- Special Projects
For a while, at least, it seemed like there might be some last-minute drama in the Hawaii Legislature.
Would the House of Representatives hold a floor vote on a bill giving clinical psychologists authority to write prescriptions? After all, the Senate had passed the bill on Tuesday comfortably.
In spite of Speaker Joe Souki’s insistence that House Bill 1072 would not be revived — it had been recommitted, or killed, Tuesday at the urging of Rep. Richard Creagan, a medical doctor — rumors were flying Thursday, the last day of the 2016 session.
It didn’t happen. Nor would lawmakers override a veto by Gov. David Ige of a bill that would have permitted terminally ill patients to try investigational drugs before federal approval. That had been rumored as well.
In fact, the main events on sine die day (it’s Latin for “pau already, brah”) were that a few more bills passed and everyone wished Rep. Derek Kawakami aloha as he prepared to return to Kauai to run for County Council. And House and Senate leadership took questions from reporters on how they thought the session went.
In House leaders’ view, the session will be remembered for big bucks for affordable housing and homelessness, the cooling of classrooms, more support for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, help for displaced Maui sugar workers and a partial pay-down of the state’s unfunded liabilities. Senate leaders shared very similar views.
But many bills, as always is the case, fell by the wayside, including a top priority of the governor’s: a new jail for Oahu to replace the decrepit facility in Kalihi known as Oahu Community Correctional Center. Lawmakers elected to fund a study of what to do, rather than a complete teardown and rebuild, proposed in Halawa valley, near the state’s main prison.
Souki said incarceration facilities on Maui and the Big Island needed help instead, saying they hold as many as four inmates to a cell.
Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said OCCC also was not like Halawa, in that occupants are often minor offenders housed on a short-term basis. She added that a major overhaul of the penal code will come from legislation passed this session, which she said could help reduce prison and jail crowding.
OCCC will come up again next session, the lawmakers said.
Vice Speaker John Mizuno said solutions to overcrowded facilities could include measures aimed at reducing recidivism.
On another bill of intense public interest, Souki defended the passage of legislation seen as favoring Alexander & Baldwin in diverting Maui stream water. The speaker called the bill a fair allocation of natural resources.
Reminded that Ige gave the Legislature a grade of B for its work, Souki was asked how he would grade the governor.
“Same grade,” he replied.
On the Senate side, President Ron Kouchi suggested Thursday after adjourning for the year that Ige’s grade may have been low.
“He said a ‘resounding B,’ which I translate to an A-minus,” Kouchi said. “But I’m not here to grade, I’m here to celebrate the work that was done. Irrespective of the grade that we were given — although I know we did A work — we are going to work diligently during the interim with the governor and his administration to make sure that the budget is more than just words and numbers, that it really makes a difference for the people of Hawaii.”
The Senate’s final floor session was short and sweet. The only additional notable measure that it passed was a resolution that calls on the Department of Land and Natural Resources to “engage in earnest negotiations” for the state to acquire nearly 8,000 acres in South Kona.
The late Sen. Gil Kahele had wanted the state to preserve the pristine Kapua lands, which are zoned for agriculture and conservation. His son, Kai Kahele, picked up that baton after being appointed to fill his father’s seat in February; and he gave a passionate floor speech Thursday about the need to protect the land for cultural reasons.
“You cannot help but feel its mana,” Kahele told his colleagues, using the Hawaiian word that loosely translates to divine power.
Senators had pushed a bill that would have given the DLNR money to negotiate a deal with the land owners — The Resort Group — and take care of the property. It cleared the Senate, and the House passed an amended version, but the two chambers were unable to agree on the final language and the bill died last week.
The resolution described the makai lands of Kapua as a “scenic wonder with breathtaking shoreline views,” sparsely populated and full of “significant historical, archaeological, and cultural resources, including a holua slide, ancient coastal trail, village sites, and superb biological resources including native dryland forests and Native Hawaiian plants.”
DLNR Chair Suzanne Case and her deputy watched from the gallery as the Senate voted to pass the measure.
Kouchi said that the Kapua lands bill, along with one to create a sports authority, were among those he wished would have passed this session.
Kouchi became president one year ago after Senate factions realigned. He replaced Sen. Donna Mercado Kim. Kouchi said he believes this session’s work reflects the collaborative leadership he pledged to provide, and his support for the committee chairs to champion those issues they felt most important.
Sen. Jill Tokuda, who chairs the influential Ways and Means Committee, was proud of the work the Legislature accomplished.
“You’ve got a budget, both from the operating and the CIP side, that complements what came out of the bills,” she said. “From tackling homelessness and providing support to the most vulnerable in our community, to looking at affordable housing and making sure that there was access in that particular area, (and) education, from our youngest of keiki all the way to looking at more support for our schools, and keeping them cool in the classrooms.”
Tokuda also touted the Legislature’s approval of $160.5 million for a new mental-health patient facility at the Hawaii State Hospital and $500,000 for mental health services to help the chronically homeless.
“In many cases, this is what’s keeping them homeless,” she told reporters at a media conference after the Senate adjourned.
Kouchi said nothing is off the table as far as what bills might be taken up next session, which starts in January. But he said at this point, it’s premature to speculate, because a decision has not been made yet on who will chair what committees and how leadership will be organized.
For his part, Souki said he would run for re-election this year, although he demurred when asked if he would still be speaker next year. That was up to House members, he implied.
Both the Senate and the House are known for shifting alliances that can change who’s in charge.