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Updates from Hirono (June 23-July 1)



Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., decision that allows corporations to exclude contraceptive coverage from their employees’ health care insurance plans:

“In yet another sharply divided 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case expanded a religious exemption to allow ‘closely held corporations’ to withhold contraceptive coverage for employees based on the religious beliefs of the owners.

“The Supreme Court based this decision on the fact that Hobby Lobby is a ‘closely held corporation,’ and therefore the religious liberty of the humans who own and control the corporation must be protected.

“While Hobby Lobby may be a ‘closely held corporation,’ it is hardly a mom and pop shop. Hobby Lobby has some 572 shops across the country and employs over 20,000 people.

“I disagree with the five Justices’ interpretation of the applicable federal law and will join my colleagues to overturn this decision so that women who work for companies like Hobby Lobby will have access to health care coverage to which they are entitled.”


Hirono released the following statement on the one-year anniversary of the passage of S.744, the Senate’s immigration reform bill:

“Today marks one year since the Senate came together on a bipartisan basis to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. As our country waits for the House to act, countless families remain torn apart, millions of hardworking people remain in the shadows and thousands of unaccompanied children have risked their lives to cross the U.S. border. The urgent need to fix our broken immigration system is clearer than ever. The Senate bill offers positive solutions that will make our immigration system more humane, our communities more secure and our economy stronger. The bill also includes an unprecedented investment in border security. I urge House Republicans to take action on this critical bipartisan bill.”

As the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant, Hirono worked closely with colleagues to shape the Senate’s immigration reform bill in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor, attaching 11 amendments to the bipartisan bill that passed last year. Since the bill’s passage, Hirono has worked to support immigration reform by joining Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in introducing legislation such as the Investing IN States To Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) for DREAMers Act. Hirono has also expressed interest to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to visit unaccompanied children who have been detained near the southern U.S. Border.


Hirono voted to confirm Hawaii’s Esther Kiaaina as Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

Kiaaina was confirmed unanimously by voice vote.

Hirono had previously introduced Kiaaina’s nomination during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing last November.

“The Senate’s overwhelming support for Esther’s nomination speaks to her strong qualifications to serve as DOI Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs,” Hirono said. “I have no doubt she will serve with distinction and make Hawaii proud.”

Prior to her nomination, Esther Kiaaina served as the First Deputy Director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources for the State of Hawaii, a position she has held since 2012.

Previously, she served as Chief Advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from 2009 to 2011 and from 2007 to 2009, she was a Land Asset Manager for the Kamehameha Schools Land Asset Division.

Kiaaina served as Chief of Staff for Congressman Ed Case from 2003 to 2007. From 1999 to 2003, she was Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Congressman Robert Underwood. Kiaaina served as a Legislative Assistant for Sen. Daniel Akaka from 1990 to 1999.

Kiaaina received a B.A. from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School.


Hirono, a member of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Conference Committee, gave an opening statement on Hawaii wait times at the committee’s first meeting.

The committee is working on a compromise version of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, which was recently passed by the House and Senate.

This week’s meeting is the first Veterans’ Affairs conference committee since 1990.

Hirono’s statement, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to our co-Chairs, Sen. Sanders and Rep. Miller, for holding today’s meeting.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today, and will be brief.

This Conference Committee has an important task in the coming days and weeks.

That is to finalize legislation that does three important things:
1.) Directly address the emergency circumstances that have been uncovered at the Veterans’ Administration (VA).
2.) Ensure all of our veterans receive access to the care that they deserve.
3.) Begin the longer-term work of restoring veterans’ trust not only in the VA, but in Congress’s ability to effectively oversee the VA and provide the resources needed to care for our veterans.

Chairman Sanders is exactly right when he says that the situation at the VA is an emergency.

A recent audit of the VA in Hawaii found that veterans were waiting over 140 days to receive care.

A more recent update found that while progress is being made, that number is still over 100 days.

Nationwide, nearly 60,000 veterans are waiting simply to get an appointment.

That is unacceptable.

Nearly the entire Senate agrees that this is an emergency, and that Congress has to act to provide the resources necessary to provide care immediately.

I’m hopeful that we can all agree on that point.

However, while I hope we all agree that this is an emergency—and that we will provide the resources necessary as a result—I hope that this Committee will not ignore the task of addressing the VA’s long-term needs.

Veterans overwhelmingly approve of the quality of care that they receive from VA—when they receive it.

I hope that we will include provisions in the Senate-passed legislation that provide for 26 major medical facility leases, and provide for the resources and authority to expedite hiring of VA doctors and nurses.

In addition, while I agree that accountability of executives is needed, we should avoid politicizing the non-appointed civil service process and allow some due process for VA employees.

While we are all angry about reports of cooking the books, failing to provide care, and other administrative failures – summary firings aren’t the answer.

Our veterans rely on the services of qualified, committed professionals at VA.

We should be doing more to attract more of these people—particularly people who view service to our veterans as a noble career path and not a stopover on the way to something else.

I hope that this Committee will recognize the long-term benefits of attracting a high quality workforce to VA, and that we can improve accountability in a carefully balanced way.

A quality workforce, and quality facilities are long-term investments in our veterans — investments that we need to make to ensure that all veterans have access to high quality VA care.

Investing in the VA is an essential step towards building back the trust of our veterans.

I recognize that expanding access to non-VA providers is needed to immediately address this emergency.

With this expansion we must ensure every veteran in our country, whether rural or urban, can easily get the care they need if the VA is not available.

For Hawaii veterans that should include being able to get care from community health centers, Department of Defense facilities or from the Native Hawaiian Health Care System.

But that doesn’t mean that getting care outside of the system is the long-term solution. I do not support an approach that will lead to atrophy of the VA.

I do not support voucherizing VA.

I do support Congressional leadership and action that addresses the current emergency, ensures our veterans’ can access the care that they deserve, and lays the groundwork so that the VA can effectively address long-term needs.


On June 23, Hirono released the following statement commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, commonly known as Title IX.

This landmark federal law requires gender equity in federally-supported education programs and athletics:

“When Title IX – the legacy of my friend Patsy Takemoto Mink – was signed into law 42 years ago, it opened a new realm of possibilities for women and girls. Suddenly, women were able compete, not only in sports, but also throughout the entire education system. Since Title IX became law in 1972, the percentage of women who have enrolled in college immediately following high school has risen by almost 25 percent. Additionally, women now make up the majority of students enrolled in both undergraduate and first-professional degree programs.

“In athletics, the number of intercollegiate female student athletes has increased by more than 40 percent. While it is clear that Title IX has improved gender equality in many ways, we still have more to do. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to help ensure that woman and girls throughout the nation are able to fulfill their dreams and compete with their male counterparts on equal footing.”

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