The Legislature convened the 2023 session Wednesday, with much fanfare not seen since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

In reality, legislators have been working for weeks to come up with policy ideas for the session. One of those seeks to target short term vacation rentals in Hawaii

State Rep. Daniel Holt is among a group of legislators this session trying to eradicate short-term rentals in Hawaii, which he considers a primary cause of “overtourism.”

Lawmakers are back in session to tackle a multitude of issues. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023

“Our quality of life is negatively impacted, our housing availability,” Holt said. “It has raised the cost of rents, it has raised the cost of buying a home. … The reality is, my community is suffocating.”

Residents have complained about the proliferation of short term vacation rentals in their communities for years. In response, Holt plans to introduce a package of bills that will strictly regulate and heavily tax vacation rentals. Holt said he wants to raise the transient accommodations tax on short term rentals up to 25%.

In addition, Holt said he hopes to clear up legal loopholes that are allowing short-term rentals to persist. 

Short term rentals are defined as accommodation of less than 30 consecutive days according to the City and Council of Honolulu. These short term rentals are only allowed in certain areas, which vary by county.

“I’m going to give the counties the explicit authority to regulate short-term rentals,” Holt said, “Because right now there is a legal question as to whether or not they do have the explicit authority.”

Holt acknowledged that reducing visitors will reduce revenue from tourists. “But, we will see less visitor impacts, and visitor impacts cost us money,” Holt said. “Do we want tourists to come to Hawaii? Absolutely. Is 11 million too many? 100 percent.”

–Margaret Cipriano

Increasing The Tip Credit

People who make tips in Hawaii could get up to a 20% cut in their pay, if a “tip credit” bill passes this legislative session. 

Senate Bill 125 would increase the “tip credit” amount to match 20% of the Hawaii minimum wage, starting Jan. 1, 2024. The bill was introduced by Sen. Glenn Wakai, Sen. Sharon Moriwaki and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro.

More than 100,000 people in Hawaii work in the leisure and hospitality industries, where tips are common, according to the 2022 jobs report by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Wakai said he understands that this bill could reduce the paychecks of tens of thousands of people in Hawaii, as a way to redirect that money intended for minimum-wage workers back into the hands of business owners. But he said inflation and increases in labor costs could ultimately push more restaurant owners into changes that would cut jobs, such as automating their front-end interactions. So in that respect, he said, this change could be a job saver.  

'Living Wage Supporter' sign located at the intersection of Pumehana Street and Fern St.
One proposal would let businesses pay workers less than the minimum wage. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“A tiny bit smaller paycheck is better than no paycheck,” he said.

Wakai said that of all of the industries in the state he thinks the restaurant industry was affected the most by the pandemic.  

“It’s a little reprieve for the folks in the food and hospitality industry or anybody who is tipped, even the valet services that we see around town,” Wakai said. “All of those owners will see some level of relief because we know their employees make far more than minimum wage.”  

Tip credits are used in service industries and allow employers to pay employees less than the owed minimum wage if the employee makes more than a certain amount in tips. There are seven states that prohibit tip credits, which undermine minimum wage laws: Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. 

By 2024, the minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $14. This new bill would increase the tip credit amount to 20% of minimum wage, $2.80, which is nearly double the increment of $1.25 that was originally outlined for that year in Act 114, which cleared the Legislature last year and will eventually raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour by January 2028.

Minimum wage in Hawai’i is currently $12, so for employers to be able to take the credit an employee would need to make at least $7 more than minimum wage an hour. The total amount of tips for the week is divided by the hours worked to determine the average tips earned per hour.  

Wakai said the use of tip credits is a measure that could help blunt the cost of rising labor costs and help avoid those costs being passed on to the customer. 

–Jesse Espitia

Laws In Hawaiian

Some state legislators want to acknowledge the original intent of laws written in Olelo Hawaii.

State law currently gives precedence to the English version of laws if there is a “radical and irreconcilable difference” between laws written in English and those written in Hawaiian. Senate Bill 16 would make Hawaiian versions of laws as binding, so long as the law was first written in Hawaiian and translated to the English language.

“There is an opportunity for distinction between English translation and that type of law from Hawaiian, and I support the clarification,” said Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, chair of the Native Hawaiian Caucus and a co-sponsor to the bill. “Hawaiian was the language of common usage, and then there were translations done into English. So in those situations, the translation should not govern. The original version should govern.”

Hawaiian flags on the lawn on opening day of the Legislature at the Capitol.
The Hawaiian translation of certain laws should supersede those in English, some lawmakers say. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, chairwoman of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said “It could be as simple as translating or mistranslating words… but I’m sure it can even go deeper than that.”

For many Native Hawaiian communities, the history of language suppression goes back for generations. Olelo Hawaii was banned from schools in 1896, and was not re-established as an officially recognized language until 1978. The current measure could be a step towards facing the historical struggle and building a future that preserves the indigenous culture.

A similar bill cleared the Senate but stalled in the House in 2021.

“The active favoring of English over ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is not only isolated to the court system; it is also rooted in a history of systemic oppression that must be acknowledged,” The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said in written testimony on that bill. “This measure [is] an important step towards giving long-overdue ‘teeth’ to the constitutional vision of Hawaiian as a  true, meaningful official language of the State.”

–Kaiya Laguardia

A ‘Green Amendment’

Senator Mike Gabbard thinks basic environmental rights should be equal to other civil, human and political rights laid out in the state constitution. 

Gabbard, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, calls this idea the Green Amendment and is trying to get it directly to voters. The proposed amendment would make environmental rights of the people as an inalienable right. 

It would hold the state government accountable to prevent and act upon environmental harm on the islands by considering environmental protection before advancing energy creation, industry, development, or applying any regulations.

If the bill clears the Legislature, it would go to voters to decide whether or not the amendment becomes part of the state constitution.

Similar amendments already have been passed in three other states: Montana, Pennsylvania and New York.  So far these states are still evaluating the impacts. Montana has applied it to a few legal cases, which helped to prevent predictable  environmental problems.

One of these cases, Cape France Enterprises v. Estate of Peed, used the Green Amendment to justify rejecting a drilling contract, which could have resulted in groundwater supply being contaminated.

“This could be the year,” Gabbard said. “If it passes, we become the fourth state. This is a big deal.”

This is Gabbard’s third time pushing for this measure. Maya van Rossum, who has been working with Sen. Gabbard, for several years on the bill, said that last session gave legislators, and those working in favor of the bill, the opportunity to educate and engage with people on the islands about the idea. She is optimistic that this time it will pass.

Rep. Amy Perruso who was the primary introducer of the proposed amendment in the state House, says Hawaii legislators spent a lot of time trying to improve their language on the bill since last session.

“We hadn’t done our work communicating with Native Hawaiian folks, and with the community at the law school,” Perruso acknowledged.

Perruso said that legislative change takes time, and the main priority in getting this bill passed is educating the community, so that there is a common understanding of why it is so important.

In recent years, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources had concerns that the amendment would be unnecessary because of a similar focus that already exists within the constitution. 

Rossum said that the Green Amendment has two acting parts that it needs in order to work. “The state constitution mandates a trust obligation, which Hawaii’s already does,” Rossum said. “The second part is that there needs to be an individual right of the people.”

–Trevor Reed

Giving Up Guns

People who lose their right to bear arms in Hawaii would have to provide a sworn statement that they have disposed of all firearms or allow police to search their house and look for any guns or ammunition under a bill being considered by lawmakers.

House Bill 64 acknowledges that circumstances may arise where an individual once permitted to own firearms may no longer have that right. 

“This bill is aimed at improving public safety by taking firearms out of the hands of people who are disqualified from owning them,” said state Rep.Gregg Takayama.

Takayama introduced the measure in the House on behalf of Sen. Karl Rhoads.

There is no existing mechanism for law enforcement to ensure that a person who already possesses firearms but has subsequently lost the right to own one, properly disposes of their firearms. 

Lawmakers want to close some gun loopholes. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2018

The bill also works to stop the transfer of ownership of any firearm or ammunition. HB 64 also requires police to seize firearms and ammunition in domestic abuse cases that are in plain view of the officer or discovered by consensual search. If the suspect in those cases refuses to relinquish their firearm, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill defines “dispose” as selling the firearms to a licensed gun dealer, or surrendering all firearms to the chief of police where the person resides for storage or disposal. 

This bill also allows for any police officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has recently assaulted or threatened to assault a family or household member shall seize all firearms and ammunition that are in plain view of the officer, or were discovered pursuant to a consensual search, and that the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe were used or threatened to be used in the commission of the offense. 

Hawaii already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Just last year, lawmakers voted to beef up background checks.

Despite being third-best in the country for gun safety, Hawaii has yet to require an in School Threat Assessment program to identify students at risk of committing violence. The state does however have many gun laws that work to keep firearms out of the wrong hands. For examples, it:

  • Bars domestic abusers and those with assault or other violent misdemeanor convictions from having guns while subject to short-term emergency orders.
  • Bars those with felony convictions, as well as fugitives, and those who have been convicted of a hate crime. 
  • Bars gun possession by people who have been involuntarily committed or found to be a danger to self or others. 
  • Requires handgun buyers to be 21+, and rifle and shotgun buyers to be 18+. 
  • Bars domestic abusers from having guns while subject to restraining orders as well as those who are convicted stalkers. 

Despite these strict gun laws, there are at least 50 gun-related deaths in Hawaii annually, according to the CDC’s firearm mortality statistics. 

–Elizabeth Gault


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