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Session Ends with Successes and Changes

Unexpectedly, on the 59th day of the 60 day legislative session, Ron Kouchi became Senate President and reorganized the Senate. The timing of the leadership change is highly unusual in that leadership decisions are usually made after elections and before legislative sessions begin, not several months after an election and when the session is winding down.

I was among six voting against 19 on the resolution to replace Senator Donna Kim with Senator Kouchi. As part of the reorganization, I lost my position as Vice-Chair of Agriculture, and Senators Green, Thielen and Ruderman lost their chairmanships of the committees on Health, Water and Land, and Agriculture, respectively. Senator Chun Oakland was also removed as Chair of Housing, but may retain the Chair of Human Services.

I am proud to have served on all of these committees because we did a ton of good work this year. The Health Committee moved legislation to require insurance coverage for autistic children and orofacial surgery to repair cleft lips. The Water and Land Committee heeded the public will and opposed the nomination of Carlton Ching to Chair the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which led to the very qualified Suzanne Case being confirmed. The Agriculture Committee successfully established a Farm to School Coordinator to work through bureaucratic roadblocks on getting fresh, locally grown food into our schools. The Human Services and Housing Committee significantly expanded funding for affordable housing projects.

The biggest news for our district this year must be passage of SB284, the restructuring of the Turtle Bay agreement. This bill authorizes the State purchase of 55 acres and City purchase of 5 acres at Kawela Bay, and places a conservation easement on 562 acres of land from Kawela to Kahuku Point.

With leadership from Governor Ige and renewed negotiations by all parties, the revised agreement for preservation of these lands will involve a state investment of $35 million, City addition of $7.5 million and the Trust for Public Land and the US Army contribution of $2.5 million. Compared to last year’s agreement, the resort owners receive $3.5 million less and retain an additional 29 acres, but still propose no more than 725 units, a tremendous reduction from the 3500 envisioned a few years ago.

The last four months shot past with many exciting moments and very little time to catch one’s breath. We had the highly publicized confirmation hearings, rail tax extension, medical marijuana dispensaries, Turtle Bay conservation, Maui hospitals privatization and the dramatic Senate restructuring. I would like to thank my staff for their dedication and assistance through this strenuous period. Mahalo to my Office Manager, Kalei Keolanui, my Policy Advisor, Maxx Phillips, and to our session staff, Katie Southwick and Ellyn Tong.

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