Categorized | Government, News

28th Legislature opens


Opening Day, the first day of the legislative session, is an exciting time for all. Attendees rise early and flock to the Hawaii State Capitol to get first-come, first-served seats in the Senate chamber.

Filled with curiosity and anticipation, they look out over the guardrails as lawmakers, dignitaries, families and friends greet each other with lei and hugs and take obligatory photos.

The Hawaii State Senate celebrated the opening of the 28th Hawaii State Legislature in a unique way by taking a trip back in time.

Along with performances by Danny Kaleikini, Robert Cazimero, Marlene Sai, Debbie Nakanelua, Jeff Auhoy, Na Leo Pilimehana, Keauhou and Halau ka Liko pua o Kalaniakea, short screenings of archived footage of Hawaii’s talented musicians and kumu hula charmed the audience.

The recordings complemented Senate President Donna Mercado Kim’s opening remarks and report that a facility to house and preserve Hawaiian music of yesterday and today, the Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance, is on track to be constructed atop the Hawaii Convention Center.

The blast to the past highlighted Kim’s call to “dedicate ourselves to preserving what we treasure and to what makes Hawaii special.”

In her opening remarks, Kim highlighted several important issues to be addressed this session including invasive species, housing and homelessness, and public hospitals.

She also shared several proposals, including:

* Dedicating revenue from transient accommodations tax (TAT) to restore sand on beaches lost by erosion;

* Creating an “all mail” election;

* Establishing an office of the Inspector General to investigate fraud;
Abolishing the Land Use Commission to make the permitting process more efficient;

* Starting the discussion of allowing the counties to enact a half-percent tax that would be earmarked for housing, transportation, road improvements and enforcement of transient vacation rentals;

* Ensuring the construction of the Institute of Culinary Institute of the Pacific.

The biggest take away for most on this day would probably be the encouraging sense of hopefulness and the resounding call for cooperation amongst legislative leaders and the administration.


Senate President Donna Mercado Kim’s 2015 Opening Day Speech

Aloha and Welcome to the Opening of the 28th Legislature!

Only in Hawaii can you experience a Legislative opening with so many flowers of Aloha. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to thank our families, friends and well-wishers for these beautiful expressions.

These flowers bring to mind this song, made popular by the folk trio – Peter, Paul and Mary: Where have all the flowers gone?

While this recording dates back more than 50 years, the power of its message has not diminished with time. These lyrics got me thinking…

And asking: Where have all our beaches gone?
Where has all the Hawaiian entertainment in Waikiki gone?
Where are the Koa and Ohia-Lehua trees? The fish and opihi?
And when will we ever learn that once it’s lost, we may not be able to get it back?

Music and Dance Center

From 1935 to 1975, the world tuned in to their radios to hear the voice of Webley Edwards. Each week, on his “Hawaii Calls” broadcast, he invited the world to experience our Hawaiian Islands, our culture and our music. The show at its peak was heard on over 750 stations around the globe.

Fortunately, most of the “Hawaii Calls” programs are not lost. In fact we will soon be realizing our goal of capturing and preserving our cultural past. Two years ago Senator Brickwood Galuteria and I proposed establishing a Center for Hawaiian Music and Dance. The Legislature appropriated funds to the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the ground work has been laid.

Tourism Chair Gil Kahele and I are happy to report that we are on track to construct this facility atop the Hawaii Convention Center. It will house, preserve, and maintain our Hawaiian music of yesterday and today….

And capture the stories of our talented musicians, kumu hula, before their work is lost. We’re doing this for future generations so they, too, will have a lasting appreciation and understanding of our enriching heritage.

With the help of HTA board chair Aaron Sala, our program later this morning will highlight a part of this past.


When “Hawaii Calls” opened each week with the sounds of the gentle surf on the beach at Waikiki, no one thought we’d ever be asking, “Where have all the sand on our beaches, and our native Hawaiian forests gone and what are we doing about it?”
Sadly, we are witnessing a significant depletion of sand on our famous beaches. Two years ago, the Department of Land and Natural Resources added 24,000 cubic yards of sand to Waikiki Beach at a cost of over $2 million. But a UH study found one-fourth of the replenished sand was gone a year later.

Can you imagine how economically and environmentally devastating it will be if we cannot find an effective solution to address this problem?

Which is why Energy and the Environment Chair Mike Gabbard and I are proposing dedicated funding using existing TAT revenues for the maintenance and restoration of beaches across the state. This bill would make available a steady source of funds to implement recommendations from a joint DLNR/County study and help preserve our marine environment.

Just as devastating is invasive species – one of the greatest threats to agriculture, the environment, and our health and lifestyle. We simply can’t afford to let up on our efforts to aggressively find and eradicate these pests.

