Schools are still on track to get emergency money to cool classrooms. Hawaii might yet switch to an all-mail voting system. Police misconduct records may become public. And taxes could go up to help residents take care of elderly and sick family members.

Just over 2,600 bills had cleared the “first lateral” in the Legislature by Friday, an internal House and Senate deadline for bills to reach the last committee to which they were referred. That means almost 2,400 bills that had to clear two or three committees are dead after lawmakers failed to pass them out.

It’s always possible for legislation to be resurrected before the session ends May 5, given the Legislature’s propensity to bend its own rules. But generally speaking, here’s the latest prognosis for bills Civil Beat has been tracking and others of interest.

The Hawaii Senate is under new leadership this session after Ron Kouchi replaced Donna Mercado Kim as president.
The Hawaii Senate, seen here, and House have nearly cut in half the amount of legislation still under consideration this session, but that still leaves 2,633 bills on the table. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Some of the big ideas put forward when the Legislature convened Jan. 20 have already been shot down.

Hawaii won’t be establishing a lottery system this year as House Speaker Joe Souki proposed, even if the proceeds had been devoted to ending homelessness, as a bill introduced by Vice Speaker John Mizuno required.

And Souki’s plan to give long-term lease holders of nonresidential property the right to purchase the land that they’re renting also won’t be realized. House Water and Land Chair Ryan Yamane killed the effort without giving it a hearing after the state’s largest private landowner, Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, complained about it.

The state also won’t be creating vegetative buffer zones around schools to help protect kids from accidental pesticide drift. And members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents are not going to get a special exemption from a law that requires them to publicly disclose their financial interests.

But there’s plenty left on the table.

Gov. David Ige, seen here last month after he delivered his State of the State, has called on Speaker Joe Souki, pictured at left, and Senate President Ron Kouchi to expedite passage of a bill to help cool public school classrooms.
Gov. David Ige, seen here last month after he delivered his State of the State address, has called on Speaker Joe Souki, left, and Senate President Ron Kouchi to expedite passage of a bill to help cool public school classrooms. Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

House Bill 2569 provides more than $100 million to help the Department of Education expedite projects to cool classrooms through air-conditioning and other means. The measure, which has broad support in the House, cleared its first two committees this month and is down to the Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke.

Gov. David Ige sent Souki and Senate President Ron Kouchi a letter Feb. 12 asking them for their “immediate consideration and passage” of the bill — an initiative that is “amongst my highest priorities.” The governor said if the Legislature passes it by Feb. 29, implementation can begin this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Some of the good government bills seeking to boost voter turnout and lessen the influence of money in politics are still moving forward. Others are not.

Senate Bill 2496 would phase in all-mail elections by 2020, starting with the 2018 primary on Kauai. The Judiciary and Labor Committee, chaired by Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, passed the bill Feb. 16. Its next stop is the Senate money committee, chaired by Sen. Jill Tokuda.

House Bill 401 has progressed similarly. The measure calls for voter registration to happen automatically when applying for a driver’s license, unless applicants opt out.

And House Bill 1055, a voter privacy measure, is also still alive. It would eliminate the requirement to provide a full social security number to register to vote, instead just using the last four digits.

Rep. Karl Rhoads
Rep. Karl Rhoads has passed bills out of the Judiciary Committee he chairs that would increase fines for breaking campaign finance rules. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Karl Rhoads, passed out House Bill 1550 to increase the fines that the Campaign Spending Commission can assess against political action committees, corporations, organizations and labor unions if they break campaign finance rules.

There’s currently a $1,000 cap per violation, but the bill proposes increasing it to $5,000 or “an amount equal to three times the amount of an unlawful contribution or expenditure.” The bill’s next stop is the Finance Committee.

Legislation to ensure the Campaign Spending Commission has sufficient resources to do its job is also moving forward. Separate bills in the House and Senate are awaiting hearings in their respective money committees.

House Bill 182 would lower a barrier to fining lobbyists who fail to file their reports on time, provide false information or omit key facts. It cleared the Judiciary Committee this month and is headed to Finance.

Sen Laura Thielen and right, Sen Russell Ruderman during editorial board meeting held at Sen Thielen's office.
Sens. Laura Thielen and Russell Ruderman, seen here answering questions during a Civil Beat Editorial Board meeting, introduced a bill along with Sen. Les Ihara that would have prohibited lawmakers from accepting money from lobbyists during the session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lawmakers balked at numerous other efforts to improve state ethics and campaign finance laws.

