Hawaii lawmakers will meet this morning to vote on about 150 bills before the session wraps up on Thursday.
Lawmakers are expected to give final approval to a $24 billion biennium budget. That is in addition to a half a billion dollars in pay and benefit increases for public employees in three main unions: the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Worker Unions.
The state will pay just over $200 million back into the Employees Union Trust Fund pushing back a tiny percent of the $25 billion unfunded liability Hawaii taxpayers owe union workers.
To help fund the increased government spending, the legislature plans to pass several tax and fee increases. The Transient Accommodation Tax paid on hotel rooms was set to decrease back to 7.25 percent but lawmakers, who passed a temporary increase two years ago bringing the rate up 9.25 percent, want to keep that revenue stream and have no intention to reduce it.
While the controversial minimum wage increase bills and successor employer bills died on Friday, there are still several bills that affect regulation, licensing and increased fees for businesses.
Another half a dozen bills may help curb animal cruelty, but a bill that targeted those who feed wild birds died.
The so called “bird poop bill” would have made it a crime to feed feral birds, even if they were on your own property.
Lawmakers were hoping to stop birds from dumping bird droppings in politically incorrect places, but lucky for the birds and those who love to feed them, lawmakers didn’t agree on language for the bill be passed in time for the Friday night deadline.
The governor wanted $20 million for his early education bill that will have taxpayers paying for private preschool in what union members opposing the plan described as a voucher system.
State representatives did not include funding for the bill in their House version, but agreed to a Senate proposal to pay for the early education system at a cost of $6 million a year. The cost to taxpayers will surely go up in future years.
Two other controversial measures will be up for debate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 237 would allow the state to sell land under public schools so it can be developed for commercial purposes. The bill, which has angered parents at a number of public schools across the state, would still have to be approved by the electorate in 2014.
Public School Parent Liz Larson said Senate Bill 237, which states “Notwithstanding sections 171-13 and 302A-1151, or any other law to the contrary, the department may lease public school land on terms it deems appropriate…” sets a dangerous precedent for corruption in the lease of public land.
“If Senate Bill 237 passes, the Department of Education may ignore the current laws that put the Department of Land and Natural Resources in charge of leasing public land,” Larson said. “This is dangerous because the DOE does not have the same rules and safeguards in place that the DLNR does that ensures the decision making process is not prone to corruption. Essentially, the DOE would have unfettered power to lease any public school land in the state.”
The other controversial measure, Senate Bill 1171, would allow the government to break up its environmental and archeological surveys into segments and start construction before the entire public works project is surveyed.
If this proposal had been law last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court would have never stopped construction on the city’s $5.2 billion elevated steel on steel rail project until they could complete the Archeological Inventory Survey along the entire 20-mile route.
Many environmental and native Hawaiian groups have made SB 1171 the number one bill on their hit list in hopes of keeping it from passing.
With Democrats holding all by one seat in the Senate and 7 in the House in blue Hawaii, they should be able to pass any legislation they wish.
However, as one lawmaker notes, “strange things happen in final days.” Some times bills get re-committed so they die before the vote, while others get amended on the floor without a public hearing. Some times these decisions are just business but more often they are personal.