning Council and the Early Learning Advisory Board.

Renewable Energy and Sustainability

The Senate Majority strives to make Hawaii a model for the rest of the country by continuing the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.   Reducing electricity costs depends in part on diversifying the energy sources within the State.  Geothermal energy is a solid source of indigenous, renewable energy that could be made available at low costs. Senate Bills 2001 requires consultation and input from the Native Hawaiian community and general public when developing geothermal projects on public trust lands. Meanwhile,Senate Bill 3003 allows geothermal resources exploration and development in all state land use districts and all zones of the conservation districts, respectively.  Governor Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 3003 into law in April.

 

With our State’s dependence on imported foods and threat to our food security, Senate Bill 2695 establishes a livestock feed feasibility pilot project to help address the rising cost of feed and explore ways to increase the sustainability of our local protein sources.  Self-sufficiency is critical to Hawaii’s food security and ability to respond effectively in the event of natural disasters or disruptions in transportation.

 

Retooling Government 

In the area of technology, the Senate calls for investing in the State’s information technology (IT) infrastructure in order to improve government and to better serve the public.  The investment in IT upgrades aims to increase productivity, making government more efficient.  The State Supplemental Budget, House Bill 2012, makes significant investments in software upgrades, integration in information technology, and modernization of database and records, to name a few.  Hawaiian Homelands, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Accounting and General Services and Human Services are some of the departments that will be receiving IT upgrades.

The Senate also supports the Governor’s broadband initiative to improve services and to ensure that each and every citizen has access.  The initiative is supported by Senate Bill 2236, which assists Clearcom or a partnership headed by Clearcom, Inc., with the planning, designing, constructing, and operating of broadband infrastructure throughout the State.

Other Notable Bills:

House Bill 608, Relating to Health, Act 1 (2012)

Governor Abercrombie signed House Bill 608 (Act 1) into law in February. The measure appropriates state funds to The Queen’s Medical Center to perform kidney and liver transplants and to the National Kidney Foundation of Hawai’i to maintain its chronic kidney disease management program.  Act 1 helps ensure that organ transplant patients are able to remain in the islands and receive efficient and timely care.

Senate Bill 2783, Relating to the Public Trust Lands, Act 15 (2012)

Senate Bill 2783 conveys Kaka‘ako Makai lands to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).  The State and OHA agreed that an approximately $200 million settlement represents a reasonable compromise of the

disputed claims.  To satisfy that $200 million amount, the State is conveying contiguous and adjacent parcels in Kaka‘ako Makai.  Under this law, all disputes and controversies relating to OHA’s portion of income and proceeds from the public trust lands will be extinguished and discharged as well as bar all claims, suits, and actions for the period November 7, 1978 through June 30, 2012. Governor Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 2783 into law in April.

 

Senate Bill 2776, Relating to Public Safety

After an unprecedented collaboration between the Governor, Chief Justice, Senate President, House Speaker and Director of Public Safety, a data-driven justice reinvestment strategy was created to bring out-of-state prisoners back to Hawaii, reduce spending on corrections, and reinvest savings generated in strategies that would reduce recidivism and crime and increase public safety.

One of the outcomes of the Justice Reinvestment Initiatives was the passage of Senate Bill 2776.  The measure establishes a statutory structure to improve the criminal justice system, relying on the Department of Public Safety, Hawaii Paroling Authority, and Adult Probation Services to effectively implement changes to policies and practices.

Senate Bill 2247, Known as Kelsey’s Law, Act 94 (2012)

Senate Bill 2247, which was signed into law by Governor Abercrombie in April, will require cell phone or communication service providers to assist law enforcement agencies in determining the location of a cell phone in emergency situations.  The bill was named in honor of Kelsey Smith, an 18-year-old Kansas woman who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2007. It is believed that if Verizon Wireless had turned over cell phone records on the day Smith was kidnapped, she may be alive today.

House Bill 2030, Relating to Emergency Vehicle; Move Over

House Bill 2030 requires motorists to move over and slow down their vehicles when passing a stationary emergency vehicle on a highway.  If this measure becomes law, a violation against it will result in a civil fine, which will not impact the driver’s car insurance rates.

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