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Updates from Sen. Hirono (March 11-30)


The Senate has named Sen. Mazie K. Hirono Vice Chair of the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Group – the U.S. Senate’s official dialogue mechanism with the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China.

The group serves as a forum for discussion of matters of mutual interest and maintaining a healthy dialogue with legislative leaders of both countries.

“Hawaii is the gateway to the Pacific, and dialogue with China is ever more critical to enhancing our economic, diplomatic, and security ties with the Asia-Pacific region,” said Hirono. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and holding frank discussions on a wide range of issues important to our bilateral relations including regional security, energy, tourism, and expanding small business opportunities.”

Twelve U.S. Senators make up the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Group, which holds annual conferences with senior Chinese parliamentary leaders. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) currently serves as the Chair.

In 2004, the U.S.-China Interparliamentary Group was started by Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Ted Stevens (R-AK) who served as the Interparliamentary Group’s first Vice Chair and Chair respectively.

The appointment to serve on the Interparliamentary Group builds on Hirono’s work on U.S.-China relations as Co-Chair of the Senate U.S. China Working Group and her efforts to implement visa reforms that would make it easier for Chinese tourists and students to visit and study in America.

Hirono has long championed the extension of visitor visas between the U.S. and China which was officially changed from one to ten years of maximum validity under a bilateral agreement reached in November 2014.


Sen. Mazie K. Hirono took to the Senate floor to highlight how the Senate budget resolution, which provides a policy framework for funding and other legislation Congress will debate in the future, proposed by Republicans favors special interests and the wealthy and would hurt our middle class and economy.

Hirono also spoke about two of the amendments she has filed in an attempt to improve the budget: an amendment to restore year-round Pell Grants for college students and an amendment to invest in clean energy and preserve the environment.

From Hirono’s floor speech:

“I can’t support this budget. This budget favors the wealthy and special interests on the backs of middle class families, seniors, and students in Hawaii and across the country.”

As Sen. Hirono stressed in her remarks, Democrats have tried to improve the budget resolution including proposals to eliminate the sequester in a fair way, make sure our commitments to those on Social Security and Medicare are fulfilled, close a few tax loopholes to invest in our communities and create jobs, and give students the opportunity to get an affordable college education but Republicans rejected each commonsense proposal.

Sen. Hirono’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I’d like to set aside the pending amendments in order to call up two of my amendments en bloc: Amendments 877 and 878.

Thank you Mr. President. Before I briefly outline my amendments, I need to say a few words about the budget before us.

The vision outlined in the budget before us is truly a disaster for the middle class and our economy.

This budget lays out priorities that would undermine the gains that millions have made in getting affordable health insurance.

It would undermine the ability of millions of students to get a college education.

It puts tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of giving even a modest wage boost to those working hard to get ahead.

This budget would give big corporations the opportunity to write their own rules, while reducing the opportunity for the disabled, veterans, and children to live a decent life.

Democrats have tried to improve this budget.

We tried to eliminate the sequester in a fair way.

Republicans said no.

We tried to make sure our commitments to those on Social Security and Medicare remain iron clad.

Republicans said no.

We tried to close a few tax loopholes to invest in our communities and create jobs.

Republicans said no.

And we tried to give students the opportunity to get an affordable college education.

Republicans said no.

Given all these problems, I can’t support this budget.

This budget favors the wealthy and special interests on the backs of middle class families, seniors, and students in Hawaii and across the country.

But I want to offer two ideas that I hope can improve it just a little bit.

Amendment 877 would restore Year Round Pell Grants without increasing the deficit.

Many college students juggle work and family schedules.

To balance these commitments they need to attend college year-round.

But Pell Grants can only be used in two semesters currently.

My amendment would allow students to access Pell Grants year round—like they could from 2009 to 2011.

This has been a bipartisan idea in the past. In fact, Sen. Collins has a similar amendment, amendment 810, that I also support. We should adopt this commonsense, bipartisan policy.

