What felt like a rather quiet and uneventful legislative session turned out to be rather productive. The 2018 Legislative Session ended on May 3rd with passage of some big initiatives and new policy statements. Homelessness and affordable housing projects received large infusions of money, $125 million was allocated for flooding disaster relief on Kauai and East Honolulu, a new state property tax is up for a public vote in November, and Physician Assisted Suicide passed earlier in the session.
In a major move to support affordable housing, the Rental Housing Trust Fund is allotted an additional $200 million. This cash infusion is expected to result in the creation of as many as 1,600 affordable rental housing units for families at or below 80 percent AMI. The same measure, HB2748, appropriates $10 million for interim financing of affordable housing, and grants substantial tax exemptions for creation of new affordable housing for households up to 140 percent AMI.
A big push was made to address the homeless crisis through two measures that provide $34.7 million for safe zone projects and wrap around services. The state budget includes $15 million to fund homeless programs and services such as Housing First, Rapid Re-Housing, and Family Assessment Centers. Other measures allot various sums for related projects.
If you have not yet heard of Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, you should know these sunscreen chemicals have been shown to damage coral. Obviously, vibrant coral reefs are essential to the health of our coastal waters and protection of our shorelines. I am pleased to have participated in the legislative process to ban the sale in Hawaii of sunscreen containing these harmful chemicals, beginning in 2021. In the meantime, please read labels and avoid these two ingredients.
Another hot topic for many people in our district has been concern over potential health risks of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a restricted use pesticide (RUP) that the EPA considered banning nationally. RUPs require additional safeguards for use and can only be applied by certified applicators. While chlorpyrifos use has been in decline, some agricultural operations will need time to transition, so exemptions from the Department of Agriculture may be granted for a few years. SB3095 also requires public reporting of RUP use above certain levels and mandates a 100-foot buffer zone around schools if pesticides are applied during school hours.
The trend of voting early at select sites and voting by mail is steadily increasing. In fact, more votes were cast by mail or early walk-in than at the polling places in 2016. In light of this, a pilot project to vote by mail on Kauai will begin in 2020. In person voting will still be allowed at limited polling places, but the widespread, local voting places will be phased out. Depending on how it goes on Kauai, this voting system could be expanded throughout the state.
In an earlier article, I discussed the Physician Assisted Suicide / Death with Dignity Bill. I will discuss the likely consequences of a new state-wide property tax in a later article. There are other bills worthy of mention, but space permits only a brief list of highlights.