In this vein, I am excited that in September of 2016 the World Conservation Congress will convene for the first time in 60 years in the United States, and they have chosen Hawaii as the host site for its 17th Congress. Held every four years, this is the world’s largest and most important conservation event. It aims to improve how we manage our natural environment.

This event will give us an opportunity to showcase to the 160 member countries and 8,000 delegates from around the world, Hawaii’s diversity in nature, culture, conservation, and sustainability. An extraordinary assemblage of more than 28,000 native plants and animals of which 90 percent are endemic, makes the Hawaiian Islands one of the world’s most ecologically diverse locations.

A huge mahalo to Chipper Wichman of the Federal National Botanical Gardens on Kauai for working tirelessly on this bid for the past 10 years, as well as the Department of Land and Natural Resources which is the lead State agency.


I pose another “where have they gone” question, and that is “Where have all the voters gone”? In the last election Hawaii experienced a record low voter turnout.

While this body has certainly supported initiatives to encourage greater participation we must do better to remove all the barriers and excuses. “All Mail” elections should accomplish that.

Both Oregon and Washington, have implemented vote-by-mail elections, resulting in high voter participation rates of 70 to 80 percent.

I look to our new Judiciary Chair Gil Keith-Agaran to move us towards “all mail” ballots, to be phased in over the 2016 and 2018 elections.

But colleagues, “all mail” elections are just the means; people must want to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
So we as legislators must do our part by restoring the public’s trust in government by giving them reasons to register and vote.

Good Government – Restore public Confidence

As Senate President I pledge to continue to bring transparency and accountability to the legislative process. Government officials should be held accountable for broken promises, miscalculations and bloated assumptions.

Therefore I propose we establish an office of the Inspector General that would investigate complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse or corruption and I have asked Government Operations Chair Donovan Dela Cruz to help shepherd this legislation.

I also propose that we expand mandatory ethics training to all lobbyists, members of all boards and commissions, and employees responsible for procurement, administering state contracts or regulating private organizations.


From a financial standpoint, we have good reasons to be hopeful. The backbone of our economy has been our visitor industry and our hard working small businesses.

Despite a recent report by the Council of Revenues and other forecasts indicating that our economy may be slowing, our year-to-date tax collections are up. Tourism is experiencing consecutive months of double-digit growth in arrivals and spending, prompting the Council of Revenues to increase their forecast by 1 percent which translates to $55M each year.


But, colleagues, the State and the counties continue to face many fiscal challenges.

As a former City Councilmember – and note that there are 5 of us in the Senate – we must work collaboratively with all the counties in addressing homelessness, providing affordable housing, and streamlining the land use approval process.

Together with Economic Development & Technology Chair Glenn Wakai, we believe it is time to consider giving the counties more local control over land use classifications by eliminating the Land Use Commission and overlapping operations to make the permitting process more efficient.

But with more control comes greater accountability, and in that regard the counties are urged to step up the enforcement of transient vacation rental ordinances. The state and counties are losing millions of dollars in TAT and GET revenues, money which we cannot afford to ignore.

So, I am looking to Ways and Means chair Jill Tokuda to begin the discussion of whether the counties should be granted the option of enacting a half-percent tax provided that it is earmarked specifically for housing, transportation, road improvements and Transient Vacation rentals enforcement.

Hearings on this measure will allow the Transportation Committee, chaired by Clarence Nishihara, to scrutinize the rail financial plan and obtain a full accounting for the half-percent tax surcharge the City has received thus far.

Majority Program

Certainly the issues facing us are daunting, so Senators led by Majority Leader Kalani English have spent the last few months formulating the Senate’s Majority Legislative program. Our focus is on Energy & Food Resiliency, Government Effectiveness and Community Well-Being & Smart Growth.

This brings me to the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. HHSC is facing a $50 million shortfall for the next fiscal year and about $1 billion or more in capital improvements in the next decade. While we are on the verge of a private/public partnership for Maui, I call upon Health Chair Josh Green and Commerce & Consumer Protection Chair Roz Baker to finally resolve the HHSC issue.

Human Services Chair Susanne Chun-Oakland has the challenging task of addressing our homeless population and the shortage of affordable housing along with helping our family caregivers as they care for our Kupuna. It will take all of us pulling together, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, the counties, and private sector to come up with viable solutions.


Senators, throughout our history, education has been the pathway to socio-economic success for generations of island people.
With the adoption of ACTS 51 and 130 our students have since experienced unprecedented growth in our national assessment test scores in math and reading.

