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This is THE final week of the Hawaii Legislature. After last week’s conference committee craziness, several hundred measures survived and now head for final floor votes today and Thursday. Which measures will make the cut? Nanea Kalani and Chad Blair will be live blogging from the House and Senate chambers.
Follow developments here.
Editors’ Note: To make sure you’re getting the latest updates, hold down the SHIFT key and click on the refresh icon in your browser. To view and participate in the discussion, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
House members voted to bring HB 575 — the salaries bill — to the floor for reconsideration, making it possible for the chamber to accept a Senate draft that continues legislative-judicial-executive pay cuts for another two and a half years.
It was the House’s last business of the day.
Because 48-hours notice is required, however, the House won’t have a final vote on the salaries bill until Thursday. Members are scheduled to convene that day at 10 a.m.
If approved then, HB 575 will go to the governor.
Like their Senate counterparts earlier this afternoon, House Democrats have passed out legislation eliminating GET exemptions and income tax deductions, raiding the Hurricane Relief Fund and raising the hotel tax and capping how much the counties get.
Only a handful of Democrats voted “no” on some of the measures.
Republicans, as you might guess, mostly voted “no” on the tax measures. They complain that it’s all part of a $600 million increase in taxes.
Regarding the GET exemptions, Calvin Say said to those who oppose it, “Where would you find $400 million in revenues to make up the budget deficit?”
Cynthia Thielen said one place to look would be in cutting legislative salaries. “We should have done that from the start of session,” she said.
At one point Barbara Marumoto tooted her own horn in killing the pension tax portion of SB 570, which led AARP members sitting in the gallery to applaud politely.
However, Rida Cabanilla tried to get Marumoto to stop talking, arguing that Marumoto was talking about something that was not actually being voted on.
Marumoto countered that some lawmakers on the House floor today have talked about the marriage of Will and Kate and the death of Osama bin Laden, though no votes pertain to either.
SB 651 is poised to pass the House and head to the governor’s desk. If it becomes law, it would help folks caught in mortgage foreclosures resolve their situation with lenders.
Republicans don’t like the bill, saying it doesn’t really fix the problem. Besides, it could hurt the economy by placing a moratorium on foreclosures.
But Bob Herkes said that was “B.S.” and said the bill actually involved great collaboration and hard work. He suggested it would serve as a model for other states.
Concerning that same bill, three lawmakers said they may have a conflict of interest on voting for the bill: Angus McKelvey, because his family has been going through a foreclosure: Gil Keith-Agaran, because his law firm handles foreclosures; and Joe Souki, because he is a Realtor.
Joey Manahan ruled that the three members had no conflict.
After completing its “Order of the Day”, the Senate has adjourned until 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Senate unanimously voted to pass SB 1186, which caps the amount of TAT revenue that is divvied up among the four counties at $85 million.
Previous versions of the bill had placed the cap at $102 million and $93 million.
Under current law, 44.8 percent of TAT revenue is distributed to the counties. Of that amount, the counties get the following: 44.1 percent to Honolulu; 22.8 percent to Maui; 18.6 percent to Hawaii County; and 14.5 percent to Kauai. Last year, the counties shared about $90 million.
The bill is expected to raise $32 million in fiscal 2012 and $38 million in 2013.
The Senate voted 17-8 to pass SB 754, which temporarily suspends GET exemptions.
Under the bill, nearly two dozen businesses will see their general excise tax exemptions suspended starting July 1 through June 2013. These businesses will be subject to the 4 percent tax for the two years.
It is the largest revenue-generating bill, expected to raise $173 million a year.
The exemptions are mostly for specific industries, including general contractors, sugarcane producers, petroleum refiners, airlines and tugboat operators.
Some businesses previously testified against the measure and said they are likely to pass on the increased costs to their customers.
Roz Baker opposed the bill, calling it “anti-economic recovery.” Sam Slom opposed the bill and defended the GET exemptions.
“They are a way of trying to equalize the playing field and reduce or eliminate the pyramiding of the GET,” Slom said.
David Ige urged members to support the bill, but noted he would be voting with reservations.
“It is the largest part of our financial plan outside of the budget,” Ige said. “It is the only option left that allows us to close the budget shortfall.”
Senators voting no were: Baker, Chun-Oakland, Espero, Fukunaga, Green, Ihara, Slom and Wakai.
The House has reconvened.
Major bills for the afternoon address eliminating GET exemptions, capping county share of the TAT, raiding the Hurricane Relief Fund and helping people involved in mortgage foreclosures.
Meeting with reporters during the break, Calvin Say and Marcus Oshiro said the House would vote on bringing the salaries bill to the floor.
If approved, the measure — which would continue a 5-percent salary cut for legislators and other top government positions until Dec. 31, 2013 — would be voted on Thursday, the last day of business for the session.
