Minimum Wage, GMOs and How to Spend $844 Million Surplus, Will Take Center Stage at Legislative Session
HR: The Hawaii state legislature opens today at 10 a.m. with speeches by the majority and minority leaders in both the House and the Senate.
For those who can’t attend, the speeches will be broadcast on Olelo television.
There will be many battles this session over everything from how the state spends the $844 million surplus Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced in recent weeks, to housing and development policies that will shape Hawaii’s landscapes.
State lawmakers will consider how much of the state’s $25 billion in unfunded liabilities – such as the state retirement system and public employees medical care – to pay down.
read ... How to Spend
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Make affordable housing a priority, officials are urged
SA: The message delivered at the annual Diocese of Honolulu's Red Mass, held on the eve of opening day at the Legislature, stressed stepping up collaboration in providing affordable housing for Hawaii's most vulnerable residents.
Individuals representing government offices, as well as those tied to private and nonprofit groups and the faith community, should be working together on the issue of homelessness and the challenge of providing more affordable housing, said the Rev. Robert Stark, director of the Catholic diocese's Office for Social Ministry.
Stark's appeal was directed at 22 state legislators and at least 25 officials from federal and city levels of government who attended the Red Mass held Tuesday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace downtown. House Speaker Joe Souki, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. were among the attendees. Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended only the pre-Mass breakfast.
A Roman Catholic tradition, the Red Mass is named for the color of the vestments worn at such services around the world....
In 2011 the diocese launched a plan to develop partnerships in alignment with the state's strategy to end homelessness. On Hawaii island, for example, Habitat for Humanity, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and a consortium of 16 churches and community organizations constructed five houses in 10 days for low-income families.
In another effort involving conflict resolution between tenants and private landlords, Catholic Charities Hawai'i and HOPE Services Hawaii have worked with landlords over the past three years to open up affordable housing units to 2,000 needy people, Stark said.
Stark urged lawmakers to provide $1.5 million to continue the city's Housing First initiative and to appropriate $100 million to the state's Rental Housing Trust Fund for at least 600 new units of affordable rentals.
read ... Red Mass
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Star-Adv: Be a part of shaping Hawaii’s future, Defeat GMO Labeling
SA Editorial: While some lawmakers are loath to loosen the purse strings, the state is in much better economic shape now than it has been the past few sessions, and key initiatives deserve prudent funding — and not every good idea will cost the state money, of course.
The important issues before the Legislature are too numerous to list in full here, but our wish list includes:
» Lifting Hawaii's minimum wage, which has stalled at $7.25 since 2007, and enacting a state Earned Income Tax Credit to benefit the working poor.
» Expanding preschool for lower-income 4-year-olds.
» Protecting a priceless stretch of Oahu's North Shore via a conservation easement negotiated with the landowner, which operates Turtle Bay Resort.
» Advancing Hawaii agriculture by strengthening statewide laws that support farmers, ranchers and horticulturists while also protecting consumers and the natural environment. Lawmakers should defeat the so-called GMO labeling bill, as they did last session; it wrongly stigmatizes biotechnology and crops grown using this legitimate scientific technique. (Good Point: Product warning labels are there to warn of health hazards. GMOs are not a health hazard, therefore labeling is unwarranted. The mis-use of food labeling regs to advance an anti-GMO political agenda undermines the credibility of warning labels on other products. )
» Floating tuition-backed revenue bonds to finally tackle a monumental backlog of repairs and maintenance at the University of Hawaii.
» Restructuring governance of the Hawaii Health Connector, the state's unique and disappointing insurance marketplace, created to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
» Restricting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
» Bringing urgency to the issue of homelessness and getting the chronically homeless off the streets.
read ... Defeat GMO Labeling
Recreational Marijuana, Sea-Level on Agenda as Hawaii Legislature begins
AP: Health care and education funding debates are expected to divide legislators. And other priorities include bills that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, increase the state's minimum wage and direct officials to plan for a significant sea level rise (but oddly not abandon plans to develop Kakaako)....Kim said she also expects a debate about genetically-modified foods to be “front and center” since counties have begun taking up the issue of whether they should force labels on products. Slom said he plans to introduce bills that would allow voter initiatives, referendums and recalls and impose term limits....
BUDGET: Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff, Blake Oshiro, said the governor wants to build the state’s budget reserves and put money into underfunded employee pensions and retiree health care.
Such action could build on the state’s record $844 million surplus, which Abercrombie considers and essential cushion in case the state’s economy contracts or grows at a slower than projected pace.
• Republican response: GOP state Sen. Sam Slom said the state has a surplus only on paper. He said the money isn’t accessible because it’s dedicated for future expenses.
“I would suggest to you that there’s not $844 million lying around,” Slom said. If such a surplus did exist, it’s a sign people are paying too much in taxes and fees, he said. Slom said Hawaii should focus on attracting businesses....
EDUCATION: Hawaii is one of only a few states without publicly funded preschool, and lawmakers this session will consider getting off of that list.
Creating a statewide preschool program for would cost about $4.5 million. It will be more of a priority this year to expand public school access to 4-year-olds, since many are not eligible to attend kindergarten this year after the state changed its birthdate requirements.
Abercrombie proposed 32 preschool classrooms across 30 schools.
• Republican response: GOP lawmakers claim the plans aren’t about education, they’re about publicly funding childcare. Slom said preschool matters less if education later on isn’t up to par.
State Rep. Aaron Johanson said if the state really wants to further education it should make kindergarten mandatory, something he’s proposing in the House....
HEALTH CARE: Lawmakers will have to determine the future of Hawaii’s new health insurance exchange....Some state officials said the Hawaii Health Connector, set up as a nonprofit, won’t be able to sustain itself with its current model of charging insurers a 2 percent fee on plans sold through the exchange. The state could mandate more legislators on the exchange’s board, or potentially absorb the exchange into another agency, Oshiro said.
read ... Legislature
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Mayors want ability to raise general excise tax
HTH: Counties’ efforts to restore the TAT to former levels have so far been unsuccessful, and a package of Hawaii State Association of Counties priorities no longer includes the TAT request, after the list was whacked from 14 priority items to three. The HSAC executive committee is scheduled to consider the mayors’ request to add the GET issue to the combined county priority package at a 3 p.m. meeting today in Honolulu.
Hawaii County Councilman Dennis Onishi, of Hilo, HSAC vice president, said the executive committee is able to add items to the legislative package without first getting approval from county councils. The councils from the various counties were responsible for striking most of the proposals out of the package.
The only proposals still in the HSAC package are bills limiting liability for lifeguards, allowing governments to repair and maintain roads where jurisdiction is in dispute, the so-called “roads in limbo,” and providing $2.8 million for a rural physician training program.
Onishi said HSAC and the Council of Mayors agreed this year for the first time to present a unified package to the Legislature, which convenes its 2014 regular legislative session today.
read ... Mayors want ability to raise general excise tax
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