2024 Legislature poised to take big steps toward lower cost of living

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By Keli‘i Akina

Every once in a while, something happens that makes you proud to have worked so hard for so many years.

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For me, that something happened yesterday at the Legislature, where at least five bills strongly supported by my colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii were passed out of conference committees and now will go for final votes at the House and Senate floor sessions.

Keli’i Akina

If approved, they then will go to the desk of Gov. Josh Green, where they have an excellent chance of being signed into law.

First among those bills is SB1035, which, if enacted, will exempt from the state general excise tax medical and dental services paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE.

If you are a regular reader of my weekly columns, you know this bill stands to improve healthcare access in Hawaii by easing the tax burden of so many private practice doctors and dentists who have been struggling to cope with the state’s extraordinarily high cost of living.

Then there’s the groundbreaking SB3202, which by requiring the counties to allow at least two accessory dwelling units on all qualifying residential lots could significantly increase the availability of affordable housing options in Hawaii.

Another potential housing game-changer is HB2090, which would make it easier for homebuilders to convert underutilized commercial spaces into residential units. This would enable greater mixed-use housing options, with all their financial, environmental and health-related benefits.

Next, SB63 could be a lifeline to our healthcare system by authorizing temporary six-month licenses for out-of-state nurses, addressing our critical nursing shortage.

And finally, HB2404 — put forth by the governor himself and known as the “Green Affordability Plan” — promises historic state income tax relief for Hawaii’s working families by, among other things, significantly increasing the standard deduction over the next six years and increasing the tax bracket thresholds to drop taxpayers back into lower tax brackets.

Together, these five bills offer hope for a brighter future for Hawaii, with increased access to healthcare, housing and economic opportunity — and a lower cost of living.

As they head for final votes next week, I am optimistic that the positive potential of these bills will be recognized and embraced.

Of course, at the moment I am still not counting them as “wins.” Anything is still possible, after all.

But the fact that they have made it this far in this year’s Legislature is a testament to what can be accomplished with a positive attitude and by working together.
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Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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