Every two years, the Senate Ways and Means Committee (WAM) visits state facilities and priority projects around the state. Ways and Means is the committee that considers every bill relating to government spending that passes through the Senate. These bi-annual field trips allow committee members to meet with neighbor island agencies and community leaders to better understand the diverse needs throughout the state.
On Maui, we visited various schools, the Maui Community Correctional Center, Iao Valley State Park, a senior housing facility, a homeless and transition shelter facility, Maalaea Harbor, and members of the County Council.
Over three days and hundreds of miles of travelling around the Big Island, we visited the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) facility, new, historic and off-the-grid school buildings, an amazing tilapia farm that is gearing up to produce millions of pounds of fresh fish, an agricultural coop in Waimea, a medical marijuana production facility, various state lands in Hilo, the Hawaii Community Correctional Center, Puna Geothermal Ventures, and a papaya farm.
Our Kauai visit included visits with more schools, the Moloaa Irrigation Coop, Kauai Island Utility Corporation, county officials, the harbors division, and a tiny homes test project.
These trips bring home the many needs faced throughout the state and challenge decision makers with prioritizing these needs. Each group and project seems very worthy when presented. In my opinion, it is important to remember the core responsibilities of state government and to be careful before taking on new obligations.
The most shocking experience of these recent WAM trips was the deplorable conditions in the jails. Both Maui and Hawaii facilities are vastly overcrowded. In cells built for two inmates, a third and fourth inmate sleep on small mats on the floor, next to the toilet. It is unconscionable that we have neglected this issue for so long; this is surely a core responsibility and should be a priority. The Department of Public Safety floats plans for alleviating some of the overcrowding, but there needs to be more commitment and follow through.
OTEC has long held the promise of providing affordable, reliable energy production from the temperature difference between warm surface water and cold, 2000 feet deep water. Creating a durable system that is scalable has been the challenge. In response to my question that pumping water up from the depths seems like the proverbial (impossible) perpetual energy machine, I was told the energy consumed to generate electricity comes from the heat loss of the surface water. The sun warms the water and that heat is converted to electricity.
Another trip I was honored to be part of this year was the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Hiroshima-Hawaii Sister Statehood relationship. A delegation of senators, representatives, and high school students numbering 135 journeyed to Hiroshima for three days of international exchange in early October. Hiroshima is the ancestral home to more Hawaii residents than any other region of Japan. The vermillion torii near Beretania St and University Ave represents the famous torii on Miyajima Island and it was a gift from the Hiroshima people.