The second amendment I’m offering, amendment 878, is very simple as well.

The underlying resolution allows for energy legislation, provided it’s paid for only with cuts.

It also lays out what I think is a very limited view of our nation’s energy priorities—particularly the heavy focus on fossil fuel development.

My amendment would provide a broader, more forward looking view of our nation’s energy priorities.

My amendment allows for energy legislation that reduces our dependence on foreign oil, increases energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment and innovation, and addresses carbon pollution.

Hawaii relies on imported oil for energy.

The U.S. military recognizes that over-reliance on fossil fuels is a national security risk.

We have to recognize that our future can’t be based on fossil fuels.

Hawaii and other states are leading the way in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

My amendment would ensure that Congress’ priorities are more in line with where Hawaii and our nation are heading in the future.

I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting these two amendments.

I yield the floor.


The Hawaii Congressional Delegation has introduced resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives acknowledging and honoring the brave young men from Hawaii, the majority of whom were Native Hawaiian, who participated in the Equatorial Pacific colonization project.

The efforts of these young men, also known as the Hui Panalaau colonists, helped secure and establish jurisdiction of the United States over equatorial islands in the Pacific Ocean during the years leading up to and the months immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II.

“Recognizing these young men for their service to our country is long overdue,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who introduced the resolution in the Senate. “Nearly eight decades ago, during a pivotal time in our nation’s history, these men risked their lives, and helped secure territorial jurisdiction over the key remote islands of Jarvis, Howland, and Baker. This resolution honors the brave efforts of these young colonists and pays tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

“I am proud to be introducing this resolution alongside the entire Hawaii delegation which will honor the courage and sacrifices made by the brave colonizers of the Howland, Baker, Jarvis, Canton, and Enderbury islands during World War II,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Takai (HI-01), who introduced the resolution in the House of Representatives. “Over 130 young men, primarily Native Hawaiians, endured hardships and risked their lives to secure and maintain these islands for the United States of America. It is only right that we acknowledge their dedication and pay proper respect to those whom were killed in the line of duty. I would like to extend my warmest aloha and fondest mahalo nui loa to the Hui Panalaau Organization for their commitment to our great nation,”

“During my time as a Member of Congress, I have had the opportunity to learn about the Hui Panalaau colonists and as a member of the House of Representatives, I joined with the Hawaii Congressional delegation in introducing a resolution to acknowledge and honor these young men on behalf of the United States. I was struck by how brave these young men had been while living on the remote islands of Howland, Baker and Jarvis,” said Hirono (D-Hawaii). “The work of the Hui Panalaau colonists was important, and their stories are riveting and heartbreaking. My condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones in this initiative all those years ago. I look forward to again working with my colleagues in the delegation to help these men and their families achieve the recognition they deserve.”

“We celebrate the contributions and sacrifices of the Hui Panalaau colonists: young men from Hawaii who courageously served their country in establishing the jurisdiction of the United States over equatorial islands in the Pacific Ocean,” said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). “More than 130 of these young men, a majority of whom were Native Hawaiian, participated in this project; some of them lost their lives representing our nation during their service, particularly in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is time for our government to recognize the accomplishments of these brave souls, few of whom are still alive today, and honor the memory of those who are no longer with us.”

Throughout the seven years of colonization of the islands, 130 men joined the effort and risked their lives. Today, there are three known surviving colonists in Hawaii.

“Although precious few of us remain, it is gratifying to know that the Hawaii delegation is united in an effort to gain acknowledgment of our deeds and to honor the ultimate sacrifices made by the members of the Hui Panalaau,” said surviving Jarvis Island colonist Paul Phillips, 93. “It has been a long time coming and I hope I live to see the day when the Hui Panalaau receive the recognition that they so honorably deserve.”

