UPDATED 3/5/2014, 2 p.m.

Hawaii lawmakers are expected to approve hundreds of bills this week ahead of Thursday’s “crossover” deadline when House and Senate bills receive a final vote on whether they should pass from one chamber to the other for consideration.

Measures that would increase the minimum wage, promote renewable energy, affect schools and the elderly, combat invasive species and preserve the environment are set to pass. There are several “good government” bills that aim to make our political leaders more accountable. And legislators are looking to make the ukulele the state’s official instrument.

Many bills did not make the cut. Decriminalizing pot and setting up medical marijuana dispensaries, regulating or labeling genetically modified organisms and legislation to allow residents to vote on initiatives, referendums, recalls and term limits all failed to advance. And there will be no casino in Waikiki and no shipboard gambling.

All in all, the bills moving forward appeal to broad constituencies and give legislators and Gov. Neil Abercrombie a lot of positive — and not terribly controversial — things to talk about on the campaign trail this summer and fall.

There is no guarantee that any measure will survive, of course; others could yet be resurrected. Tuesday is technically only the 25th day of a scheduled 60-day session, meaning there are many more days before May 1 when the session is pau.

But, along with a crossover deadline next week for the state budget, we have reached the halfway point of the 2014 Hawaii Legislature, so Civil Beat is letting readers know what is still alive and what’s not.

Movements in the Senate

Increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage remains a priority in both houses, and the Senate’s version — Senate Bill 2609 — raises the wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 and leaves blank for now what to do with the tip credit. Read more about the bill by clicking here.

Other Senate priorities include education. Senate Bill 2424 calls for developing a “cooling master strategy” for the sweltering public schools where students and teachers want relief. Under Senate Bill 3038, there will also be more money for school athletics.

And, two measures would help charter schools with funding — a chronic problem: Senate Bill 2516, which gives money to the charter schools commission to spend on facilities, and Senate Bill 2517, which permits the commission to issue bonds to help repair facilities. For more on these bills, read Moving the Ball: Hawaii Senator Wants Millions More for School Sports and Quiz Time: Will Hawaii Lawmakers Pass the Charter Schools Test?.

North Shore Oahu homes that are sinking into the ocean because of beach erosion (read Civil Beat’s reporting) has prompted senators to address things legislatively. Senate Bill 3035 would fund planning for and construction of a realignment of Kamehameha Highway mauka of Laniakea Beach, while Senate Bill 3036 would give money to the University of Hawaii to come up with a management plan for an area from Sunset Beach all the way to Waimea Bay.

Dealing with climate change is also on the minds of senators. Senate Bill 2344 would set up a committee and a task force within state agencies to draft a framework to help Hawaii try to adapt to rising sea levels. “With beaches continuing to erode, rain continuing to diminish, and sea levels projected to rise one foot by 2050 and three feet by 2100, Hawaii is highly vulnerable,” the bill states.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Hawaii Senate, January 2014.

The response to another threat, invasive species, would involve giving $5 million in the next fiscal year to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council for prevention, control, outreach, research and planning. Senate Bill 2343 is backed by all 24 Democrats in the Senate.

SB 2344 and SB 2343 are part of a joint majority package this year, meaning Democrats in both chambers are on board. The House versions of the Senate bills are also alive, as are House versions of two other bills regarding kupuna care: Senate Bill 2345, which calls for giving $50,000 to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to target identity theft and elderly fraud, and Senate Bill 2346, which would dedicate more than $5 million to “healthy aging” programs and services.

What else is alive in the Senate?

There are bills allowing for pain specialists to prescribe medical marijuana, selecting a Niihau resident to have exclusive konohiki rights on the Forbidden Island (it refers to control of land and fishing), making Niihau a county under DLNR, permitting a two-year industrial hemp research program at UH, requiring a noninvasive test on newborns to screen for birth defects, prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco, naming a Maui school after Patsy Mink, increasing the state’s stock of affordable housing units, permitting solar facilities on agricultural land, exempting breastfeeding mothers from jury duty, providing a tax credit for hotel construction, creating a Public-Private Finance Initiative, establishing building restrictions in Kakaako, lengthening the school year, setting up a task force on GMOS and regulating the use of electronic cigarettes.

