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As expected, most bills heard by the Hawaii Legislature on Tuesday were approved, allowing them to cross from one chamber to the other. They include measures to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage, improve education and take care of kupuna.
Read What Bills Are Still Alive at the Halfway Point of Hawaii’s Legislature? to learn more about those measures and others.
But House lawmakers shelved a bill to ban the ivory trade in the state. And three Senate measures seeking to amend laws governing the Hawaii Community Development Authority were recommitted to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, likely killing them for the session.
A similar measure regarding the HCDA remains alive in the House and is expected to be heard by the Senate. If passed and enacted, the bill would allow for public appeal of HCDA decisions, increase legislative oversight of the authority’s finances and require more public notice of meetings.
There were also some tense moments in each chamber.
In the House, Rep. Faye Hanohano brought the session to a temporary halt when she gave remarks in Hawaiian but refused to translate them at the request of the House vice speaker. And in the Senate, Sen. Malama Solomon vented her frustration as her colleagues spent nearly an hour deciding whether to accept a floor amendment to a bill allowing solar energy facilities on some agricultural land.
Tuesday’s House session started out smoothly with lawmakers approving the first six pages of their agenda all at once. But things got awkward when Big Island lawmaker Hanohano, who often speaks in Hawaiian, refused to translate her comments into English.
“I don’t want to translate,” she said when Vice Speaker John Mizuno asked her to do so.
Mizuno recessed the session and conferred hurriedly with House Speaker Joseph Souki, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki and Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads on the House floor. Then Mizuno called the House back into session and listed some of the House rules related to decorum.
Republican Rep. Gene Ward came to Hanohano’s defense, reminding Mizuno that Hawaiian is an official language in Hawaii along with English and that the law doesn’t require Hanohano to translate.
Throughout the rest of the day, Hanohano continued to speak in Hawaiian, generally making an effort to translate her remarks. Later that afternoon, Ward also offered comments in Hawaiian and sat down without translating.
Mizuno smiled. “It is a second official language,” he said.
State Rep. Sharon Har, March 4, 2014.
More fireworks came when lawmakers discussed a bill to raise the minimum wage. In addition to predictable disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, the debate was also divided between legislators who support former Democratic House Speaker Calvin Say, such as Reps. Sharon Har and Marcus Oshiro, and those who support the current leadership.
Say, who served as speaker for 13 years until Souki usurped the position last year, criticized the House’s process for advancing the minimum wage proposal. Looking agitated, Mizuno called another recess.
When the session reconvened, Say rose again to speak.
“I apologize to this body, to the chair of Labor, to the chair of Finance,” he said.
Lawmakers also spent time debating bills to limit instructional hours in schools, prohibit smoking in public housing and create a program to allow public funding for certain elections. Other controversial measures included a proposed constitutional amendment that would defy the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United campaign finance case and a bill to change the punishment for people who text while driving.
As usual, representatives took their time making their floor remarks. The session finally ended 14 hours after it started, with 183 bills passed.
Things began smoothly enough in the Senate at 9:30 a.m., although some staffers worried that senators would not get through their stack of bills until late in the day. During the last couple of floor sessions before crossover, the Senate has usually managed to finish up by lunch.
As he walked into the chamber, Civil Beat asked Sen. David Ige when business would wrap, early or late.
“Somewhere in between,” he said, an accurate prediction.
State Sens. Sam Slom and Roz Baker, March 4, 2014.
The mood in the vast room was light. Sen. Russell Ruderman pointed out that it was March 4 and Mardi Gras, and he encouraged his colleagues to “march forth together.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” Ruderman’s colleagues replied.
The majority Democrats then shuffled into the Senate caucus room where attention soon shifted to a floor amendment on another measure, this one on permitting solar on some agricultural lands, sources tell Civil Beat. There was vigorous debate among some chairs and members of committees that previously heard the measure, Senate Bill 2658, centering on whether agreement had been reached on a floor amendment.
After a half an hour or so the senators emerged from caucus, but there was still business to clear up on the solar-ag bill before Senate President Donna Mercado Kim gaveled the Senate back into session. While some senators used the time to take photos of each other, joke around and check messages, others — Kim, Ihara, Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, Agriculture Chairman Clarence Nishihara, Energy and Environment Chairman Mike Gabbard and Judiciary and Labor Chairman Clayton Hee — huddled to settle pending matters.
The longer the huddling went on, however, the more frustrated Solomon, chairwoman of Water and Land, got, becoming visibly and audibly agitated. She paced around the chamber floor, complaining to colleagues that would listen. Her comments were loud enough to be heard in the visitor gallery, and they included these:
She wants to micromanage. We are policy leaders! … Defective date? … Do you think I’m stupid? … I don’t trust the House. … There is no vehicle on the other side. … There is no respect in there. … I have a Ph.D. and 30 years. …
State Sen. Malama Solomon, March 4, 2014.
In the end, the Senate accepted floor amendments on both the drone bill and the solar-ag bill and will vote on them Thursday, the last day before the crossover deadline. About a half-dozen other bills also received floor amendments, but none that upset Malama Solomon like the solar-ag bill.
As for the rest of the Senate’s agenda Tuesday, many bills passed nearly unanimously, with only Republican Sam Slom registering objection. As a matter of principle, Slom opposes new taxes and fees, special funds and more layers of bureaucracy, and that’s what many Senate bills call for. The Democrats generally ignored him, except when they felt moved to respond to his floor remarks, as also happened several times Tuesday.
One other interesting moment in the Senate: Seven senators voted against a bill making the ukulele the state instrument. In explaining their opposition, Sens. Roz Baker and Kalani English said other instruments would be more appropriate — the Hawaiian steel guitar, said Baker, or the Hawaiian pahu drum, said English.