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Red-shirted sign-wavers rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday, trying to defeat legislation that will allow the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to develop residential buildings in Kakaako Makai.
Surfers, fishermen, environmental groups and park users held signs that read “No High Rises!” and “Save Our Kakaako.” They later massed in the House of Representatives gallery to listen to lawmakers deliberate over Senate Bill 3122.
The protest was to little avail, however, as SB 3122 — which would repeal a 2006 law prohibiting condominiums and apartments so that OHA could build on three parcels of land — passed 40 to 11. The measure previously passed the state Senate, but because the bill was amended by the House, the Senate will either have to accept the House’s changes or work things out in conference later this month.
That was just one of the hundreds of bills heard by the Legislature Tuesday, as lawmakers work to meet Thursday’s deadline to keep measures alive. As is typical of crossover floor sessions, the 51 members of the House argued for hours over their agenda. The 25 members of the Senate wrapped things with little dissent and in an hour’s time.
By this point in the legislative session — Tuesday marked day 47 of a planned 60-day session — the contours of legislation are largely known. (Read Civil Beat’s What Laws Are Poised to Emerge From the 2014 Hawaii Legislature? to get a feel for legislative priorities.)
The Senate began its floor session in complete harmony, with the male senators and female senators posing separately for group photos to celebrate Equal Pay Day. As Sen. Roz Baker explained, women in America essentially have to work three months longer than men in order to get the same pay.
“I know we are considering raising the minimum wage, and more women than men are in low-end jobs,” she said. “So, let’s support increasing it to something that would be more acceptable and help women close that gap.”
The Senate has already approved a wage hike, from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by January 2017. On Tuesday, the House approved its own version of the same bill, but it calls for increasing the wage to $10 in January 2018. There are also differences between how lawmakers would handle the tip credit portion of the law. The tip credit means allowing employers to pay workers less than the minimum wage because they’re expected to make up the money in tips.
The House vote on Senate Bill 2609 drew floor debate when two Republican lawmakers sought to change the bill.
Rep. Bob McDermott introduced an amendment to raise the tip credit in order to help restaurants recoup the cost of the minimum wage increase.
McDermott called his amendment “somewhat more liberal” and said it was in line with President Barack Obama’s proposed tip credit in the federal minimum wage debate. After the session, McDermott said he was referring to Senate Bill 460 in Congress, which would actually increase the amount of money employers are required to pay their tipped employees, the opposite of what McDermott implied.
“Thank you very much and welcome to the Democratic party,” joked House Speaker Joseph Souki when McDermott finished speaking.
McDermott’s amendment drew opposition from most of the House, however, particularly Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke who said that the tip credit in the House bill’s draft was a “good compromise” and that increasing it would be onerous.
“We shouldn’t penalize the worker for the good job that he or she did,” she said. The House killed McDermott’s amendment in a voice vote.
Rep. Richard Fale also introduced a floor amendment to allow a larger tip credit, but his attempt was also unsuccessful. The measure ultimately passed with just McDermott voting no.
Unless the Senate accepts the House draft of SB 2609 — and the bill’s author, Clayton Hee, has made clear he wants the wage lifted to $10.10; he and some of his colleagues recently went so far as to tape dimes to their Senate desks to underscore their support — the legislation will have to be worked out in conference.
Unlike in the House, there was no drama in the Senate Tuesday. Senators voted identically on nearly every measure before them: 24 ayes and one no, with lone Republican Sam Slom once again opposing any proposal that would create special funds or new government offices.
Among the bills Slom voted no on was a measure intended to halt scalping for sports and concert tickets. The bill was inspired by widespread scalping of tickets for Bruno Mars’ upcoming concerts in Hawaii.
“We are trying to do too much and interfering with private contracts and accounts,” said Slom.
But Baker said she strongly supported House Bill 2012, which was introduced by Rep. Angus McKelvey, one of Baker’s Maui colleagues.
Opponents of OHA’s residential development of Kakaako Makai parcels, April 8, 2014.
Another bill from a Maui lawmaker, Rep. Kyle Yamashita, would allow county council members to appear at board and community meetings without violating the state’s Sunshine Law. Baker strongly supported that measure, too, but Sens. Laura Thielen and Les Ihara voted with reservations, suggesting they are uncomfortable with the meetings exemption.
Ihara and Sen. Russell Ruderman also voted with reservations on a bill requiring mediation in disputes over the fair market value or fair market rental of public lands. The bill, which also provides for binding arbitration in the event of unsuccessful mediation, received a “no” vote from Thielen.
There were none of the impassioned floor speeches that often take place in the Senate. There wasn’t even any discussion on a measure intended to curb the power of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, a bill introduced by House Majority Leader Scott Saiki in response to community concerns about the agency and its approval of multiple high-rise projects in Kakaako.
House Bill 1866 has been heavily amended since it was introduced, however, and appears acceptable to most members. The current draft’s provisions are listed at the end of this article.
Things went so smoothly in the Senate that, after business was concluded, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim asked, “Who won the pool?”
Meanwhile in the House, lawmakers clashed on multiple issues, including a proposal to require the Legislature to approve public land exchanges and a bill to extend the state tax on petroleum products, known as the barrel tax.
Most of the fireworks came early in the day over a routine bill updating the law creating the state Department of Education. McDermott introduced an amendment to exert more control over sex education in Hawaii’s schools.
The Republican representative has attacked the program known as Pono Choices repeatedly in recent months, criticizing the program’s acknowledgement of anal intercourse and arguing that the program encourages underage sex.
In a scene that echoed the debate over the legalization of same-sex marriage, which took place in the same chamber just five months earlier, Republican members — including McDermott, Fale and Rep. Gene Ward — harshly criticized Pono Choices while Democratic lawmakers defended it.
“The mama bears are, out there, very upset with the school system and there’s going to be constant agitation until we codify that some of these things are not going to be taught,” Ward said. It’s not the first time that Ward has referred to “mama bears” in a speech, a term sometimes invoked by conservatives like Sarah Palin to convey parental concern and traditional family values.
But Democratic Rep. Jessica Wooley took issue with Ward’s use of the phrase and made a formal request for Ward to not act as though he is speaking “for the mother bears in this room.”
The room burst into laughter as Vice Speaker John Mizuno called a recess. Ward then turned to Wooley and the two got into a verbal spat on the House floor. Most of their conversation was out of earshot of the audience watching from gallery above, but portions of the exchange grew audible as they raised their voices in argument.
“You’re not a mother bear,” Wooley told Ward. “Do you look like a mother bear?”
“That’s really inappropriate,” Ward retorted.
Mizuno left his post at the head of the chamber to get between the two legislators and calm them down. House Minority Leader Aaron Johanson also sought to defuse the situation.
The amendment was eventually defeated and the House approved the original measure, Senate Bill 2288. By the time the House session ended more than eight hours after it started, the chamber had passed over 150 bills.
Contact Chad Blair via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.
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