Hawaii House of Representatives

BY JIM DOOLEY – Like quarrelsome cooks, state Representatives debated all day and into the evening yesterday on a diverse recipe of bills to be thrown into the final round of sausage-making in this year’s legislative session.

Heated exchanges developed over measures meant to expedite state construction projects by eliminating environmental reviews and permitting that majority Democrats say are redundant and slow economic recovery.

The bills will move thousands of idle construction workers “off the bench” and back to work, backers argued.

Republican minority Rep. Corinne Ching, 27th Dist. (Nuuanu, Puunui, Liliha, Alewa Heights) said one measure, SB 755, would create an “open season on the treasures of the land…and health of the people.”

Backers of the bill bridled at those words and others like them, saying the measure was narrowly drawn to remove overlapping environmental review procedures while leaving others in place.

Representative Pono Chong, D- 49th Dist. (Maunawili, Olomana, Enchanted Lake, Kaneohe) deplored what he called “a lot of false information” about the measure, saying, “in no way are we degrading or eroding our environment.”

The bill, which began life last year in the Senate and has been fundamentally altered several times, passed the House with 19 members recording no votes.

It will be further stirred and taste-tested in conference committee meetings before the Legislature closes early next month.

House Republicans did enjoy a victory of sorts when their bloc of no votes combined with enough Democratic opposition to stop a measure aimed at creating a new performance evaluation system for public school teachers and principals.

House members tinkered with but approved other Senate bills important to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration, including “justice reinvestment” measures meant to reduce jail and prison populations without risk to public safety.

Other bills receiving extended discussion before passage included:

  • SB2858, allowing state agencies to seek court review of decisions by the Office of Information Practices that require public release of certain government records.
  • SB2123, SB2576, SB2579, aimed at protecting human trafficking victims.
  • SB2785, establishing procedures for the financing and construction of undersea interisland cables carrying electricity generated by wind turbines or geothermal energy.
  • SB2397, limiting the abilities of counties to require installation of automatic fire sprinklers in new or existing detached dwellings or farm structures.
  • SB2750, meant to prevent pension benefit “spiking” by state and county employees nearing retirement.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com