By Keli‘i Akina
Legendary football coach Bear Bryant is credited with saying: “Offense wins games … defense wins championships.”
If that’s the case, then the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is the Steel Curtain, the ’85 Bears and the 2000 Ravens of legislative advocacy. What you see might not always be flashy, but it is formidable.
Every year, there are thousands of bills introduced at the Hawaii State Legislature. Of those, hundreds get heard and move through the committee process, requiring tracking and testimony.
In the 2023 session, the Grassroot Institute submitted 142 written testimonies on approximately 82 bills. We tracked hundreds more. Since bad bills tend to outnumber good ones, that means we played a lot of defense.
Some of those bills were riddled with practical and constitutional issues. Others proposed more regulations on businesses or tax hikes and other measures sure to increase the cost of living in Hawaii.
But like a great defensive team, my Grassroot Institute colleagues were there to block many of these proposals before they reached the end zone.
Consider the fact that not a single major tax hike passed this year — not the wealth asset tax, the capital gains hike nor the carbon tax. That’s what good defense looks like.
As the session progressed, the Grassroot team became the leading critic of using state funds to promote tourism — a view that is starting to resonate at the Capitol. Ultimately, the Legislature refused to allocate any money at all to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which now is looking for a discretionary handout from the governor.
We also were the only group to point out the many problems with the governor’s proposed “visitor impact fee,” and it, too, failed to reach the end zone.
Another bill we helped block would have allowed a “deliberative process” exception to the state’s open records law. If enacted, it would have created a major loophole in the state’s transparency requirements. That bill went down.
One bill that we failed to block has the potential to virtually kill the cryptocurrency business in Hawaii. But the game isn’t over yet, so now we are encouraging people to ask Gov. Josh Green to veto that measure.
In terms of offense, I would like to have seen more good bills passed, but our team is getting better on that count too. We supported a wide range of good bills, some of which made it pretty far, if not to the governor’s desk.
We even crafted 15 model bills of our own that were introduced by different legislators. One of them is waiting for the governor’s signature: SB674, which would authorize Hawaii to join 37 other states in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact and make it easier for doctors from those states to practice here and help alleviate our acute doctor shortage.
But it is the nature of legislative advocacy that we will always have to play more defense than offense, especially considering how many bills are introduced and how often those bills would increase taxes or add more regulations.
Victories like the passage of SB674 are thrilling, and I can’t wait to see more of them. But I am happy that we have a strong defensive team too. Just imagine how much higher the price of paradise would be without it.
Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.