What is dead in the Senate?

Bills that didn’t make it include measures reinterring unidentified iwi on Kahoolawe, disseminating revenge porn, banning urinating and defecating on paved roads and sidewalks, planning for the formal creation of a Koreatown in Honolulu, putting warning labels on cell phones, requiring lobbyists to have ethics training and making permanent a media shield law.

What Is Stirring in the House?

The minimum wage has also been a top priority in the House, where lawmakers are planning to vote on House Bill 2480 this week to raise the minimum wage to $10 by 2018. The bill would also increase the tip credit, which was a source of disagreement last year between the House and the Senate that led to the legislation’s demise.

The House already passed House Bill 1713 and House Bill 1715 related to kupuna, climate change and invasive species that are part of the joint majority package of both chambers (detailed above).

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Hawaii House of Representatives, January 2014.


Like the Senate, House lawmakers have also been paying attention to education, in particular charter schools. Last week, the House approved a bill to create a special fund for charter school facilities and a tax credit for people who donate to them. The proposal, House Bill 2576, is just one of several initiatives aimed at improving charter school facilities.1

Representatives are also moving forward with a bill by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to create a statewide early education system. The measure, House Bill 2276, is up for a vote this week along with House Bill 1675, which would limit the number of hours kids have to be in school. Also on the agenda is a proposal to restrain kids with special needs if they get out of control. House Bill 1796 has raised concerns about safety in Hawaii’s classrooms and inspired debate about the proper treatment of disabled children.

House lawmakers have been pushing through a bunch of bills that would give tax breaks to various groups. House Bill 2170 and House Bill 1594 would each create a tax credit for developers to encourage hotel construction and renovation. House Bill 2478, which passed the House last week, would give tax credits to people who hire individuals with disabilities and yet another measure, HB 2626, would establish tax credits to encourage Hawaii’s manufacturing businesses.

In the House, a bill to help the counties is also advancing. House Bill 1671, which gets rid of the limit on how much money counties can receive from the transient accommodations tax, already passed the House. The bill’s success can be partly attributed to counties working together for the first time this year to lobby the state. House Speaker Joseph Souki also lobbied for the idea in his opening day speech.

Unsurprisingly, bills related to development in Kakaako have attracted a lot of attention this year. At the start of the session, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki pushed forward a slew of bills to reign in the Hawaii Community Development Authority after many residents in his district, Kakaako, complained that the agency was approving new high-rises without regard to residents’ concerns.

But the more drastic measures to abolish the agency or temporarily halt development were unpopular with lawmakers and just one of Saiki’s proposals to reform the agency remains. Among other things, House Bill 1866 would amend the organization by giving residents a way to appeal decisions, improving legislative oversight of the agency’s finances and requiring the agency to give additional public notice. Meanwhile, a bill that would allow residential development on land owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on Kakaako Makai is also being considered this week.

Other bills that are still alive include a bill to improve Hawaii’s food sustainability; a bill to set aside money to combat the coffee bohrer that threatens coffee crops; a bill to exempt produce sold at farmers markets from the state’s general excise tax; a proposal to create the Office of Hawaiian Studies in the state Department of Education; and a measure to fund a renewable energy project on Molokai.

Bills that have died include a proposal to prohibit smoking on beaches; a proposal to allow dogs and cats into restaurants and bars; a bill to create a marijuana export industry; a measure to establish a Public-Private Finance Initiative; and several bills related to developing geothermal resources.

Contact Chad Blair via email at cblair@civilbeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Contact Anita Hofschneider via email at anita@civilbeat.com or on Twitter at @ahofschneider

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