A bill that would bar lawmakers from accepting money from lobbyists during the legislative session never received a hearing. Senate Bill 2266, introduced by Sens. Russell Ruderman, Laura Thielen and Les Ihara, stalled in the Judiciary and Labor Committee, chaired by Keith-Agaran.

And nepotism in state government? That’s apparently considered not a problem worth prohibiting. Bills to ban lawmakers and public employees from naming, appointing or hiring a relative to public office or employment died again this session without so much as a hearing.

The Legislature is still looking to establish an independent review board to investigate deaths of people while in law enforcement custody, which was attempted last year but failed to pass.

And lawmakers are continuing to move forward with Senate Bill 2304 to require the attorney general to create and maintain a public database of all law enforcement officers “who have been terminated from their law enforcement positions, or forced to resign due to criminal activity, improper behavior, or misconduct.”

The bill cleared the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, but now faces a joint referral to the Judiciary and Labor Committee and Ways and Means Committee — a high bar to pass.

Vice Chair / Sen Will Espero Chair and right, Clarence Nishihara, Public Safety, Intergovernmental Affairs and Military Affairs during committee hearing for bills.
Sens. Will Espero, left, and Clarence Nishihara passed police accountability bills out of their committee this month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Sen. Roz Baker’s big push to increase the general excise tax by a half percent to help a rapidly aging state with health care costs has survived, but faced a tough test before the Senate money committee.

Baker and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland wrote in their joint committee report on Senate Bill 2478 that the limited benefit of $70 per day for 365 days that the measure provides would set a “care floor that ensures a family can hire paid support to supplement the care the family is able to provide.”

Bills that could change the energy landscape have also cleared early tests this session.

A measure that raises the threshold needed for the Public Utilities Commission to approve a utility merger has moved forward despite opposition from Hawaiian Electric.

House Bill 2567 — introduced by Reps. Chris Lee, Ty Cullen, Matt LoPresti and Cynthia Thielen — would set a “substantial net benefit” as the standard, although it’s unclear exactly what that means. Nonetheless, there’s serious concern about its impacts among people following the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to NextEra Energy.

The measure is now in the hands of the Consumer Protection Committee, chaired by Rep. Angus McKelvey.

Rep Chris Lee speaks to media during press conference at UH Law School. Environmental Court. 26 june 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Reps. Chris Lee and Cynthia Thielen have introduced a bill along with Reps. Ty Cullen and Matt LoPresti,  not pictured, that would require a utility merger to have a “substantial net benefit.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Related bills that would affect the power of energy regulators have had mixed luck. 

Keith-Agaran and Baker killed Senate Bill 3124, which would have required the PUC chair to have one of the two other commissioners’ approval to fire an executive officer. It also would have allowed each commissioner to hire five professional staff members plus assistants and their own personal attorney.

But House Bill 2649 is still move forward. It would change the rules for how the PUC approves electric rate increases. The rate would only be considered “just and reasonable” if it’s derived from an earnings-impact mechanism that directly ties the utility’s revenues to meeting certain performance-based metrics and conditions. Its next stop is the Finance Committee.

An effort to clean up the technical language — to ensure that the state’s goal of providing 100 percent of its electricity through renewable sources actually means 100 percent — is also advancing.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, left, and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke at a hearing earlier this week.
Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, left, and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke will be considering whether to hear numerous bills in the coming weeks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

House Bill 2291, which would base the renewable portfolio standard calculation on electricity generation instead of sales, is set to be heard Monday by the Consumer Protection Committee, its last stop in the House. The legislation’s counterpart in the Senate is also moving forward.

There are hundreds of other bills still moving forward — both big and small. Measures are alive to study having an interisland ferry system, for instance, have the state pull out its investments in fossil-fuel companies and quit buying single-use plastic water bottles.

Senate Bill 2158, introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard, moved forward despite opposition from the bottled water industry, which testified that “bottled water is a strong environmental steward.”

The next major deadline is March 10. Called “first crossover,” it’s when bills have to be passed out of their originating chamber and sent over to the other chamber for its consideration. So a bill that started in the House has to be approved by a majority of representatives and then goes to the Senate, and vice versa.

Find the complete list of all the legislation that’s still alive this session here.

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