“As a granddaughter of one of the last surviving colonists, George Kahanu, I want to thank U.S. Sens. Schatz and Hirono and U.S. Reps. Takai and Gabbard for introducing resolutions to acknowledge the accomplishments and sacrifices of more than 130 brave young men of Hawaii whose collective actions enabled President Roosevelt to claim these remote islands in the Pacific,” said Noelle Kahanu, granddaughter of surviving colonist George Kahanu, 97. “It has been 80 years since this fledgling group of young Hawaiians, all recent graduates of Kamehameha Schools, set sail for these distant islands, representing their families, their schools, their communities and ultimately, their country.”


The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) held Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) Advocacy Days last week to elevate issues important to NHPI communities.

Events included a briefing for NCAPA members, a reception, a policy briefing for Congressional staff and Hill visits to ensure that NHPI voices are present on the Hill and in federal agencies.

Leaders from the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), an NCAPA member, as well as the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homeland Assembly (SCHHA), presented on Native Hawaiian history and their top national issues, and Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) briefed attendees on statistics in health and education and stressed the need for better data.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and Hawaii delegation showed support of the event with staff participation and special appearances by Sen. Mazie Hirono, Rep. Judy Chu, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Rep. Ami Bera. CNHA and EPIC also held meetings with Reps. Mark Takai, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and Madeleine Bordallo.

Other administrative meetings included visits to the Departments of Interior and Justice and a meeting with the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“We sincerely appreciate the members of Congress, staff and NCAPA members who took time to attend the briefings to learn more about our communities,” said Michelle Kauhane, president and CEO of CNHA. “We feel encouraged by the interest in better understanding our goals and issues.”

“Our organization is grateful to have had this opportunity to bring our top priorities and work to Washington,” said EPIC Executive Director Tana Lepule. “Participating in these advocacy days has allowed us to amplify the voices of Pacific Islanders to an important group of influencers.”

“We value our partnership with CNHA, SCHHA and EPIC and these advocacy days are an excellent starting point toward strengthening Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander priorities in our coalition,” said NCAPA National Director Mini Timmaraju. “These events have helped NCAPA advance our goal to be stronger advocates for our NHPI communities. We will continue to build on this great work.”


Sens. Mazie K. Hirono and Harry Reid (D-NV) have introduced the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act, a bill that would expedite the visa process for children of Filipino World War II veterans.

These veterans were offered U.S. citizenship in recognition of their service, but this hard-earned benefit did not extend to their children. Thousands of families have been separated for decades because of this oversight.

“Time is running out for the diminishing number of Filipino World War II veterans who fought and sacrificed alongside American servicemen. We as a nation made a promise to these veterans that must be kept,” said Hirono. “These brave soldiers didn’t flinch when the United States called them to battle in the Pacific Theater. The few surviving veterans are in their 80s and 90s and have been waiting for more than a half century to be reunited with loved ones and we owe them this benefit to them. While this bill helps thousands of World War II veterans and their families, we still must come together pass permanent comprehensive immigration reform. As an immigrant who came to the United States with my mother at a young age, I remain committed to the fact that any effort to reform our immigration system should also address the challenges families face.”

“Over 260,000 brave Filipino veterans made a great sacrifice and answered America’s call to serve in World War II. Now it is time we properly thank these patriots for their service,” said Reid. “No service member should be prevented from reuniting with their families because of our antiquated immigration system. This legislation will right that wrong and provide for the reunification of aging Filipino WWII veterans and their families. I am proud to represent over 100,000 Filipino-Americans in Nevada and I know the contributions they have made to make our country great. This legislation will ensure these brave veterans know how thankful we are for their noble service.”

Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service to the United States in World War II. Their children, however, were not granted citizenship. Currently, veterans must file for a family visa to be reunited with their children in the United States.

Because of an antiquated immigration system, it can take more than 20 years for these applications to be reviewed. The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act exempts the veterans’ children, about 20,000 individuals in all, from the numerical limitation on immigrant visas.

Reid and Hirono made fighting for Filipino veterans to receive this benefit a top priority in during their time in Congress, but it grows more urgent every year.

