Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Trish La Chica, one of four Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives District 36, which covers Mililani and Mililani Mauka. The others are Zuri Aki, Marilyn Lee and Dean Hazama.
1. Should the Legislature be more transparent and accountable? What would you do, given how tough it can be for individual lawmakers to go against leadership, to bring about needed reform in areas like sexual harassment policies, lobbyist regulation, fundraising during session and televising and archiving all hearings?
Yes. We all expect our lawmakers to make the legislative process transparent and inclusive, but I believe that it is also our duty to hold them accountable for the promises they make. Our Legislature is a part-time body with about half of our lawmakers having active careers outside of government. They represent diverse, competing interests and preferences. Those in safe seats or wield power seem less motivated to engage in active lawmaking.
What I have learned as a policy director is that no single person, faction or interest can get everything it wants. Compromise is inevitable. However, I believe that more efforts should be made to include the public in the negotiations that take place. Committee chairs should schedule bills for hearings that have received ample support, and additional hearings should be provided for the public to weigh in, particularly on gut and replace measures. Lawmakers should respond in a timely manner to public requests as to why a bill was not scheduled for a hearing and to justify their votes and policy compromises. We need stronger sexual harassment policies that place the responsibility for an appointing authority or supervisor to take appropriate action to prevent, promptly correct, and report harassment.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
At this point I do not think that Hawaii has the resources or capacity to enact a fully effective citizens initiative process. Although I fully support the idea of giving voters the opportunity to pass measures that may not receive legislative action, I worry about using this as a tool to advance special interests.
For example — although voters ultimately upheld a ban on selling flavored tobacco products including vaping liquids in San Francisco in June 2018, Big Tobacco still spent a whopping $12 million dollars to block the initiative. If this happens in Hawaii, how can we ensure that an initiative is truly representative of the people’s interests? How do we prevent signature fraud and ensure that voters have the appropriate information to fully understand the issue? If special interests pour millions of dollars to persuade voters, how do we protect minority rights?
3. Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with no Republicans in the Senate and only five in the House. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
As a policy director, I work directly with many champions in the House and Senate but it can still be very difficult to advance legislation. Despite having one-party control, our bill passage rate is very low and the fate of a bill is often determined way before it is even heard in committee. Factions need to look past the politics to advance a progressive legislative agenda. Lawmakers should be prepared to justify why certain bills were not heard, or what compromises took place.
In Hawaii, most bills should fall under the jurisdiction of a subject matter committee yet additional committees are often tacked on, making some bills impossible to schedule. If bills are referred to more than one committee, the committee should only be working on the portion of the bill under its jurisdiction yet gut and replace seems to be a common practice with our lawmakers. Leadership should be stricter on this.
I would also like to see a limit on bills being introduced so that lawmakers can effectively champion their measures, as well as a requirement to give the public at least one hearing to weigh in on the contents of the bill being considered for conference committee (when the public can no longer provide testimony) if the language has been significantly changed.
4. Would you support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, particularly before the primary? What other steps would you take to improve lobbying and financial disclosures?
I would support an overhaul of our lobbyists’ law. The current reporting requirements make it very difficult to follow the money that seek to influence our lawmakers. A lobbyist can represent several clients making it impossible to identify what particular piece of legislation they are lobbying our lawmakers on. I would like to see a disclosure of activities and measures (supported and opposed) that lobbyists and organizations spent time on to influence our Legislature.
I would also support additional campaign reporting in the months leading up to the primary and general elections, and an additional reporting period for lobbyists and organizations during the interim session.
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
I would support all efforts to move the sharing of public records from a reactive to a proactive process. We should modernize public records and make access available online. We need to fund a strong and open online data portal for county and state records and a way to view requests received for public records and the responses to those requests. If information is not yet ready to be released as open data, sharing the responses to requests for specific public records serves as a step of proactive disclosure. This could help lower costs by reducing staff time spent answering multiple requests for the same information.