Did you know that more students are graduating from high school, more enrolling in college, and fewer need remedial support?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently visited Hawaii, something that has not happened in over 20 years. He spoke about Hawaii’s performance, saying, “The progress has been extraordinary. Hawaii by any objective measure – is one of the fastest improving states in the nation – top five states.”

But there is more work to be done. With Education Chair Michelle Kidani we have every reason to expect more improvements in our public education system, especially given the new governor’s commitment and insight.

Community Colleges

In the same light, higher education is vital in helping diversify our economy with jobs that pay a living wage for our workers.
Public higher education is driven by the University of Hawaii System. The 3 baccalaureate campuses and 7 community colleges ensure that our people have the education they need to be ready to compete and be successful in this workforce.

Note, too, that Education has grown into an industry in itself. For instance, UH has brought in 400 Million in research dollars in FY 2014 and is 12% to 15% ahead of the pace for the current year.

Not enough is said about the vital role that community colleges play in providing an affordable and flexible education. Their graduation rates have doubled and students who go on to receive degrees in STEM have increased 15 fold. Students are better prepared to move on to higher degrees or succeed in the workforce.

Many are finding success in Hawaii’s fashion industry which is generating more than $750 million in annual sales, $20 million in tax revenues and 3600 jobs, with huge growth potential.

Kini Zamora of Kapolei and Waianae’s Ari South are shining examples of the UH’s role in career development. Kini was one of the top three finalists in season 13 of the popular “Project Runway” TV series. Ari also finished in the top three in season 8.
Even after attending the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Kini said that they were teaching the same things he learned at HCC.

[Ari tells us, “The fashion technology program at Honolulu CC is the best program in the state. The instructors gave me the tools and support to be successful.”]

I’m delighted that joining us here today is Kini Zamora.

With Kini and Ari joining the ranks of our “Made In Hawaii” businesses like Tori Richards, Iolani Sportswear, Mamo Howell and others, Hawaii can surely compete as a fashion power house and attract international students to our fashion program.

The culinary arts program at various community college campuses is another example of education as an industry. The advanced training being developed by the Culinary Institute of the Pacific will train students to excel in the culinary arts and restaurant management, as well as attract students from Asia, Europe, Canada, and the mainland who want to come here to learn about our regional cuisine.

It’s a shame though that this project has lagged. So, Higher Education Chair Brian Taniguchi and I will work to ensure that Construction begins soon on the first phase of this long awaited facility at KCC on the slopes of Diamond Head. With renowned local chefs like Roy Yamaguchi, Allan Wong, Russell Siu, Sam Choy and others this has got to be a priority.


Ladies and gentlemen, the Senate is a body of highly capable and dedicated individuals and I am humbled to serve as President. I thank you, members for this privilege.

While we represent different constituencies, we share a commitment and responsibility to do the people’s business, always mindful that the voters have entrusted us with their future.

The Senate stands ready, and committed, to collaborate with Speaker Souki and the members of the House of Representatives, with our lone Republican Sam Slom, and with our mayors and county officials.

We are eager to work with our former Senate colleagues, the new governor, David Ige, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, and an Ige administration that is committed to putting people back to work.

There is no one who better understands the State’s challenges of balancing the needs of our citizens with our limited State resources than the former chair of the Senate’s Ways and Means committee, Gov. Ige.

Governor, I’m confident that together, we will listen and work in the best interests of the people we represent.

A Spirit of Hope

While I began this speech concerned about what Hawaii has lost over time, I am nevertheless very optimistic about our future, a future that includes the aerospace industry and space tourism, championed by Senator Will Espero and which is projected to be a million dollar industry in Hawaii.

Hawaii has an incredible history of achievement. We are the beneficiaries of the hard work, sacrifices, and spirit of hope of our parents and those who came before us. And there’s absolutely no reason that, together, we can’t continue to build on this legacy we’ve inherited.

Hawaii’s own Marcus Mariota said it best at a news conference after he accepted the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Marcus told reporters, “In Hawaii, when one person is successful the whole state is successful.” Mahalo Marcus for the success you have brought to our great State. And we join you in thanking all of the people who nurtured, mentored and sacrificed to help you be successful and in the process lift us all. Marcus joins other keiki o ka aina like President Obama, Grammy award winner Bruno Mars, Maui’s Shane Victorino and a host of island people who are just as accomplished and successful in their own fields and in their own lives.

I close by acknowledging the sacrifices of my mother and in particular my son, Micah who has been my inspiration. Yes our children are the reasons for us to put aside partisan politics and individual differences.

Let us dedicate ourselves to preserving what we treasure and to what makes Hawaii special. There is much we can do because all is not lost, YET.

Colleagues we have been given much….and as it is often quoted: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The expectation is for us to work together to make Hawaii a place we can be proud to leave to our children. Mahalo!