Of the surviving Filipino World War II veterans, it is estimated that less than 6,000 are U.S. citizens and reside in this country and will thus be able to take advantage of this bill.

The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act was included in the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 (S. 744), and we urge Republicans to take up this bill that helps Filipino veteran families and fixes our entire broken immigration system once and for all.

The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act was introduced with the following original cosponsors: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).


U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), the Ranking Member of the SASC Subcommittee on Seapower, traveled this month to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO).

The senators toured detention facilities, received an intelligence briefing, and met with commanders of Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), as well as other personnel at the detention facility.

The senators also talked with legal experts on the ground about the process by which detainees are tried through the military court system.

“I salute the dedication and professionalism of our soldiers serving at Guantanamo Bay. They are admirably performing a difficult task and doing their part to help keep America safe,” said Reed. “We need to match their courage and distinction by doing everything we can to uphold American values and bring terrorists who attacked American interests to justice. The GITMO detention facility itself has become a symbolic hindrance to this effort and weakens counter-terrorism cooperation with our allies. It is also incredibly costly to run. Congress should work on a bipartisan basis, in coordination with our military leaders and the Administration, to close GITMO. And Congress should not impose further restrictions that interfere with the military’s ability to manage detainees as part of the armed conflict with Al Qaeda and associated forces.”

“My visit today confirmed my full respect for our soldiers at Guantánamo Bay, and I thank them for their service to protect our nation. But this trip also confirmed my view that the continued operation of Guantánamo Bay prison is a stain on our nation’s history and continues to be used as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups worldwide. I have long called for the prison to be closed, and I’m extremely disappointed that rather than shutting it outright years ago, we are still holding more than 100 detainees awaiting trial or transfer. We must end this sad chapter of American history, and I’ll use my position on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to push to close Guantánamo for good,” said Udall.

“Today’s visit to Guantanamo provides an opportunity to observe detention facility operations and meet with military personnel who despite challenging circumstances serve our country proudly,” said Hirono, who also serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “We cannot continue to operate Guantanamo Bay as an indefinite detention facility off U.S. shores. The continued operation of Guantanamo harms our national security interests, costs taxpayers far too much, undermines our role in the world as a human rights leader, and is used as a propaganda tool to recruit extremists. I will continue to work with the President and my colleagues to move forward on a path to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.”


Sen. Mazie K. Hirono congratulates Hawaii Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe on his appointment to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).

“Ronn has been a great asset in our state and served our students and educators well. I know he’ll be a wonderful leader in the U.S. Department of Education, implementing policies that will help students be successful nationwide,” said Hirono.

The USDOE Office of Elementary and Secondary Education is responsible for ensuring access and excellence in learning between federal, state, and local educational agencies.


Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement on the Senate’s confirmation of Vice Admiral Manson K. Brown as the next Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction at the Department of Commerce.

The Assistant Secretary also serves as the Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“Vice Admiral Brown’s dedication to public service and tireless leadership as displayed throughout his career demonstrates that he will excel in his new role as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction at the Department of Commerce. Over the course of his career in service to our country, Vice Admiral Brown served two duty assignments in Hawaii, serving as Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and as the Fourteenth District Commander for the U.S. Coast Guard. It was during his service in these capacities that I had opportunity to develop a relationship with him. His strong record of leadership and community service as demonstrated during his time in Hawaii will be vital in his new role. I congratulate Vice Admiral Brown on his confirmation today and look forward to continuing to work with him.”


The Hawaii Congressional Delegation has announced that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will allocate over $47 million in Title I, Part A Grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) in Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui counties for school year (SY) 2015-2016.

“Our keiki deserve a high-quality education, and the opportunity to gain the tools and skills that will best equip them for success and a bright future,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). “Strong schools and good teachers can help break the cycle of poverty that trap many families, but only if they are given the resources and support needed to empower students. We owe it to our next generation of leaders to give them every opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they come from or their socioeconomic status.”

