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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Roz Baker, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 6, which covers South and West Maui. There is one other candidate, Melissah Shishido of the Green Party.
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?
Legislators are accountable to their constituents every two to four years. Voters hold the ultimate accountability. Leadership is accountable to the members. Over the time I’ve been in the Legislature, the process has become more open and transparent. Hearings are noticed 48-72 hours ahead of the hearing, testimony can be submitted online which is especially important to neighbor island constituencies, testimony is published and various iterations of a measure are published online and residents can view copies of the bills, testimony submitted and committee reports and many hearings are televised. Senate rules promote transparency and reduce the use of “gut and replace” as a common practice.
I would like to see all hearings televised, although most can be viewed from the website after the fact. It is important for our rules to reflect community values. Some of the issues this question raises require legislation to address. I believe the Senate strives for transparency and accountability.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
If California is the example, no I don’t think that’s what we want.
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?
The voters determine the make-up the House and Senate. I know in my committee we’ve heard all kinds of bills, our rules require voting in public, and members discuss concerns in public and make recommendations for amendments or other actions.
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 have no problems with additional campaign finance reporting during election years.
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?
Our open records law is managed by the Office of Information Practices. If there are complaints that agencies are not cooperating, OIP can intervene. Some information needs to be redacted and that can be time-intensive, causing fees to increase. My office has not received complaints about inability to access information.
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?
Yes, I think it is a prudent and workable plan.
7. Do you support changing the state vonstitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
I voted to send the proposal to the voters so that the community can be engaged. Should the constitutional amendment pass then the Legislature will need to pass legislation to implement it. There should be numerous proposals to consider so that all options are thoroughly vetted and discussed. My concern would be that “investment” properties not be those that support local families or provide services for local families — rental housing as an example. There are many unanswered questions that will need to be thoroughly discussed and vetted by the 2019 Legislature should the amendment pass.
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?
It is a problem and I have supported legislation to create an appropriate procedure to collect taxes due.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
No case has been made on a need to hold a constitutional convention.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Legislation enacted by the 2018 Legislature has laid the groundwork for addressing the effects of climate change. However, many of the actions that need to be taken are at the county level.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Housing, traffic and education. The Legislature passed several bills that will provide additional housing opportunities near Keawe Street and Front Street in West Maui and address the Lahaina bypass going north. In addition the Legislature passed a measure to increase the rental car surcharge (except for renters with a Hawaii driver’s license) with the proceeds to remain in the county in which it was collected to help with local highway and roadway projects. The budget bill has $40 million for the Lahaina bypass going north and $40 million to complete the resources needed to build a new high school for Kihei. These were top priorities for my district.