What to Expect at the Legislature This Year
Like everything else, this year is going to be different at the Legislature. The Capitol is closed to the general public, but, for the first time, all committee hearings and floor sessions are readily available online. Remote, online testimony has finally been embraced, so it is much easier for residents across the state to participate in the proceedings without having to take the day off and travel to Honolulu. On the other hand, hearings are constrained within specific blocks of time and two-minute deadlines for verbal testimony are being strictly enforced.
The Legislative calendar has been shortened by one week. It is always difficult to get any bill through the committee gauntlet, back and forth through each chamber, out of conference committee, and onto the floor for final votes within 60 business days. The 2021 Session will conclude after 55 days on April 29. Many more initiatives will miss critical deadlines to advance and fewer bills are likely to pass. Maybe that is a good thing?
Of course, the most challenging issue of the year is how to balance the state budget with a $1.4 billion shortfall in general funds, something on the order of 17% less than what had been expected pre-pandemic. Nearly every aspect of government services is being affected.
Fortunately for most government employees, their paychecks have not yet been impacted. They will be though, if the economy continues to falter. My heart goes out to all the private business owners and employees who have been severely impacted by this crisis. Many people have paid a very high price and we will all pay financially if we cannot get the broader economy going again soon.
We have a strong legislative and stake holder coalition fighting to save Kawaihapai Airfield. I introduced various bills to create alternative management structures outside of the Department of Transportation. The most pressing issue is the DOT's intention to shut down the airfield by June 30th. SB1368 would prevent eviction of tenants in good standing before the expiration of the existing lease in 2024. We can save the airfield, but we need time and we need to keep the businesses alive while we sort through the process.
I re-introduced bills to increase the minimum setback of wind turbines, SB957, to regulate shark tours, SB578, and to consider nature-based solution for climate adaptation, SB585. I submitted a bill to prohibit disposal of the massive, non-recyclable wind turbine blades in Hawaii landfills, SB958, bills to improve DLNR enforcement and revenues, SB955 and SB1262, a bill to stiffen penalties for catalytic converter thieves, SB576, a bill to increase Hawaiian presence on the HTA Board, SB575, and bills defining what is pollution, (plastic) SB582, and what is not (sand), SB580.