Prayer was banned from official proceedings in the State Senate two years ago after the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church and the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the legislature.
For decades, Hawaii Senators took turns offering prayers, poems, songs or thoughts for the day at the beginning of each floor session, or they invited guests to do the same in their place, and there was never an issue.
However, in January 2011, the Hawaii State Senate ended its practice because of the legal threats.
The House Speaker, who was faced with the same threat, continued on with daily prayer — and was never was sued.
Now under new leadership of Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, the Senate will once again allow prayer before the floor session opens.
The first prayer will be offered on Thursday and participation by Senators will continue to be optional.
Tide Turns for Public Land Development Corporation
The creation of the Public Land Development Corporation or the PLDC in 2011 has been one of the most controversial issues among Hawaii activists.
The PLDC, which operates under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, is charged with the task of developing state land to generate revenue and the board was given the ability to fast track development with minimal public input.
Many concerned environmental groups and activists have called on the legislature and the governor to dissolve the organization. In his opening day remarks, Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom also called for PLDC’s repeal.
But there has been strong resistance from Gov. Neil Abercrombie and some legislative leaders.
However, with the protesters getting louder and more effective, key legislators who once supported the PLDC will work to nix the agency.
Legislators say it is likely that by the end of the 2013 session, the controversial Public Land Development Corporation will be just a memory.
House GOP Leaderships’ Surprising Response
Republicans in the Hawaii State House have annually pledged to oppose all new tax increases. But this year under newly elected Rep. Aaron Ling Johnason, the House’s seven Republicans have softened that position.
In response to a Hawaii Reporter inquiry, Johanson said the House Republicans would not take a unified stance against all new tax hikes.
Instead he said the House GOP will thoughtfully consider the real impact that any tax burden would place on low-income residents, working families and small businesses.
House Republicans helped put House Speaker Joe Souki in power this year, and have been assigned three vice chairmanships in exchange. They also supported the considerably more liberal faction of the House Democrats over the more fiscally conservative Democrats who were previously in power.
Despite the GOP’s low numbers (7 of 51 House seats), their decision to support or oppose tax increases could make a difference for the taxpayers.