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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 Sharon Moriwaki, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 12, which covers Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako, McCully and Moiliili. There is one other candidate, Republican Lynn Barry Mariano.
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, legislators should be held more accountable for their votes and actions and the legislative process more transparent. I will work with other legislators to introduce legislation to:
• Remove the Legislature’s exemption from the Sunshine Law (Sec 92-10, HRS).
• Require briefings before each session on workplace (including superior-subordinate) conduct; publicly identify anyone found by a committee of peers to have violated the code.
• End in-session fundraisers because they violate Hawaii’s legislative code of conduct and create a “pay to play” impression.
• Appropriate sufficient funds to televise and publicize all legislative committee meetings and floor sessions to be broadcast statewide.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes, I support joining the rest of the Western states by enacting statewide initiative.
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?
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?
Yes, I support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, including primary elections.
To improve lobbying and financial disclosures, I propose the legislation to:
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?
To ensure public access to government records, I would work to:
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?
The Legislature in the past raided the state retirement and health funds to pay current expenses. General funds should be appropriated to replenish those deficits. Tobacco funds, formerly misused to cover the retirement and health fund liabilities, should instead go for current health needs, including kupuna care and homeless.
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. The rest of the country uses property taxes to fund public education. Hawaii has no similar dedicated funding source. The constitutional amendment opens the door to permanent funding, but legislation is needed to complete the process. As senator, I will help ensure a fixed share of taxes on luxury investment property and on transient accommodations go to public education and specifically to schools and teachers for the benefit of students.
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?
Yes. Illegal vacation rentals are a major problem, exacerbating our housing shortage, particularly housing affordable to Hawaii residents.
Housing is not just a county or state issue. I will work with the counties to ensure that illegal short-term vacation rentals are stopped, fines are collected and county ordinances enforced. I am opposed to the city’s proposed bill on transient vacation rentals because it will allow short-term rentals in all residential zones, including apartment zones, instead of curtailing them and stopping those who are operating illegally. I advocate against the city Planning Commission and the City Council adopting any bill that allows short-term rentals in residential zones.
Short-term rentals are illegal under current residential zoning. I oppose approval of Airbnb, VRBO and other on-line short-term vacation rental agents collecting taxes on illegal short-term vacation rentals because, as a collection agent, they hide the illegal short-term operator thus supporting its continuance. I will work with state and county agencies responsible for enforcement to stop illegal vacation rentals; and, in particular, the state department of taxation, so we can ensure that legal short-term vacation rentals with permits display their tax ID license in the unit and in any advertising and that taxes are collected.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support holding a state constitutional convention. The last one was held in 1978. Widespread fears that a convention would disrupt current constitutional protections are unfounded because all changes must pass through three stages: 1) the vote for a convention; 2) voting for delegates; and 3) separate votes on each proposed amendment. These three stages assure that only the most popular amendments will pass. They might include term limits on legislators, an elected attorney general, measures to insure more government transparency and greater public control through initiative, referendum and recall.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
While the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Accord, our Legislature and Governor backed the 17 UN Principles of Sustainability, which I supported as part of the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum and Hawaii Green Growth Initiative. It was signed into law as were the sustainability principles, which were an outgrowth of the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan (which I helped lead). They are now in statute (Chapter 226, HRS—the Hawaii State Plan).
There is positive movement in the state and the counties. The state’s recently released report on sea level rise vulnerability and adaptation is under review by both the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission and the counties. Counties are also moving ahead, e.g., Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency will add to the momentum for long-range planning, based on input from experts and the public. This is important work because we must sustain our island home — the most remote populated land mass in the world.
Planting canopy trees is an effective — and popular — way to attack global warming. I would incorporate canopy trees into full execution of the long-proposed “Lei of Green” from Kapiolani Park all the way to Kakaako Makai.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Housing: My urban district is under siege — “luxury blight” from Waikiki to Kakaako financed by outside investment aimed at an offshore market, even as residents are screaming for affordable housing that will keep them and the next generations here. We also need leaders who care about open public spaces, including parks and trees, kept open for public use, not over-run by homeless tents. The need for hou sing residents can afford is at crisis level.
What I will do: Provide innovative solutions such as extending Hula Mae-type loans to smaller builders of housing for residents and not just to homeowners. Banks have the mechanism for such a program which would take us out of the unfolding disaster of the past 10 years (under the current Senate incumbent).
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Oahu housed its middle class because hundreds of contractors, architects, huis, even doctors, lawyers, and carpenters (such as my uncle) could get the credit needed to put up individual homes on available land. Today, we need to make Hula Mae-type bond financing available to anyone who can find land and build housing. The result will be thousands of affordable homes.