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Thursday, April 11, 2024
Legislators “stripped out pretty much everything that made it work.”
By Grassroot Institute @ 11:58 PM :: 1357 Views :: Development, Health Care, Small Business, Taxes

Hill talks about highlights, frustrations at 2024 Legislature

from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, April 11, 2024

Exhaustion, worry and a bit of hope is how Malia Blom Hill, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii policy director, described her emotions regarding the final month of the 2024 legislative session to radio host Rick Hamada on KHVH News Radio 830. 

During the interview on April 4, Hill expressed disappointment over the outcome of SB3202, which originally aimed to reduce minimum lot-size requirements and allow homeowners to build accessory dwelling units on their properties. 

Despite garnering support from a broad range of groups, the bill also encountered substantial opposition such that legislators “stripped out pretty much everything that made it work.”

“They took out the ability to subdivide your own lot or build on smaller lots to build three ADUs if you had enough space and complied with county rules,” she explained.

On a more hopeful note, Hill said an adaptive reuse bill, which would allow under-occupied commercial buildings to be converted into much-needed residential spaces, still stands a “good chance” of becoming law. 

Concerning healthcare, Hill said she is optimistic about HB2415, enabling Hawaii to join the Nurse Licensure Compact. She noted that while the bill is not a “cure-all” for the healthcare worker shortage, “it’s one thing we can do to make it easier for out-of-state healthcare workers to practice in Hawaii.” 

In contrast, other bills that would have improved the state of healthcare in Hawaii, such as a general excise tax exemption for primary care providers and various bills to reform certificate-of-need laws, have effectively died.  

Hill said that as the Legislature deliberates the fate of bills in the session’s final stretch, the choices that would be beneficial for Hawaii are “not a mystery.”

“You know what makes your economy healthier. You know that lower taxes and less regulation will help businesses. But whether or not you do it — that’s really the trick.”  

TRANSCRIPT

4-4-24 Malia Hill with host Rick Hamada on KHVH News Radio 830

Rick Hamada: It’s always a pleasure to welcome Malia Blom Hill from Grassroot Institute, and Malia, thank you for being with us. Good morning to you.

Malia Blom Hill: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Hamada: How’s things been for you?

Hill: Well, you know, we’re kind of at the end of the legislative session, so it’s that combination of exhaustion and hope and worry that always happens.

Hamada: Oh my. I always hold on with both hands, and I even grab on with my feet just to stay as stable as possible with all that has transpired.

So we’ll go through a couple of topics, but before we do, share about yourself, your role with Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Hill: Yes, I’m the policy director at Grassroot Institute. We are a think tank that focuses on basically increasing freedom in Hawaii — economic freedom, cultural freedom, all kinds of freedom. So my job is just making recommendations: How can we do that? What would be best? What would not be very good? That kind of thing.

Hamada: Before we get into specifics, what, overall of what you just shared, what is most concerning and or very top of mind with you in regard to the mission of Grassroot?

Malia Blom Hill: Well, you know, we do listen, and the thing that people tell us about what the big issues are, and the thing that always comes back to us over and over again is cost of living. And that means cost of housing, lack of economic opportunity and just plain old everything costing more day to day.

And so our top of mind is about how we can help bring that cost of living down. How can we make housing more affordable? How can we provide more economic opportunity? And. you know, that’s what we really try to focus on when we are making recommendations.

Hamada: Do you find it interesting that the declarations to do so are very precise, profound and repetitive? We’ve got to do something. But there seems to be that something that can be done that is not necessarily low-hanging fruit, but something that could be accomplished, and if so would make a difference with cost of living.

Jones Act comes to mind and I know that that’s been a laborious debate for centuries, it seems. 

But the bottom line is there are certain acts that can be accomplished that could have a positive impact on us in a very relatively short amount of time. It just doesn’t seem to happen.

Blom Hill: Yeah, that’s the big frustration is that, you know, it’s not a mystery. A lot of the time we know, you know, we know it’s just like how you know about going on a diet or eating better or not smoking or whatever it is to be healthier. You know what makes your economy healthier. You know that lower taxes and less regulation will help businesses, but whether or not you do it that’s really the trick.

Hamada: Yeah well put well put and succinctly so. 

One of the things that was on a roller coaster ride had to do with ADUs and the utilization of existing lot space in the addition of additional structures to help with housing availability and affordability. Malia, what happened?

Blom Hill: Oh my goodness, this is exactly exactly what you were just talking about. You know, in terms of why housing is expensive. 

Well you could make more. You could bring down the cost of housing by just increasing the supply. And how could you do that? Well, you know, yes, you can approve housing developments and change more land, and I think all of that is good, but in a more immediate sense, you could give people more rights about their own lots. 

You could let people build ohana homes or ADUs, accessory dwelling units, on their lots for sort of small, grandparent-unit type things.

You could, instead of requiring really big single-family lots — you know, a very big lot for a single house — you could say, “OK, you know, you can build a smaller house, a smaller lot and make that a more affordable home.” 

So that was what was behind this bill. There were two to begin with, and then it kind of went down to just the Senate bill, SB3202.