“Investing in our children’s education is one of the best ways to help them reach their full potential. But too often, schools in underserved communities lack the necessary resources to make that happen,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “This funding will give schools across Hawaii the resources they need to help our children succeed.”

“When I came with my mother from Japan to Hawaii as a small child, I enrolled in Hawaii’s public schools without knowing any English. If it were not for my teachers and my mother’s high expectations, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Hirono (D-Hawaii). “I know firsthand that quality education opens the door to opportunity and it is critical that our schools have essential resources to ensure success. Investing in our keiki is the best investment we can make and these funds will help our public schools and students most at need.”

“I am very happy that Hawaii’s public school system will receive this grant,” said Congressman Mark Takai (HI-01). “These funds will be directed toward students and schools that need extra resources — primarily schools that are located in low-income and underserved communities. Hawaii’s public schools educate the majority of our keiki, and federal grants such as this help provide our schools with the resources they need to succeed. I will continue to work closely with the congressional delegation to maximize the federal support coming in to our state.”

Title I Grants to LEAs provide financial assistance to school districts for services that improve the teaching and learning of children at risk of not meeting academic achievement requirements.

Based on a variety of factors such as per-pupil expenditures, poverty, and population estimates, Title I Grants are targeted to help students who reside in high concentration areas of children from low-income families.

The preliminary allocations per county are as follows: Hawaii County, $10,653,162; Honolulu County, $29,380,200; Kauai County, $2,054,375; Maui County, $4,925,038. Final allocations are expected to be released by ED in June 2015, which will differ slightly from the from the preliminary allocations.


Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Lisa Murkowski, and Brian Schatz have introduced legislation that would exempt Hawaii, Alaska, and communities that rely on essential air service as subsidized by the U.S. Department of Transportation, from the increase in air travel fees included in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2013.

This exemption would protect interisland flights in Hawaii and intrastate flights in Alaska from increased air travel fees, which have more than doubled from $2.50 to $5.60 per enplanement.

“Raising air travel fees puts an unfair burden on the people of Hawaii for whom air travel is essential and I will continue to oppose such increases,” said Hirono “Hawaii residents and visitors have no real alternative to commercial interisland flights to meet their everyday transportation needs, from flying to receive health care, visit family, or on business. As a result, the increased passenger fee has a real effect on Hawaii families and small businesses that aren’t felt in other parts of the country. This bipartisan legislation that I also introduced last year ensures that people in Hawaii and Alaska are shielded from higher fees, particularly for air travel within our states.”

“The aviation fee hike has a disproportionate impact on Alaskans and Hawaii residents who often don’t have a straight-shot option in getting from Point A to Point B like those in the Lower 48,” said Murkowski. “Whether you’re an Alaskan on the ‘milk run’ or trying to get into a hub from off the road system, logistics means that we need multiple legs on different airlines to get to your destination. Worse still, the Alaskans that would be hit by this added cost are frequently the least able to afford it; Alaskans already deal with higher costs for energy and goods; enough is enough.”

“Air travel is a necessity, not a luxury in our island state,” said Schatz. “Rising TSA fees put an unfair burden on Hawaii residents who depend on air travel for work, health care, and to visit family. Our legislation recognizes our geographic realities and would exempt Hawaii and Alaska from unfair travel fees.”

Both Alaska and Hawaii have unique geographical complexities that make air travel exceptionally important. With no railway, trucking, or bus systems connecting Hawaii to other states or between the islands themselves, air transportation serves as Hawaii’s primary interstate and intrastate highway system. Similarly, in Alaska, air travel is often the most efficient way to travel between communities, especially in remote areas.

In the past, Congress has recognized the unique need for air travel in the non-contiguous states and provided relief from air travel fees.

Last year, Hirono, Murkowski, and Schatz introduced the same bill to exempt Hawaii and Alaska from the increase in air travel fees.

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