House Speaker Joe Souki (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
House Speaker Joe Souki (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

REOPRT FROM THE STATE HOUSE – HONOLULU  – In his opening day remarks, Speaker of the House Joseph M. Souki called on members of the state House of Representatives to “be bold” in crafting legislation during the 2014 session.  With former representatives of the House in attendance to mark the 55th anniversary of statehood, Souki told the legislators that the strengthening economy provides lawmakers with an opportunity to take care of not only issues facing the State today but to deal with long-term fiscal and social issues.

“With Hawaii’s economy growing, construction stable, tourism strong and unemployment down, there is every reason for hope and optimism,” Souki said. “While the past few years have placed us in survival mode, this year, we have a real chance to create opportunities.”

Given the economic conditions, Souki asked House members to consider removing the cap placed on the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) allocated to the counties, allowing them to better support Hawaii’s tourism industry.

“In this strong economy, should we not be thinking about a greater partnership with our counties, who provide much of the services that directly support tourism?” he asked lawmakers.

“They are the ones who maintain our roads and parks and provide the law enforcement officers and first responders who directly serve our visitors as well as our kamaaina.”

“I believe the gesture is not only long overdue, but should be viewed as a better long-term investment in our counties and in our number one industry.”

To compensate for the loss in state revenues, Souki suggested the State study ways to collect sales tax that are generated by out-of-state online companies and presently go uncollected.

“Every day, they compete toe-to-toe with local companies on a playing field that is clearly tilted in their favor.  It’s time we level the playing field,” he said.  “We should also consider joining other states who have banded together to look at this issue for a collective solution, as well as consult with our congressional delegation on actions being considered at the federal level.”

Souki also noted that the law that has increased Hawaii’s personal income taxes in recent years will end in 2015.

“The law that allowed that to happen was passed several years ago during a severe budget shortfall, but will sunset in 2015,” Souki said.  “It should be allowed to do so because that’s good for our hard working families.”

Acknowledging a joint House-Senate legislative package, Souki asked House members to consider legislation to better care for Hawaii’s seniors and to look at long-term care needs facing families with elderly members.  He also asked the House members to look at how they can better address environmental concerns, including climate change and invasive species.

“We have an opportunity to not only strengthen our economy, but to do it in a way that protects our fragile environment, whether it’s from damaging climate changes or from invasive species.  We don’t have to choose one over the other.  A strong economy allows us to sustain both.”

Souki also recommended that the representatives look at creating a system of dispensaries or locations where those in need can legally buy marijuana for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor.  Although the State legalized medical marijuana and the cultivation of a limited amount, there is no legal way to purchase either the seeds or starter plants for cultivation or to legally purchase marijuana in the Islands.

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