SB 570 — one of lawmakers’ key revenue bills — passed final reading in the Senate.
Under the bill, higher income earners will lose the state income tax deduction and will be limited in the amount of itemized deductions they can claim. It is expected to raise $51.8 million a year for the state in extra revenue.
A repeal of the deduction for state income taxes paid would essentially increase the amount of income subject to tax.
The changes will apply to individuals with adjusted gross incomes over $100,000, head of households who earn more than $150,000 and couples making more than $200,000.
SB 570 also delays until 2013 a planned increase in the standard deduction and personal exemption that was set to take effect this year.
SB 651 passed final reading in the Senate.
It would establish a temporary mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program.
“It may not help everyone stay in their home, but it will ensure everyone have a fair process, a fair hearing and it will not clog our Judiciary,” Roz Baker said in support of the bill.
Michelle Kidani opposed the bill, saying it “will harm residents in condominiums and community associations” by increasing the financial burden on condo renters and owners.
Baker rebutted, noting that she is a condo owner, and that the bill has some built-in protections for condominium owners and associations.
Kidani and Sam Slom voted against the bill.
SB 1270 passed final reading in the Senate, allowing the state to tap into $42 million in the Hurricane Relief Fund to balance the current year’s budget.
A previous version had called for allowing the governor to completely drain the fund’s $75 million to balance the budget.
The latest version allows for the issuance of revenue bonds by the relief fund to maintain a $75 million balance in the hurricane reserve trust fund.
Sam Slom was alone in voting against the bill.
Before breaking for lunch, the Senate approved HB 945.
The bill basically requires half of elementary schools to increase instructional time this coming school year. (Nearly a quarter of the state’s 172 elementary schools already meet the requirement.)
High schools, charters and multi-track schools would be exempt under HB 945 to sort out logistics and define “instructional time.”
All schools (except multi-track schools) also will be required to have 180 days of class.
Jill Tokuda said the bill gives the BOE the ability to grant exemptions.
After spirited debate involving potholes and talk of federal funds, House members agreed to pass SB 1328 and SB 1329, which increase motor vehicle registration fees and weight taxes.
The House has now recessed until 1:15 p.m. to eat lunch.
Meanwhile, the Senate has also recessed for a short lunch. Members are expected to reconvene at 12:45 p.m.
A bill intended to support federal efforts on the Akaka Bill advanced in the House and Senate this morning.
SB 1520, which recognizes Native Hawaiians and establishes a five-member commission to count them in order to help form a governing entity, now heads to Gov. Neil Abercrombie to be signed into law.
The bill passed unanimously in the House, with only Sen. Sam Slom voting against it in the Senate. Slom argued the measure seeks to “try to find a way around the failed Akaka Bill, failed for more than a decade.”
Sen. Gil Kahele spoke in strong support, calling it the pono thing to do.
“This is just another step in recognition of the fact that our people — the Hawaiian people — we are the host culture of this land,” Kahele said.
Sen. Malama Solomon said the significance of the measure is bigger than policy-making.
“This bill goes beyond recognition,” she said. “It asks and helps to heal the kaumaha — the heaviness — the Hawaiian people have carried … since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.”
Former OHA chair Clayton Hee echoed Solomon’s position, saying: “This legislation is the first step in a long journey that began in 1893.”
Some members in the gallery on the floor appeared to wipe tears as Hee spoke of his grandparent’s generation who lived through the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.
Hee said comments have been made by House members regarding possible lawsuits because of this recognition bill. He welcomed the challenge.
“If this legislation wasn’t important, nobody would sue,” Hee said. “Bring it on! Bring it on!”
House members voted in favor of HB 1520, which instructs the state to “investigate” allowing people to pay to install clean energy technology through their monthly power bills.
Energy Committee Chair Denny Coffman watered down the bill, which was backed strongly by environmental groups, from initial language that would have implemented the system.
“Now we have another so-called study, another baby step, and I am really disappointed in that,” said Cynthia Thielen, who added that the bill was “better than nothing” — but just barely.
“This was a missed opportunity,” said Gene Ward. “This was at the core of green job creation.”
The state House has passed SB 101, exempting the preparation of hand-pounded poi from certain DOH requirements.
It also approved HB 44, HB 240 and HB 141 that strengthen state laws concerning prostitution and human trafficking.
HB 545, allowing for online voter registration, passed the House as well.
There was no floor debate on the measures.
The Senate voted to approve House Bill 200, the state operating budget and CIP budget.
The measure calls for spending an additional $800 million a year for each of the next two years. About $600 million in new tax revenue will be combined with cuts to state departments, labor savings and raiding of special funds to balance the budget.
HB 200 also calls for $1.8 billion for capital improvement projects in 2012 and another $1 billion for 2013.
Sam Slom cast the lone vote against the budget. He called it “unfair and unrealistic to talk about cuts to our government when this represents a double-digit increase in spending.”
