I am often asked the difference between serving in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although many of the responsibilities are similar, one big difference is coming in to sharp focus. As we know from civics class, the governor nominates his top officers, subject to the advice and consent of the senate.
Governor Ige’s nomination (GM514) to Chair the Department of Land and Natural Resources has created intense opposition across the state. Several hundred email testimonials and petitions with thousands of names in opposition have been submitted, while less than 20 messages have arrived in support of Carlton Ching.
The Chair of DLNR oversees the state’s natural resources, forests, watersheds, small boat harbors, fisheries, water commission, historic preservation, parks, iwi kupuna and much more. Mr. Ching is an executive with Castle and Cooke, and former president of the Land Use Research Foundation, a lobbying organization for large land owners and developers. His resume does not include any environmental advocacy or land conservation work.
The Senate Water and Land Committee will hold a public hearing to discuss and consider this nomination on March 11, 2015, in Capitol Room 229, beginning at 10 a.m. I am a member of this committee and I will be asking many questions about the nominee’s experience, knowledge of the many divisions within this agency, and what he means when he says he will bring efficiencies and public-private partnership solutions to “move the needle.”
Public testimony will be accepted at the hearing. If you cannot attend, but wish to share your opinion, you can submit testimony online at www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Enter GM514 in the Bill Status search box and follow the links.
Back on the legislative front, Crossover has arrived. This is when bills pass out of each house to be considered in the opposite house. Three thousand pieces of legislation introduced by the House and Senate in January were boiled down by half last week, and this number will continue to shrink throughout the session, resulting in about 300 new laws.
Of great concern to many residents in our district is the proposal to extend the General Excise Tax Surcharge to fund the rail system beyond 2022. I am firmly opposed to extending this tax now, and I have already voted No on SB19, which would extend the tax for another 25 years.
Remember that as recently as a few months ago, the project was “on budget.” Now, the projected shortfall is $910 million, IF future bids match estimates for the remaining 10 miles of track and 21 stations. Let’s see some cost containment and a credible price before we consider writing that check.
Among the bills I introduced that are still progressing are SB 201, which clarifies single family residences used as vacation rentals are subject to the Transient Accommodation Tax; SB 204, which appropriates funds to create a North Shore Beach Management Plan; and SB 1166, which permits traditional Hawaiian burials.
Other bills of interest moving through the legislature address GMO labelling, pesticide buffer zones, medical marijuana dispensaries, land swaps to acquire the Dole agricultural lands, industrial hemp, farm-to-school initiatives, increases to invasive species programs, and much more.