In his opening day remarks, Speaker of the House Joseph M. Souki called on members of the House of Representatives to focus on doing the “nitty-gritty” work that will allow government to function more efficiently and for Hawaii’s families to pursue their dreams.

In a session that is expected to be business-like in its approach to tackling unfinished matters, Souki asked House members to let the rhetoric settle, roll up their sleeves and “get down to work in workman-like fashion.”

“Last year, I asked you to be bold in tackling some very difficult issues, and you answered the call by increasing minimum wage, restructuring HCDA, and taking care of the state’s unfunded liabilities,” Souki said in highlighting last year’s session.

“But that was yesterday and yesterday’s achievements. This morning, we must begin to take care of today’s business with the same determination and boldness.”

While acknowledging that Oahu’s rail system will help the state direct growth along its transit stations, Souki also raised a cautionary flag on the City’s proposal to raise the general income tax (GET) for rail saying, “We will be holding the City’s feet to the fire and closely scrutinizing its request to extend the GET tax on rail.”

He also identified three specific areas relating to healthcare that fell under the category of unfinished business.

He pointed to the Hawaii Health Connector, the state portal to health insurance under Obamacare, as one of the issues that still needs legislative attention.

“If we are to finish the job of providing universal healthcare, then all stakeholders must come to the table with an open mind and be willing to work hard for that goal,” Souki said.

Souki also called for the House to draft enabling legislation to provide the state’s public hospital the option of looking at private-public partnerships as a way to deal with its mounting financial obligations. In noting recent talks between Maui Memorial Hospital and Hawaii Pacific Health, Souki said such a partnership could save taxpayers significant money and improve healthcare on Maui.

“It behooves us to study this opportunity carefully and look at legislation for this and other potential partnerships,” Souki said.

The Speaker asked lawmakers to pass legislation to create a statewide system to dispense medical marijuana. In 2000, Hawaii became the first state to legalize the growth, possession and use of marijuana for prescribed medical purposes but did not provide for a legal and practical method of acquiring it. A task force set by the Legislature last year recently recommended the creation of dispensaries.

“We must also ensure the well-being of those who have unique health issues and who require a little more compassion from us,” Souki said. “I am speaking of those who need better access to medical marijuana. Yes, it is legal in Hawaii. But there is no legal access to it. The time has come to fix this contradiction.”

Souki also called on House members to look at moving Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) to Halawa by leasing the Kalihi parcel and using the funds to build a new prison or expand the current one in Halawa.



Leaders of the state House of Representatives majority announced their package of priorities for the 2015 legislative session.

House majority lawmakers will focus their combined efforts on three major areas of concern to modernize government: fixing public infrastructure, facilitating business and increasing participation in government.

“There are some challenges facing our State that need to be fixed and not deferred,” said House Majority Leader Scott K. Saiki (McCully, Kaheka, Kakaako and Downtown). “This includes, for example, the Hawaii Health Connector, the public hospital system, housing, the electric grid, and our prisons. The solutions may be long-term, so we want to spend the next year setting the framework to address them. Our committee chairs are very positive and will work constructively with the Governor, the Senate, and other stakeholders.”


Our State is only 55 years old. Yet, some of the most urgent needs are provided through outdated means. In the next year, we will work to set a framework to modernize government. Our work will be based on the needs of real people in our communities. Our solutions will be guided by our core Democratic principles of tolerance, equality, opportunity, and fairness. We welcome the challenge. Here are our goals.

Fix Public Infrastructure

Residents rely on public infrastructure on a daily basis to survive. Some of the infrastructure was created decades ago. We recognize that both physical and non-physical infrastructure needs to be modernized.

· Protect the public interest while modernizing the electrical grid

· Expand telecommunications capacity

· Create a sustainable public hospital system

· Modernize correctional facilities

· Expand affordable housing

Facilitate Business

Everyone benefits from a healthy economy. “Business” is comprised of risk-takers, such as small restaurant owners, farmers, and mom and pop retailers. We can support business by ensuring that government is modernized and adaptable to changing circumstances, just as business is.

· Modernize our tax collection system so that everyone pays their fair share

· Maintain the payment of unfunded long-term public liabilities

· Ensure appropriate transit-oriented development

· Increase local food production

· Protect our military bases

· Expand opportunities for pre-school and school-to-work programs to benefit students and develop our workforce

Increase Participation in Government

The most critical important check on government is an informed and involved citizenry. At minimum, residents should vote. We will work to facilitate, rather than hamper, public involvement in government.

· Standardize voting procedures

· Streamline ethics and campaign spending laws to ensure consistent standards and enforcement

· Increase technology to allow for neighbor island tele-participation

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