Hawaii Senate President Donna Mercado Kim called for eliminating the state Land Use Commission during her remarks on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session.

The initiative was one of many Kim championed during her speech at the Hawaii State Capitol, which was packed with residents on Wednesday rallying about issues including Hawaiian sovereignty, genetically modified organisms and lack of affordable housing.

The Land Use Commission is Hawaii’s state-level permitting process, the only one of its kind in the nation. Developers and landowners have for years complained about the high cost of getting projects approved through the commission, and Kim said that the process should be “streamlined.”

Senate President Donna Kim receives a kiss before senate opens before opening ceremonies at the Capitol building.  21 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim receives a kiss before opening ceremonies at the Hawaii State Capitol on Wednesday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She said the Senate would consider allowing counties to enact a half-percent tax to pay for affordable housing, enforcement of vacation rentals, and transportation —  namely, Honolulu’s multi-billion-dollar rail project.

She also called for constructing a new Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance on top of the Convention Center and dedicating revenue from the tax on hotels to help restore Hawaii beaches that have lost sand from erosion.

She proposed establishing vote-by-mail elections, creating an inspector general position to investigate fraud and resolving the state hospitals’ financial woes.

Other initiatives included expanding mandatory ethics training for state employees and constructing a culinary arts facility at Kapiolani Community College.

Gov. David Ige told reporters that he would be open to getting rid of the Land Use Commission, but that the proposal to create an inspector general would depend on the cost and how it stacked up against other financial priorities.

House Speaker Joe Souki declined to comment on whether he supports eliminating the Land Use Commission.

“Well good luck,” Souki said when he heard about Kim’s push to get rid of the commission. “I remember some years ago when I was in the House we did away with the Land Use Commission and ironically the Senate killed it… I can understand the request — the result might be a little more difficult.”

He also seemed hesitant about her proposal for all-mail elections.

“That could be a consideration but we’re just at the batting box now,” he said.

Kim’s theme for her speech was “Where have all the flowers gone?” She even played a clip of the song by Paul and Mary that was projected onto the chamber walls. She asked the audience where the sand of Hawaii’s eroded beaches had gone and where were the Hawaiian musicians who used to play in Waikiki.

When Sen. Sam Slom, the sole Republican in the Hawaii Senate, stood up to speak, he played off of her theme: “Where have all the Republicans gone?”

Senator Slom speaks during after the majority speaker. 21 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom addresses fellow lawmakers on Opening Day of the 2015 legislative session.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He assured the audience that he wasn’t going to leave his party, a reference to former House Minority Leader Aaron Johanson’s recent defection to the Democratic Party.

Slom emphasized fiscal responsibility and addressed his remarks to “our overburdened Hawaii taxpayers.” His initiatives included diversifying the economy and reducing the cost of living.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to stand up and speak out against the status quo and call for change in Hawaii,” he said. “There are some who would silence any dissent in our state.”

Slom’s speech was briefly interrupted when he appeared fatigued and Kim called a recess to allow Sen. Josh Green, a physician, and others to help him.

But Slom finished the speech and later assured concerned colleagues that he was merely dehydrated.

“It was just a ploy to get Democrats to support me,” he joked. “I’m fine, thank you.”

Below are the texts of Kim’s and Slom’s speeches. Click here to learn more about following the legislative session.

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