And it sort of limped through the Senate. And then in the last, it just ran into a lot of opposition. You know, all the housing groups from all across the spectrum, you know, we were supporting it, you know, Housing Hawaii’s Future supports it. Appleseed, who, you know, Grassroot in Appleseed, we have some overlap, but not a lot. But Appleseed supported it.

But the people who don’t support it are the people who kind of already have their homes, and that became a real real issue at the Legislature, and they stripped out pretty much everything that made it work.

They took out the ability to subdivide your own lot or to build smaller lots or build on smaller lots to build you know three ADUs. if you had enough space and complied with county rules. 

And so at current, it’s just sort of it would be nice if this kind of thing were to happen if the counties felt like it, maybe, sort of bill.

Hamada: It’s interesting because, you know, we both are aware of the advent of ADUs many years ago, and it wasn’t really embraced. But part of the reason had to do about regulations, requirements, zoning, and here we go: utilities and infrastructure. 

We folks would like the ADUs they came in 400-square-foot, 800-foot models that you could add on to your property, but you were required so much in regard to sewage to water to electricity and one of the deal killers was a mandated parking spot that was heavily regulated in size, location, and many people who had homes, they just said, “Forget about it. This is counterproductive. It doesn’t make sense for me to move forward with all the stuff I’ve got to do.”

Blom Hill: Yeah, especially that parking requirement and they also. you know. requirements about how big does,you know, set back from the property border had to be. And all of these things just kind of chipped away until it wasn’t really practical. And so this bill was asking the counties to basically clear that away.

This has happened in plenty of places in the mainland too, notably California, you know, they tried to do ADU enabling legislation and they had the same problem. All of a sudden, there were all these little county level laws that basically made it impossible. So they had to go back and go, “Well, OK, you know, ignore that, you know, you fix that and go back and go back.”

And that’s what this legislative, this bill in the Legislature is supposed to do is basically say, “You know, stop preventing ADUs with these, you know, little ticky-tacky, manini requirements. And make it possible to build them so that we have this other housing solution.”

Hamada: We’re talking with Malia from Grassroot Institute and the not yet the waning days of the legislative session. 

Can you share about the nursing compact bill and what’s next to improve medical access?

Blom Hill: Yeah, this one’s kind of exciting because it’s one of those things that this is a good idea and everyone sees — well not everyone it’s never everyone — but a lot of people are behind it. 

What it would do is enter Hawaii into the nurse license or compacted just like last year how we had the physicians compact bill, which would let out of physician out of state physicians more quickly get a license to practice in Hawaii.

This is even actually kind of more inclusive because the nursing compact lets nurses hold a multi-state license. So it’s even more seamless for a nurse from out of state to come practice in Hawaii once you’ve joined the nursing licensure contract. And there are 41 states that are already part of it, so it is actually a very big compact.

And it’s just part of this idea that we have a healthcare worker shortage. We, you know, it became really evident during the pandemic of how serious this was. And, you know, what can we do? You know, this isn’t a cure-all, but it’s one thing we can do to make it easier for out-of-state healthcare workers to practice in Hawaii.

And it’s also really significant for the military spouses as well because it’s one of those things where it’s hard for military spouses to properly enter work when they move, and goodness knows we have a lot of military spouses and this would make it easier for them to be nurses in Hawaii too.

Hamada: There’s also at least from what I glanced at that the GET relief bill for physicians — I believe private physicians only if I’m not mistaken — is still alive and moving forward and there were other initiatives that Gov. Josh Green had advanced at the beginning of session to support the healthcare industry. Is there anything else on the horizon along those lines, Malia?

Blom Hill: You know, it was exciting at the beginning of the session. There was the GET bill that you mentioned. That started as a GET exemption for private practice physicians, like you mentioned, primary care providers, really. And that version kind of stalled, but still alive is a version that would give that GET exemption for providers who provide care to patients who receive Medicare and Medicaid and TRICARE.

So in a way, it’s a slightly expanded and then in a way, slightly smaller exemption. But that would be good. 

We’ve heard a lot from physicians about how that tax, taxing medical services. We’re the only state that does it. It really makes it hard to have a sustainable private practice in Hawaii.

But there were other bills, you know, the nursing compact that you know about, and then various efforts to reform the certificate-of-need laws. Those, alas, have fallen, that they didn’t make it to the end. But fingers crossed for next year.

Hamada: Yeah, I believe there is also housing provisions for healthcare workers. Wasn’t there also a relief for student loans pertaining to medical students?

Blom Hill: There there were several medical, you know, that kind of trying to encourage more young medical students, you know, nurses and that kind of healthcare workers, to sort of pay loans or help with that. 

I’ll need to check if those are still alive because towards the end here things just kind of get left behind and sadly those are the kind of bills that, you know, they don’t necessarily have any hard opposition they just kind of get eclipsed by, you know, the other stuff. You know, a lot of the Lahaina bills have kind of pushed, you know, that being the priority sort of pushed other things to the side this year.

Hamada: We’re at 8:49 in the morning. Malia if folks would like to get in touch with or follow along with Grassroot Institute, how do you recommend we do it?