At the same time, frequently requested public records can inform the Office of Information Practices or the relevant county/state agency to prioritize dataset release. Documents that serve the public interest should be free of charge.
6. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
I believe that our Legislature has been committed to reducing existing unfunded liabilities. While it is difficult to increase annual payments without taking from other critical government services or increasing taxes, the Legislature can explore innovative options such as Pennsylvania’s pension reform law that establishes a hybrid pension plan for new employees that lowers costs and reduces risk for taxpayers while ensuring a path to retirement security for public employees. Pennsylvania created an authority that would look at leasing government assets (such as land, buildings, and infrastructure) to help with upfront payments.
Rising health care costs are a growing concern with projected annual payments rising to $42,000 for a family of four in 8 years. This can cause the Prepaid Healthcare Act to fail. The only way to curb costs is to shift investments beyond the treatment of disease to prevention and to address social needs – housing, food insecurity, and transportation – factors that contribute to our most costly patients and that prevent us from living healthy lives.
7. Do you support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
Yes, I support the current constitutional amendment being proposed to allow the public to vote on whether or not the Legislature should tax investment properties. If it passes, the goal is to have the ability to modify the law to better address the need for additional education funding, while ensuring that local families are not burdened with additional taxes.
I would require that current funding not be moved or decreased for public education and to appropriate a minimum amount of funding for capital improvement and repair and maintenance projects, with a percentage amount tied to the current deferred maintenance backlog and projected enrollment growth. Additional funding will allow us to address teacher shortages, chronic absenteeism, hire highly qualified teachers, and incentivize the DOE to partner on gap services that are currently not funded and provided in schools. I would support an audit of the DOE to determine how much of the funding is being directed to administrative positions in the DOE and how much to actual classroom support.
8. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry and what would you propose to do about it?
Illegal vacation rentals hurt the economy, jobs, and housing supply for residents. The Department of Taxation cannot collect taxes if vacation rental owners are not registering with the state. Rental operators and addresses must be disclosed. The state needs the revenue but if the counties are expected to enforce this then we need to help them do that.
In Mililani, many of our condo associations do not permit short-term rentals. Many of our residents have complained when I go door to door that it affects the integrity of the neighborhood and their quality of life. I understand the need to help pay for mortgage and maintenance fees, but vacation rental owners need to register and pay their appropriate share of taxes.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Yes, because it encourages healthy debate, provides opportunity for direct civic participation, and recognizes new leaders willing to challenge ‘old boys club’ politics. Of course, this requires us to ensure that there is appropriate public representation and to protect any attempts to weaken what has already been passed in previous con cons.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
The future of our children and their children depends upon a shared responsibility to mitigate the effects of climate change and threats to our natural resources. We need to seek cesspools and injection wells abatement measures such as connecting to local wastewater systems to eliminate the problem of coral damage and wastewater contamination. We should be building away from the shoreline and public structures should not be built in areas susceptible to sea level rise.
I will support all efforts to implement reports and recommendations issued by the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission, and I would oppose efforts to weaken the authority of the Land Use Commission and DLNR to protect our resources.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Quality of life is so important to Mililani families. Residents would like to preserve what they have grown to know and love about Mililani and its surrounding areas. Communities are wary about new developments taking place in Central Oahu that burden the daily commute. Increased crime and accidents are a growing problem that leave residents feeling vulnerable and unprotected. The high costs of living are driving the younger generation to the mainland, while short-term rentals threaten to destroy the character of our neighborhoods. We also have an aging community that have varying access and needs.
I have always been passionate about bringing people together and providing community the opportunity to engage in policy decisions. As an elected representative, I will protect the reasons people want to live in Mililani in the first place through smart policies and appropriate funding that maintain the integrity of our schools and neighborhoods. I plan to be a visible leader and to establish opportunities to nurture the relationship between new and long-time residents to preserve the culture of our beloved district.