The 28th Legislature wrapped up its regular session earlier this month. While a couple of bills are stinkers, for the most part, good work was accomplished this year. The Governor will likely sign into law most of these initiatives, but he may also veto some.
Cooling schools was undoubtedly a top priority. Governor Ige has already signed the bill that appropriates $100 million dollars to provide air conditioning, heat abatement and energy efficiencies to our public schools. This money will not cool all classrooms, but it should make a significant difference for hundreds of our hottest rooms. Let us offer a hat tip here to groups like Keep Laie Cool, who bring improvements through their own determination.
We approved $160 million to replace the obsolete and overcrowded Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe. We also appropriated nearly $100 million to support development of affordable rental housing and rental assistance programs. Twelve million was provided for homeless programs through coordination by the Governor.
Because the state had a positive carry over balance from last fiscal year, we were able to set aside $150 million into the Rainy Day Fund and we increased contributions to reduce the unfunded pension and health benefits liability. Believe it or not, Hawaii is the most aggressive state in the nation when it comes to managing future retirement obligations.
Hemp is an incredibly versatile and useful crop, estimated to have as many as 25,000 beneficial uses from soil remediation to building material to clothing and so much more. A pilot project approved last year to study the viability of growing hemp in Hawaii greatly exceeded expectations. This year, the legislature approved a robust industrial hemp program that could become a new economic driver for local agriculture and multiple product developers.
Thanks to strong leadership by Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, the state will invest $31.5 million to acquire 1100 acres of agricultural lands from Dole Food Company. Morning radio listeners may have heard me talk to Mike Buck, Rick Hamada and Beth Ann Koslovich about the benefits of securing this land. Farmers need long term leases and water in order to expand local food production. This land acquisition assures availability of quality land for generations to come.
Now, about two stinkers of 2016.
HB1850 is known as the Airbnb Bill because it will allow that company to collect GET and TAT for vacation rentals booked through its website. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. The problem is that the bill exempts vacation rental owners from acquiring any tax license and the result will be that illegal activity can hide behind Airbnb. Illegal rentals such as the ones we found selling tent camping on the beach will explode; there will be no chance to get this problem under control. This bill passed the Senate by a slim margin, 14-11 (One Yes, with Reservations).
HB2501 is the A&B Water Bill, special legislation written for Alexander and Baldwin to ignore Hawaii’s Public Trust Doctrine and state law. In January, the court ruled uninterrupted diversion of hundreds of millions of gallons of water from East to Central Maui on temporary, never-reviewed permits since 2001 was illegal. An administrative process exists to lease water, but A&B wants to continue diverting water without having to document its need. The court got it right. The Senate got it wrong by passing this bill 17-8 (Five yes votes were With Reservations.)
The Governor has not yet signed these bills and may be waiting to see what the public thinks. If you think he should veto HB1850 and HB2501, then call 586-0034 or submit written comments at http://governor.hawaii.gov/contact-us/comments-on-legislation/