- Special Projects
The Legislature approved more than 100 bills Tuesday, including a $26 billion budget, legislation that requires Hawaii to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 and a bill criminalizing sex trafficking.
“The House took on some tough issues relating to the rail tax, Turtle Bay and the Maui public hospitals, and worked collaboratively with the administration and the Senate to come up with sound and reasonable solutions,” House Speaker Joseph Souki said in a statement.
“We also crafted a responsible budget that addressed our long-term obligations and took care of our immediate social services needs and capital improvement requirements.”
Chief among the measures passed was House Bill 500, a $26.17 billion budget for the next two fiscal years. That includes $13.4 billion in general funds over the same period.
The biennium budget for capital improvements totaled $2.4 billion, counting projects funded by general obligation bonds and all other means of financing.
House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke told her fellow lawmakers Tuesday that HB 500 scaled back spending on public infrastructure projects in light of the state’s hot construction industry.
“The budget is essentially comprised of collective bargaining costs with certain investments in education and Medicaid,” Luke said.
“Hawaii will be still spending more than it takes in over the next few years and will have depleted its carry over balances as early as 2021.” — Sen. Sam Slom
But she noted some exceptions, such as $2 million for a tax credit to spur the high technology industry and $6.7 million to expand the food/excise tax credit for low-income residents.
Over on the Senate side, Sam Slom, the lone Republican, said the current spending plan is almost identical to Gov. David Ige’s initial budget request.
“Hawaii will be still spending more than it takes in over the next few years and will have depleted its carry over balances as early as 2021,” Slom said in a statement Monday.
The Legislature passed several historic measures relating to energy, medical marijuana and sex trafficking.
If it becomes law, House Bill 623 would make Hawaii the first state to commit to a 100 percent renewable energy goal. Roughly 22 percent of the state’s energy came from renewable sources last year.
“This is truly a victory for the globe,” said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Blue Planet Foundation, in a press conference after the bill passed.
“It’s going to save everybody money, it’s going to put less carbon in the air, it’s going to boost jobs in our local energy industry,” Rep. Chris Lee said of the renewable energy goal.
The Legislature also passed House Bill 1509 to make the University of Hawaii system the first university in the nation to have a goal of being 100 percent renewable and generating all their own power by 2035, Lee said in a House release.
Another bill that passed Tuesday would prohibit discrimination against medical marijuana patients by landlords and schools, among others.
Rep. Sharon Har criticized the measure as potentially causing property values to go down for condo owners like herself.
Lawmakers also finally passed a bill criminalizing sex trafficking after years of advocacy for the measure.
While there wasn’t any discussion in the House over that historic measure, representatives spent nearly an hour discussing a bill to allow county councils to levy a higher tax, on Oahu to pay for the Honolulu rail project.
Rep. Bob McDermott, a conservative who generally opposes tax increases, said the tax extension was a no-brainer and would help his constituents.
“The Golden Gate Bridge was over budget, the Hoover Dam was over budget,” he said. “We’re committed to this thing, we need to see it through.”
But his fellow Republican, Rep. Gene Ward, was critical of the tax.
“I don’t think any of us on this floor can really say we’ve done this project well,” he said.
Most lawmakers said they were resigned to the necessity of passing the bill.
“I wish the project could be done in a more responsible manner but we’re too far in to stop now,” said Rep. Lauren Matsumoto.
The Legislature also passed House Bill 631 to allow transgendered people to change their birth certificates without having to undergo sex changes.
Slom, the Senate Republican, opposed the measure as taking Hawaii down a “sketchy path.” McDermott also said it could bring lawsuits.
But McDermott celebrated a bill that would provide autism insurance for kids, thanking Rep. Della Au Belatti for her work on the bill.
“I truly believe that we’re going to see better services in our schools and hopefully a reduction in our special education budgets,” Belatti said.
Sens. Josh Green and Roz Baker, key lawmakers in the bill’s passage on the Senate side, celebrated the Legislature finally approving the measure.
Sen. Brickwood Galuteria said the law may enable his grandson, who has autism, to move back to Hawaii since insurance would be more affordable.
Lawmakers are expected to take up another measure, House Bill 321, Thursday that would establish a medical marijuana dispensary system. The 2015 legislative session ends this week.