While lawmakers could still make good on their promise to make Hawaii more livable, other bills that may not have gotten as much attention have already died this session.

Proposals to strengthen coffee labeling standards, quash a state investigation into a nonprofit, push back public schools’ opening bells and give professional journalists greater protections are among those that failed to pass a key deadline Friday.

They are among hundreds of bills that fail each year in both the Senate and House.

However, lawmakers have several tactics to revive dead bills between now and the end of session May 7, such as gut and replace. 

Only about 10% of bills make it all the way through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk for either approval or veto. Here’s a look at bills that won’t make it that far.

Hawaii State Capitol second floor. 29 jan 2015 photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hundreds of bills will clear floor votes this week, but hundreds more failed to meet a key deadline Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Little Love For Coffee

A bill to ensure that coffee labeled with a location in Hawaii must be made with a majority of beans from that location is dead, at least for now.

The bill would have forced products labeled “Kona” coffee to have 51% of their beans actually come from Kona, for example. The current law allows coffee sellers to label their coffee with any Hawaii location name as long as at least 10% comes from that area.

Despite coffee growers’ best efforts this session, House Bill 1886 was deferred by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the committee, said that the bill could still find life later this session. Lee said he spoke to Rep. Richard Creagan, the House Agriculture Chair, about using Senate Bill 2955 as a way to move the labeling provisions through this session.

SB 2955 has already cleared the Senate and has been transferred to the House.

A bill that would’ve required coffee packaged under a Hawaii name to contain at least 50% locally grown beans is among the dead bills. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2020

Lee said HB 1886 had several issues, the top being a budget appropriation plugged in at a previous hearing that meant it needed to go to the House Finance Committee instead.

Lee also noted the disagreement between coffee farmers and the coffee distributors who have long debated the amount of beans a coffee should contain before being labeled as such.

Bruce Corker, who owns the Kona coffee farm Rancho Aloha, said the farmers and distributors have been facing off in the Legislature over labeling standards for decades.

HB 1886 was opposed by the Hawaii Coffee Co., the Hawaii Restaurant Association, several employees of coffee processors and the Kona Coffee Council, an organization of farmers and processors.

Hawaii Coffee Co. is just one coffee processor that brings green coffee beans into the state, a practice that has introduced a pest that could put local crops at risk.

Corker thinks the processors and large beverage companies have enough sway in the Legislature to keep labeling standards as-is.

“They’ve been able to kill what we think is reasonable legislation for more than 28 years,” he said. 

KAHEA Bill Dies

Senate Bill 42 would have prohibited the Attorney General’s Office from investigating a nonprofit if the investigation conflicts with Native Hawaiian cultural rights protected under the state constitution.

The bill was written as a reaction to the AG’s subpoena of bank records from KAHEA: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance. The probe is related to a wider investigation conducted by the AG into financial support of the protest on Mauna Kea that has blocked construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

SB 42 needed to clear a joint vote from the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees by Friday.

Kia'i visit a kuahu (altar) on July 26, 2019 at Pu'uhonua o Pu'u Huluhulu.
A bill to halt the AG’s investigation into a nonprofit also stalled this year. Ronit Fahl/Civil Beat

Sen. Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said state law already bans the AG from pursuing investigations that could violate constitutional rights.

“On the flipside, I’m wary — and I’m not accusing anyone — but some nonprofits do break the law,” Rhoads said. “And investigating nonprofits is part of the AG’s kuleana.”

For example, the unravelling of the Bishop Estate scandal in the 1990s was due in part to an investigation by the AG.

Attorney Lance Collins on Friday filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to withhold names of individual donors from being disclosed to the AG.

Collins, who represents the donors, said in a news release that the subpoena violates their right to privacy.

Schools Still Start Early

Schools on the mainland and even at least one here have found success pushing back starting bells for schools. Research has shown that high schoolers benefit from more time to sleep because teens’ biological clocks tend to keep them up late at night.

But the state Department of Education thinks bell schedules, including the first bell, should be left up to each individual school.

Senate Bill 2450 would have allowed schools to start as late as 9 a.m. The measure, introduced by Sen. Russell Ruderman, cleared its first committee but was never heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“The legislature finds that many schools across the country are working to synchronize school clocks with students’ body clocks because many high school students are sleep deprived, resulting in poorer academic and athletic performance,” the preamble to the bill says.

The DOE said in written testimony to lawmakers that bell schedules need to allow enough time for students to make it to afternoon activities and for teachers to have meetings.

Kaimuki High School piloted a 9 a.m. start time for a study done by a professor at Chaminade University in 2015.

The study found that students earned higher grades and had improved quality of sleep after the 9 a.m. start was implemented, Civil Beat reported in 2017. Kaimuki Principal Wade Araki said it helped students get their siblings to Kaimuki’s feeder schools in the morning and didn’t affect their afternoon activities much.

Most public high schools in the state start their first classes at 8 a.m., with opening bells ringing at 7:55 a.m.

Schools Won’t Get Property Taxes

A proposed constitutional amendment in 2018 sought to get more money to public schools with a tax on investment property.

An effort to oppose the ConAm — in the courts by the four counties and over the airwaves by the business community — eventually led to the state Supreme Court invalidating the measure amidst public opposition.

The ballot question that would have gone to voters was invalidated over the ambiguity of the question and that counties control property taxes under the law.

This year, House Speaker Scott Saiki introduced House Bill 2671, a second attempt at the ConAm that would give the Board of Education power to dip into property taxes along with the counties. That measure never got a hearing in the House.

Another bill to ease costs for teachers also never made it off the floor.

House Bill 2051 would have given teachers a tax credit up to $500 each year for school supplies they buy to use in their classrooms.

No Drugs From Canada, Shields For Journalists

To get around the high drug prices in the U.S., state lawmakers considered allowing residents to buy drugs from Canada. Senate Bill 2444 never got a hearing.

Other states have done the same, much to the chagrin of Canadian doctors.

In 2013, lawmakers tried to extend a landmark law that gave protections to journalists. House Bill 2433 would have brought back the so-called Shield Law that protected journalists from disclosing sources or other unpublished information.

Rep. Val Okimoto, who introduced the measure, said she wanted to bring back those protections for local reporters.

In May, Hawaii News Now reporter Lynn Kawano was called as a witness in the case against Katherine and Louis Kealoha. Though Kawano was eventually dropped from the witness list, Okimoto said that was a case that came to mind when she submitted the bill.

It had support of 14 other representatives, and had a low hurdle to clear with only two committee assignments. But it lacked the groundswell of support from local media groups like the Society of Professional Journalists, who were unaware the bill existed until Civil Beat called them in January. 

Many of the priority bills are still alive and will likely clear the legislative session’s halfway point this week. Bills protecting Hawaii against the worst immediate effects of climate change, tightening gun laws, banning vaping and addressing Hawaii’s mental health crisis are all moving forward. 

Even the joint legislative package touted by top legislators and Gov. David Ige is also largely intact.

Some measures crossed over between the House and the Senate last week. Lawmakers will vote on more, starting Tuesday, including the joint package on easing cost burdens on working families, developing more affordable housing, expanding pre-K education and streamlining public school facility maintenance.

Register to attend our next Civil Cafe: Legislative Update. Panelists include House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, and Civil Beat public health reporter Eleni Gill. It’s at noon, Wednesday, in Room 329 at the Hawaii State Capitol.

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