Blom Hill: Best thing to do is visit us at grassrootinstitute.org or check out our social media. We have a great social media team and they’ve been doing more and more on Instagram, TikTok. So you can find us there as well.

Hamada: Maybe a bill that doesn’t have huge, huge, and I say in Donald Trump’s words, huge implications perhaps, but this jaywalking and freedom-to-walk bill and everything else. Boy, this really generated quite a bit of attention.

Blom Hill: Yeah, I was surprised about that. Every once in a while, something turns controversial and you just were not prepared. And letting people cross the street when there were no cars coming. I just never thought that that would be a controversial bill, but it was.

And it’s interesting because other states, you know, just like with the ADUs and some other stuff, other states have sort of experimented with these laws that decriminalize jaywalking when it’s otherwise safe. 

So it’s not, I think that’s the problem. People sort of misunderstood it. It’s not saying that, you know, it’s OK to just run into traffic. It’s saying, “If there are no cars and there’s no danger at all and you cross, even though the timer is going or it says, you know, it’s flashing, you know, don’t walk, you can’t get a jaywalking ticket.”

That’s all it says. It doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t make it okay to cause accidents or run into heavy traffic or anything like that. It just says jaywalking tickets don’t really make people safer. It’s just a tool, a sort of overzealously used law enforcement thing. And that’s really what this is.

Like, we can trust people to cross the street. But it ended up getting a lot more attention than I expected. It has, however, kept moving. It’s on it’s, it got through both sides. So, you know, potentially going to conference committee.

Hamada: So I completely understand. I mean I think I can cross the street without hurting anybody and myself. But there for those of us that live in town — oh my goodness, what we encounter. It happened again. 

Driving home, these folks will just dart out into traffic from parked parallel cars into lanes of traffic, and it’s maddening. And my only retort is that grievously irresponsible action, unfortunately, when something does occur, I’m the one that’s on the hook. I’m the one that’s responsible. I’m the one that has to pay because somebody decided, “I think I’m just gonna walk. I’m gonna play Frogger for real and cross the street and get to the other side.” 

So I can see why there’s some concern but the obvious situations, that’s just common sense.

Blom Hill: Yeah, I mean this I think that is the cause of confusion, and, you know ,just to be clear that’s illegal now and would be illegal if this bill passed. 

The bill only applies to situations where you would met, where a reasonably careful pedestrian, basically a reasonably cautious person, would not make a vehicle slow or stop or cause a collision. If there’s any chance that basically if there’s a car coming at all and obviously in traffic, then you can still get a jaywalking ticket. It doesn’t apply at all. 

This is more for, you know, it’s 11 p.m. and there hasn’t been a car in 15 minutes. Like that is the scenario envisioned here and not at all, you know, it does not make it OK to run into traffic. It does not change the rules about who is responsible for and who is acting illegally at all. So, but that is frustrating, so I do understand that.

Hamada: It is. Could you help, in the time we have, could you define for us please adaptive reuse and how it pertains to activity in the big square building?

Blom Hill: OK, so adaptive reuse — glad you asked — I get excited about adaptive reuse because it’s one of those promising, boring ways to create more housing. 

Effectively, what it is is taking these buildings that are unoccupied or under-occupied, like these big empty office buildings, or famously the Walmart downtown in Honolulu, and converting it to residences, or partially residences, partially commercial, depending on the case. And the problem is is that sounds great, right?

You have this building, it’s already built, you can make it into apartments or, you know, some kind of residential, semi-residential building. And without all the trouble that comes with, you know, breaking new ground, building something from scratch, you just have to convert it. So it’s less expensive, it offers a way to revitalize that area. Lots of promise. 

The only trouble is that when you do that, you’re dealing with a building that wasn’t originally intended to be residential. So you run into strange little funny building code problems. 

Like there was a case, there’s one in downtown that was an office building, and so being an office building, the windows don’t open. And that was against the building code for residential apartments. The windows have to open. 

And in order to turn these into apartments, they need the City Council to make it OK for them to have windows that don’t open in this specific — you know, it’s just every time you run into one of these problems, you have to go and run around and find the variance or get the City Council to act and it just slows the whole process down.

And so there is a bill that would basically tell the counties like, “Hey make this a little easier take proactive steps to enable adaptive reuse.” 

That, happily, you know when you say something seems like common sense and then you wonder why it doesn’t pass, you know, this is the opposite. It seems like common sense and actually it looks like it could pass. That’s SB2948 and it has a good chance — it or the companion bill — of getting through the Legislature this year.

Hamada: Definitely one to track, without a doubt. And we are. We’re heading into about the final month or so of the legislative session. 

Malia, I want to thank you as always for joining us and once again invite us over to learn more and assist the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, please.

Blom Hill: Thank you very much. Yes, visit us at grassrootinstitute.org, and there’s even a place to take action on some of these bills, if you want to write your legislator about them.

Hamada: Excellent. Malia, thanks so very much. I hope we connect again soon.

Blom Hill: Well thank you for having me. Always a pleasure.

Hamada: That’s Malia joining us. Malia Hill of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii on this edition of “The Rick Hamada Program.”

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