The Hawaii Legislature in 2013 is poised to do something that it has failed to do for more than a decade: pass legislation ensuring that female sexual assault victims have access to emergency contraception.

House Bill 411 and Senate Bill 1109 require that victims be provided “medically and factually accurate and unbiased information” about emergency contraception when receiving emergency care at Hawaii hospitals.

The “compassionate care” measures — they are nearly identical — passed the House and the Senate, respectively, on Thursday by large margins.

If signed into law, an emergency contraception act would mean that Hawaii, as Sen. Roz Baker put it, would “join the 21st century in standard of care for rape victims.”

Other measures moving at the Legislature help women, the poor, the homeless, the elderly and the young.

Is this a more progressive Legislature?

‘Change, Improvement, Reform’

So far, the 2013 session has largely been known for repealing the controversial Public Land Development Corporation and naming a celebrity privacy bill after the lead singer of Aerosmith.

Thursday was the first crossover deadline, meaning members of the House and Senate had to move their bills to the other chamber or else wait until next year.

There is still a lot that could happen before sine die on May 2. But, so far, there are indications that this Legislature has been more progressive than recent ones, aided by new members and new leadership who bring new approaches to legislating.

Here are two definitions of “progressive”:

• favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters;

• making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods.

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Reps. Aaron Ling Johanson and Scott Nishimoto.

Not everyone embraces progressivism, or defines it in the same way.

Regarding the emergency care bills, for example, seven of the eight House Republicans voted no, five Democrats voted yes with reservations and two others skipped the vote on the House bill. Sens. Mike Gabbard and Sam Slom voted against the Senate bill.

Gabbard and Slom tried to amend SB 1109 so that it would allow an exemption on religious grounds, as did Rep. Richard Fale and Bob McDermott for HB 411. But both amendments failed.

After the votes, Hawaii Family Forum, Hawaii Family Advocates and the Hawaii Catholic Conference urged supporters to contact the lawmakers who voted against the bills to thank them “for standing strong in support of religious freedom.”

Despite their disappointment, the conservative religious groups have to be happy that gay marriage proposals went nowhere this session, consideration of death-with-dignity legislation is not on the table and gambling is almost certainly out of the picture.

Another controversial issue, decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, passed the Senate but has no guarantee of success in the House, which has rejected similar proposals in the past.

But by avoiding those perennial hot buttons, legislators are able to give greater attention to other matters.

‘Keiki, Kupuna, Ohana’

As is common every session, the main focus this year is on creating jobs and growing the economy. Attention is also heavily focused on sustainability.

But looking out for vulnerable populations is a continued priority — the keiki, kupuna and ohana, as a Senate staffer described them. Measures in that regard include SB 1093, SB 1084 and SB 1095, which establish an early childhood education program.

Other Senate measures that crossed over to the House would increase the minimum wage, address the shortage of doctors in the islands, make breastfeeding easier in workplaces, improve public housing and rental programs, prohibit smoking in condos, guard against animal cruelty, reduce the tax liability for low-income taxpayers and protect elders from financial abuse.

Other Senate bills would service long-term care needs, establish a refundable state earned income tax credit, create an assisted community treatment program for the mentally ill, put inspection records of care facilities online, expand recycling options and eliminate the asset limit for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

As Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria explained in a press release Wednesday, the Senate has tried to “strengthen our safety net.”

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The Big Island’s state Senate delegation.

Many of those Senate measures have House companions or similar vehicles. Also among the several hundred bills that moved from the House to the Senate are ones that would provide low-cost loans for green infrastructure, protect taro and fishponds, label GMO food, plan for statewide greenways (such as trails and bike routes), extend foster care services and fund a veterans treatment court.

The progressive slate can also be seen in bills that would push urban gardening programs, exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty, prohibit landlords from terminating tenants who are domestic violence victims and designate temporary parking lots for homeless people to sleep in their cars at night. And, while legalizing pakalolo may not happen any time soon, the House moved bills to allow for a pilot project on hemp and to significantly overhaul the state’s medical marijuana program.

There’s more: House Bill 1298 would grant a big tax cut to employers who hire developmentally, intellectually or physically disabled people.

And House Bill 276 would issue general obligation bonds to support construction of the Senior Residence at Piikoi, an affordable rental housing project.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki described the complex for the elderly as “an example of the convergence of the state’s housing objectives and policies.” Located in the Ala Moana-Kakaako area, it would be close to a shopping mall, recreational facilities, medical care and public transportation.

The progressive trend is evident in other legislation too. On Wednesday Civil Beat reported on the slate of good government legislation that was moving through both chambers.

In a press release this week, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim agreed, saying “Some of the measures the Senate Majority passed would reform and improve government, making it more transparent and accountable. Through these measures we hope to achieve a more efficient and effective government.”

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