David Ige, on the other had, called it a “responsible budget that finds common ground and compromise” between what the Abercrombie administration proposed.
Ige said the budget cuts $260 million in fiscal 2012 and $359 million in fiscal 2013 from what the governor had requested in spending.
He took pride in saying: “We balanced the budget and closed this deficit without taxing pensions.”
The budget restores furlough savings that are set to end June 30. But lawmakers are assuming $88.2 million a year in labor savings should state employees covered by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the United Public Workers agree to similar terms reached between the state and the Hawaii Government Employees Association. That contract includes a 5 percent pay cut and nine additional paid days off.
Donna Mercado Kim and Roz Baker made floor comments in support of the budget, mostly commending Ige’s leadership.
With final approval by the full House and Senate, the budget bill now heads to Gov. Abercrombie to become law.
House lawmakers unanimously approved House Bill 200.
Marcus Oshiro gave thanks to Senate counterpart David Ige for his “willingness to be open to ideas that led to provocative and productive discussions.”
He also thanked Neil Abercrombie “for setting high goals … not all of his ideas made it into the plan, but I thank you.”
Oshiro added that the budget and financial plan “may not move the state as far as we you may wish” — meaning the governor — but it does provide “building blocks for the future.”
Gene Ward also voted in support of HB 200, but he expressed concern that the bill increased spending and raised taxes without stimulating job growth.
“We do not have a vision for the state to grow the pie,” he said, lamenting the death of two bills that would have helped stimulate film production and an aerospace industry. “We are in deep, deep kimchi.”
Marilyn Lee observed that the Legislature managed to help support many social services without raising the general excise tax.
But Joe Souki said the state “is not well” and warned that a new forecast from the Council on Revenues later this month will probably show that there is still a budget deficit.
Without a sufficient income stream to support the state — like gambling, Souki suggested — Hawaii will remain in a tight fiscal situation.
“The quality of life is diminishing,” he said. “The number of homeless is increasing.”
The Senate also voted to confirm Dean Ochiai, Lanson Kupau and Melanie Mito May to serve as judges on Oahu’s First Circuit District Court.
Catherine Remigio‘s nomination as judge to the District Family Court of the First Circuit also was confirmed.
The Senate has unanimously confirmed Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald‘s nomination of Edmund Acoba as District Court Judge in the Fifth Circuit (Kauai).
Clayton Hee and Ron Kouchi made floor remarks in support of Acoba, who fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Calvin Murashige. He previously was supervising attorney of the Office of the Public Defender on Kauai.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s nomination of David Louie as attorney general has been confirmed by the Senate with 25 ayes.
The state Senate may conclude business before noon, senators predict, while the state House may wrap things up around 4:30 p.m. — barring the unexpected, of course.
The disparate session lengths have to do with membership size, the strength of the minority and varying agendas.
Two members are missing in the 51-member House, including Mele Carroll, who represents Kahoolawe, Molokini, Lanai, Molokai, Keanae, Wailua, Nahiku and Hana.
Just minutes after the House session began, the Majority Caucus called a recess and disappeared behind closed doors.
Yesterday, House conferees on House Bill 575 were discharged — a sign the bill may be moving to a vote.
HB 575 is the measure that would continue a 5-percent cut in top legislative, judicial and executive branch salaries. If the bill is not voted on this session, salaries increase July 1.
One scenario is that the House could agree to the Senate draft of the bill. That vote could happen as early as today.
There are still some concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, given that the extension of the pay cut until Dec. 31, 2013, overlaps with another round of Salary Commission scheduled for 2012.
Will Sam Slom complain about taxes?
Will Marcus Oshiro quote song lyrics?
Will Ron Kouchi crack jokes?
Will Kalani English defend the interests of Hana?
Will Joe Souki say something unintelligible?
Will Babara Marumoto complain about taxing pension income?
Will Cindy Evans say the words “Mr. Speaker”?
Will Suzanne Chun Oakland cry?
Tune into the state House and Senate floor sessions to find out. It’s the most important event in the state, and often entertaining.
To find out what the House and Senate will actually be voting on today, click on Bill Status & Documents and scroll down to the 2011 Regular Session Order of the Day, Referral Sheets, Action Sheets, and Journal.
Punch in today’s date — 5/3/2011 — and open the SOD and HOD docs. They are usually not posted until shortly before session convenes.
The sessions will also be televised by Capitol TV on Oahu’s Olelo Channel 49 (House) and Olelo Channel 53 (Senate).
Now, sit back and participate in our democracy!
The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, APEC 2011 Hawaii Host Committee and the mayors of the four counties will hold a news conference to announce the APEC 2011 Hawaii Business Innovation Showcase at 11:30 a.m.
The press conference will be held in the mayor’s press conference room at Honolulu Hale.
Catch up on previous coverage: