Hawaii lawmakers gave us civil unions, gender equity protection in employment, an appointed Board of Education, a mortgage foreclosure mediation process, a restructured Employees’ Retirement System and recognition of Native Hawaiians.
Those are major — even landmark — accomplishments.
Lawmakers also raised taxes and fees amounting to more than $600 million. They did cut programs and labor costs from the governor’s initial budget, but Hawaii government will still be 8 percent — or $800 million — bigger next year than this year.
That hurts, but it also will help some.
After all that, though, they may not be done. A special session is not out of the question.
Depending on what the Council on Revenues says about economic trends on May 26, as well as what lawmakers and Gov. Neil Abercrombie decide must still be addressed, a special session could come this summer.
On Thursday, following official adjournment of the 2011 session, House Speaker Calvin Say said that among the bills that could be taken up in special session are ones creating a regulatory structure for an underwater power cable, restructuring of the Public Utilities Commission, allowing use of unused public school lands, spending money for APEC security, paying out claims against the state and directing funds to the University of Hawaii and its medical school.
All failed to make it through conference committee.
Another measure that may require extra attention is the one that continues a 5-percent salary cut for top executive, legislative and judicial branch salaries. It was one of the last bills to pass the Legislature, but some lawmakers said the bill has constitutional flaws.
In a year distinguished by financial stress, it certainly would not look good for legislators to accept pay raises starting July 1.
Speaking to reporters after signing the mortgage foreclosure bill into law late Thursday, Abercrombie said he and the Legislature would have to “wait on events” like the council’s next forecast and to allow time to review bills before deciding whether a special session is warranted.
But the governor did say that APEC funding, for example, was a worthwhile measure, and indicated that the 5-percent pay cut seemed reasonable, given the 5 percent pay cut taken by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
“A lot of bills fell off the table, and we need to find ways to keep that from happening,” he said.
Other accomplishments out of the 2011 session, depending on one’s view, included the blocking of a hike to the general excise tax, agreement on emergency appropriations for social services programs and the decision to not tax pension incomes.
But many measures intended to alleviate homelessness did not make the cut.
There was also protracted discussion on controversial issues that have been around for decades and have yet to go anywhere: doctor-assisted suicide, decriminalizing marijuana and allowing for gaming.
And, though the state allowed for medical marijuana use years ago, it has not moved closer to permitting its availability.
The single-worst bill this session? Maybe the one that would have allowed lobbyists to shower gifts and trips on lawmakers. The Senate voted in favor of the measure before the House snuffed it out.
An important point: Every bill that died this session is technically still alive and can be taken up in 2012.
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