The Legislature could still make good on some of its promises to address climate change, expand preschool access and improve mental health services before adjourning the 2020 session this week.
Those are just a few of the measures that have won agreement in both the House and Senate and are planned to face final floor votes on Friday. If passed, the measures would move to Gov. David Ige for his approval or veto.
But there are others that aren’t likely to make it. Bills that won approval in the Senate to crack down on illegal short-term vacation rentals and another that would give the Department of Health more authority to impose quarantine restrictions could be rejected by the House.
A vaping ban also appears to be in trouble as House lawmakers disagreed with the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2457. A bill extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault cases, House Bill 2177, also appears in limbo.
A bill to ban burning coal for electricity is among several that could clear the Legislature Friday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
But both chambers appeared to have agreement on dozens of bills as of Wednesday, the “second crossover” deadline for bills to clear the chambers.
One of those bills could further Hawaii’s fight against climate change.
Senate Bill 2629 would end coal burning in Hawaii by 2022, which coincides with the date AES Hawaii is expected to shutter Hawaii’s last coal-burning plant. It would also prevent any new companies from entering into agreements to provide electricity by burning coal.
SB 2629 began this session as a bill to set up a carbon offset program in the state. The coal burning provisions were inserted into the bill June 22 by the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, chaired by Rep. Nicole Lowen, who has pushed for environmentally friendly measures in past sessions.
The measure has support from Hawaiian Electric Co., the Department of Health, the Hawaii State Energy Office, Sierra Club of Hawaii and the Blue Planet Foundation, among other organizations.
Hawaii has a goal of having 100% of its energy come from renewable resources by 2045. SB 2629 could help support that goal, said Jodi Malinoski, a policy manager with Sierra Club.
“It sends a strong message that we are committed to clean energy,” she said.
If the bill becomes law, Hawaii would join states like Oregon and New York that have also moved toward halting coal plants.
A similar measure authored by House Speaker Scott Saiki cleared the chamber in March but stalled after the coronavirus pandemic closed the Capitol and caused lawmakers to suspend the 2020 session.
SB 2629 would stop coal burning by 2022.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Another significant environmental measure is Senate Bill 2060, which combines several proposals to help mitigate against rising sea levels.
SB 2060 includes a provision to ban construction of sea walls or coastal hardening projects on beaches. Supporters say that while they might protect the infrastructure and houses directly behind them, they contribute to coastal erosion over time.
The measure also increases setbacks for new developments to 40 feet away from the shore. The current setback is 20 feet. The bill would also strengthen language in Hawaii’s Coastal Zone Management law to mandate the state protects its reefs as well as beaches and dunes.
SB 2060 has remained largely intact since it was first introduced earlier this session by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz. It’s opposed by HECO and the American Institute of Architects.
HECO writes in its testimony that the setback requirement could encompass some of its nearshore facilities, making it harder to install upgrades and sea walls.
And for supporters, that’s the point.
“As the sea level rises we can expect a dramatic increase in the number of variances sought to armor coastal properties,” Dave Raney, of the Sierra Club, wrote to lawmakers. “It is appropriate to take measures now to guard against further coastal armoring and promote managed retreat alternatives where feasible.”
Still, the setback is not as drastic as another bill proposed earlier this session.
Senate Bill 2381 would have banned building anywhere makai of 6 feet above sea level. That could essentially halt new developments anywhere between the shoreline and, in some cases, up to half a mile away from the water.
It got heavy pushback from the building industry, and stalled in the House in March.
Lawmakers also began this session focused on closing the revolving door of the mentally ill shuffling in and out of the corrections and judicial systems. That revolving door might soon turn into a funnel toward treatment.
House Bill 1620 would divert non-violent misdemeanants who have been arrested into the health care system and away from incarceration. Under the bill, if a court believes a defendant is suffering from a mental illness, that person may be sent to receive psychiatric treatment for up to a week.
A treatment team would decide what kind of care the patient receives, and the court could also dismiss charges.
As part of the state’s budget, lawmakers also raised the spending ceiling for a fund that would be used to increase the bed space at the state hospital for civil commitments, or those who are sent to receive psychiatric treatment against their will.
A bill to divert the mentally ill out of the judicial and corrections systems is also advancing.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
In instances where a defendant intends to rely on a physical or mental illness as a defense, the bill also gives the court more flexibility to have a team evaluate defendants and divert them into treatment programs or into a specialized court.
The bill has support from the public defender’s office, the state judiciary and the DOH. However, the Office of the Public Defender opposes a section of the bill that reduces the number of examiners for a Class C felony in which mental health is used as a defense from three to one.
“In many cases, the desire to push a person through the system quickly, under the guise of protecting the speedy processing of a case or in the name of judicial economy, is counter-productive,” the office told lawmakers. “Our office has seen many cases where the three panel of examiners disagree on whether a defendant had the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her conduct.”
The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office opposed the measure over worries that some defendants could slip through, not receiving the treatment they need but also having their cases dismissed.
House Bill 2002 is set for a final vote Friday. Earlier this session, the bill had stronger language that would allow the state to launch investigations into drivers if complaints come in from riders.
The ride-hailing companies preferred language in a similar measure, Senate Bill 2808, which lacked the provisions on investigations. Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, inserted the language of SB 2808 into HB 2002.
Several measures dealing with guns are also likely to pass.
House Bill 1902 would ban rifle magazines larger than 10 rounds, while Senate Bill 3054 requires anyone who moves guns out of the state to notify county police departments.
And while measures to raise the minimum wage and expand affordable housing that were part of a legislative package from earlier this session are dead, two pieces of that platform dealing with school buildings and access to pre-K education are likely to pass.
House Bill 2543 sets a state goal of having all 3- to 4-year-olds in preschool by 2030. It also sets up a framework to make that happen.
Senate Bill 3103 would take away the Department of Education’s authority over building and maintenance projects and transfer that power to a newly created school facilities agency.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell