Minimal Lawmaking: A Challenging 2019 Regular Session
All politics is local. Based on that timeworn adage, the 2019 Regular Session provided more localized victories than statewide successes for the neighbor island delegations. With the Council on Revenues reducing projections of state tax collections, the Legislature had little room for new or expanded initiatives, forcing lawmakers to focus on core services.
Education and Social Services Maui schools received funding for critical public works projects including new classroom buildings at Pa‘ia Elementary and Kahului Elementary, re-roofing projects at Ha‘iku Elementary and Baldwin High, electrical improvements at Lahainaluna High, covered walkways and drainage improvements at Makawao Elementary and Waihe‘e Elementary, and air conditioning improvements at Wailuku Elementary, Iao Intermediate and Maui Waena.
In support of gender equity and ADA, the Legislature authorized new locker rooms at Maui High and Baldwin High, plans for baseball and softball fields for King Kekaulike High, plans for a baseball field for Molokai High, repairs to the hurricane damaged track and field at Lahainaluna High, and ADA transition projects at Kihei Elementary, Lahainaluna High, Wailuku Elementary and Kualapu‘u Elementary. Overall, the State Budget included $44.9 million in FY20 and $32.5 million in FY21 to address ADA access and Title IX issues statewide.
The budget also includes plans for expansion of Makawao Public Library and $15.4 million for Library repair and maintenance (R&M) statewide. Lawmakers also authorized $110,000,000 in each year of the biennium to address the Department of Education (DOE)’s $868 million R&M backlog.
The Legislature also encouraged the DOE’s expanded use of Job Order Contracting for standard R&M projects like re-roofing. HB316 HD2 SD2 adds $800,000 to the University of Hawai‘i (UH) for the Hawai‘i Community College Promise Program. HB398 HD1 SD2 CD1 amends the composition of the UH Board of Regents and reduces the number of board members from 15 members to 11 members. HB1455 HD2 SD1 CD1 establishes and funds UH Maui College’s International Office and HB1547 HD2 SD3 CD2 appropriates funds for UH athletics.
Maui legislators also successfully advocated for State funding support of local non-profits (HB809 SD1 CD1), including grants for the Boys and Girls Club of Maui Paukukalo Clubhouse project, Hana Health’s facility improvements, Maui Youth and Family Services, and the Wisdom Center for Autism. State Grant Funding will also support Hui No‘eau, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Montessori Hale o Keiki, and the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center. Community housing projects receiving funding include the next phase of the Hale Mahaolu ‘Ewalu (Makawao) complex, Wailuku Union Church’s proposed affordable rental project, and the Na Hale O Maui Kahoma initiative.
The Legislature also approved partial support for new buses for Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc. and the STEM initiatives of Maui Economic Development Board, Inc. Seniors, Housing and Homelessness Despite the prospect of reduced tax collections, the Legislature remained committed to senior programs and addressing homelessness. The $4,145,695 in HB465 HD1 SD2 will serve up to 250 additional adults in the Kupuna Care program and HB468 HD1 SD2 provides $550,000 for the healthy aging partnership program. SB1025 SD1 HD2 requires the Executive Office on Aging (EOA) to develop and implement a plan to maximize the number of Kupuna Caregivers Program participants and provides $1,500,000 for the program.
The Legislature funded base homeless initiatives in SB471 SD2 HD1 CD1 which appropriates $10.8 million for each of the next two fiscal years for the Outreach Program, the Rapid Re-housing Program, the Housing First Program, the Family Assessment Centers, and homeless outreach and civil legal services.
That measure also appropriates $3 million to fund Stored Property and Debris Removal Services, and $1 million for the state Rental Supplement Program.
HB257 HD2 SD1 CD1 amended the ‘Ohana Zones Pilot Program by authorizing the use of private lands, lengthening implementation time and extending the Emergency Department Homelessness Assessment Pilot Program and the Medical Respite Pilot Program to June 30, 2020.
Senate Housing Chair Stanley Chang’s ambitious proposal to develop high rise housing for Hawai‘i residents on State-owned land (ALOHA) was reduced to a study by the Hawai‘i Housing Financing and Development Corporation (HHFDC) (HB820 HD1 SD1 CD1). However, the Legislature did authorize HHFDC to negotiate the purchase of the Front Street apartments in West Maui to preserve those rentals (HB543 HD1 SD1 CD1) and in HB1312 HD1 SD1 CD1 authorized the issuance of $100,000,000 in general obligation bonds to be appropriated into and out of the rental housing revolving fund to support additional rental development.
Health, Human Services, and Consumer Protection and Labor Maui Health Systems (MHS), which operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lana‘i Community Hospital received $6,000,000 to continue infrastructure upgrades. However, the State Budget provided only $22.4 million of the $26 million MHS requested to subsidize operations (HB888 HD1 SD2 CD1) for FY20.
In the mental health area, SB383 SD2 HD1 CD1 requires the DOE to establish a mandatory youth suicide awareness and prevention training program and model risk referral protocol, for all public schools, including charter schools. HB330 HD1 SD1 CD1 appropriates $150,000 for youth suicide early intervention, prevention, and education initiatives. HB1013 HD2 SD2 establishes an involuntary hospitalization task force to examine existing law and make recommendations to the Legislature to reduce unnecessary emergency department admissions and improve access for MH-1 patients to the most appropriate level of care.
HB654 HD1 SD1 CD1 appropriates funds to the UH Cancer Center to study the high incidence of liver and bile duct cancer in Hawai‘i. SB203 HD2 clarifies that pharmacists may perform certain vaccinations or immunizations.
The Legislature approved restoring licensure of midwives while temporarily exempting birth attendants and exempting Native Hawaiian healers while a task force considers regulating those areas (Act32 [SB1033 SD2 HD2]). After no change in many years, SB767 SD1 HD1 CD1 raises the threshold under the contractor licensing law’s handyman exemption from $1,000 to $1,500 and makes it applicable only to the cost of labor and materials. HB390 HD1 SD2 makes permanent Act 172, Session Laws of Hawai‘i 2017, which grants employees the right to have a chaperone present during a medical examination relating to a workers’ compensation work injury.
In the final hours of conference, minimum wage proposals—a priority of the Governor and legislative leaders—failed as the effect of an employer credit for providing health benefits raised questions about Hawai‘i’s Pre-Paid Health Care Law exemption from ERISA.
Agriculture and Natural Resources In the agricultural and environmental area, SB390 SD2 HD1 CD1 requires the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to create a dollar-for-dollar matching program for beneficiaries of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to purchase Hawai‘i-grown produce.
The Legislature approved $750,000 in HB1548 HD1 SD2 CD1 to study and combat rapid ohia death. HB463 HD1 SD2 CD1 appropriates $150,000 for DOA to partner with the Hawai‘i agricultural community to establish a Food Safety Certification Training Program to assist small to medium sized farms to comply with the United States Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices Certification Program, while SB375 SD2 HD1 CD1 requires DOA, in cooperation with the Governor’s office, to develop a strategic plan to double local food production and increase food exports by 2030.
SB759 SD2 HD1 CD1 requires DOA to establish a 2-year Agricultural Theft and Vandalism Pilot Project to examine the effectiveness of prosecuting agricultural theft and agricultural vandalism in the counties of Hawai‘i and Maui. HB808 HD1 SD2 CD1 expands the existing prohibition on capturing or killing a manta ray in state marine waters to apply to all rays. HB201 HD1 SD1 clarifies that a state department that is a member of the invasive species council, counties, and its employees and authorized agents, have authority to enter private property to control and eradicate invasive species when there is a reasonable suspicion that invasive species are present on the property.
To guide the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), HB1133 HD2 SD2 CD1 prohibits the issuance of more than 40 commercial use permits for any marine life conservation district and limits access by commercial use permittees to no more than 50 percent of permittees and requires DLNR to immediately initiate rulemaking for Molokini Shoal while HB1032 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes a state boating facility lease pilot program to allow the Board of Land and Natural Resources to lease Manele Small Boat Harbor to facilitate improvements to the area.
The State Budget also allocated $3,500,000 for replacement of finger piers at Ma‘alaea Small Boat Harbor. The State Budget included $750,000 for coqui frog eradication and fencing on Maui, $1,100,000 for dryland forest restoration and resource protection enclosures at Kanaio, and $300,000 to replace the fence at Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Legislature allocated $450,000 for the County of Maui to install a reuse demonstration project from the Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Plant to Kanaha Beach Park. Statewide, the budget included $7.4 million in FY20 and $6.5 million in FY21 for watershed protection. The proposal to extend the time for DLNR to allow holdover water permits (HB1326 HD2) did not pass.
However, the State budget includes funding for more resources to the Water Commission and DLNR for stream monitoring and studies.
The Legislature also provided $500,000 for the County of Maui to plan the transit corridor between the County campus in Wailuku and the County transit hub in Kahului, and $125,000 for the Planning Department to map important agricultural lands in Maui County. Elections Election changes were a mixed bag.
The rest of the State will join Kaua‘i County in running all-mail elections in 2020 (HB1248 HD1 SD2 CD1). Close elections will also be subject to automatic recounts (SB216 SD2 HD1 CD1). But neither automatic voter registration (SB412 SD2 HD1) nor ranked choice voting in Congressional special elections (SB427 SD2 HD1) made it. Economic Development and Taxation Lawmakers did approve two major economic development initiatives. HB1586 HD1 SD2 CD1 authorizes HCDA to facilitate the redevelopment of Aloha Stadium, provides $20,000,000 in funding and authorizes the issuance of $180,000,000 in revenue bonds and $150,000,000 in general obligation bonds.
The expected public-private partnership is expected to revitalize the stadium area as a key part of transit oriented development along the Honolulu rail line. SB33 SD3 HD2 CD1 expands the film tax credit cap to $50,000,000 from $35,000,000, allowing additional productions in the islands.
The County of Maui proposal to extend further the opportunity to adopt a County surcharge to the State general excise tax failed. Maui is the only County that has not passed a surcharge ordinance to help fund transportation projects. The County of Hawai‘i and County of Kaua‘i proposal to expand the use of surcharge funds for disaster relief and other purposes did not even have any meetings in conference. The Legislature did approve a number of tax changes.
The State hotel tax will apply to resort fees imposed outside of hotel room rates (Act 20 [SB380 SD1]). The general excise tax requirements will apply to transactions by online retailers who meet a certain threshold of business in Hawai‘i (SB495 SD2 HD1), and marketplace facilitators like Amazon and Walmart (Act2 [SB396 SD1]). Act 3 (SB1361 SD1) increases estate taxes for Hawai‘i estates over $10,000,000.
Real Estate Investment Trusts lost their dividend deduction and will have to pay Hawai‘i corporate income taxes (SB301 SD1 HD1 CD1). After years of trying to fashion a measure that both collected taxes from vacation rentals and helped the Counties with enforcing zoning laws, lawmakers agreed to authorize companies such as Airbnb to act as tax collection agents for the State and to identify the rental properties to the State Tax Department (SB1292 SD2 HD3). A bill barring online vacation rental platforms from listing non-County approved properties failed to receive a hearing in conference (HB419).
Criminal Justice and Prisons HB1552 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes the Hawai‘i Correctional System Oversight Commission and implements certain recommendations of the Criminal Pretrial Task Force. HB456 HD2 SD2 CD1 appropriates funds for the immediate needs of Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) in light of the riot and funds for six months of housing costs for two hundred forty-eight inmates at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona and for costs to return the inmates to Hawai‘i.
The State Budget added $8,000,000 for additional facility upgrades at MCCC. A commission will study and make recommendations on establishing red light camera enforcement of traffic laws in each County (SB663 SD2 HD1 CD1). Hawai‘i’s asset forfeiture law will apply only where the property owner has been convicted of a felony (HB748 HD2 SD2). HB437 HD1 SD1 authorizes crime victim compensation for mental health services for survivors in cases involving a death and for children who witness domestic violence and SB852 SD2 HD1 CD1 clarifies that lost earnings, mental health treatment, counseling, and therapy are eligible for reimbursement to a crime victim as a result of a defendant’s offense.
Hawai‘i further restricted its already tight firearms regulations. Governor David Ige signed into law Act 23 (HB 720 HD1) which requires firearm owners to report lost, stolen, or destroyed firearms. The Legislature also adopted a “Red flag” law, providing family members and law enforcement an opportunity to remove firearms from the possession of persons posing a danger of causing injury to themselves or others (SB1466 SD2 HD2). SB600 HD2 prohibits individuals who are less than 21 years of age from bringing into the State any firearm. HB673 HD2 SD2 CD1 tweaked the Medical Cannabis Law by providing a process for the voluntary or involuntary sale or transfer of an individual dispensary license, easing restrictions on allowable operating hours and location of licensed facilities, and expanding allowable inter island transportation of medical cannabis products for laboratory testing. HB290 HD1 SD2 CD1 authorizes qualifying patients or qualifying out-of-state patients to transport medical cannabis between islands for their personal medical use.
The Legislature also passed a bill that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana (HB1383 HD2 SD1 CD1) but stopped well short of approving recreational marijuana use. To address illegal fireworks use, HB89 HD2 SD2 CD1, establishes liability for property owners allowing possessing or setting off illegal aerial devices on their property and clarifies that probable cause for arrest for fireworks offenses may be based on statements from witnesses and photographs, video, and other recordings. HB497 HD1 SD2 will update recommendations on curbing the importation of illegal fireworks.
Airports, Harbors, Highways The Legislature also allocated $38,000,000 for continuing improvements at Kahului Airport, $3,500,000 for Molokai Airport, $2,400,000 for Hana Airport and $2,400,000 for Lana‘i Airport. The State Budget also authorized $42,000,000 and $15,000,000 for Kahului Harbor upgrades. Roadway funding includes $110,000,000 for the Paia Bypass, $500,000 for Pu‘unene Avenue and $5,000,000 to plan mitigation solutions for Honoapi‘ilani Highway from Ukumehame to Launiupoko. Disaster Relief Early in the session, Gov.
Ige also approved Act 9 (HB1180 HD1) which provides $20 million in disaster relief from the Kilauea eruption in the County of Hawai‘i and an additional $20 million in loans. HB329 HD1 SD2 amends the Kaua‘i flooding disaster relief appropriation made in Act 12, Session Laws of Hawai‘i 2018, to include flood mitigation measures, and extends the lapse date of the appropriation to June 30, 2020. Governor’s Desk The Governor now has until July to decide whether to sign the remaining bills on his desk, allow them to become law without his signature, or to veto them.
Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran represents Central Maui in the State Senate. As Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he led Senate negotiators in fashioning the capital improvements budget for public works projects and non-profit grants-in-aid.