Saturday, May 1, 2010

New! Weekly blog feature Just sayin' -- Bidding aloha to the 2010 legislative session in Hawaii

"No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."
 -- Mark Twain


Whew! They're gone. The Hawaii Legislature adjourned sine die on Thursday, and reporters around the state are busily figuring out just what lawmakers accomplished during the 60-day session that in Hawaii Time stretches from Jan. 20 to April 29.

The debate over civil unions grabbed most of the headlines this legislative session, but tax and access issues hit equally close to home.

Old Samuel Langhorne Clemens had it right about property, at least as far as this year’s legislative session is concerned. In this tough economic climate, lawmakers raised the barrel tax from 5 cents to $1.05, an action expected to hike the cost of gas, electricity and shipping. Lawmakers also reinstated the death tax and tapped their old favorite, smokers, who face a 40-cent-per pack increase.

As if we aren’t already taxed enough! The non partisan Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation shows Hawaii is near the top in most tax categories, especially the regressive taxes that hit the working poor the hardest.

Granted, the taxes hikes are for good causes. Who can argue with fighting invasive species, making the state more energy self-sufficient or educating our keiki not to smoke? Some would say there’s never a good time to raise taxes, but others contend this may be one of the worst.

It was a weird session for me, being the first one in 15 years – five in Hawaii -- that I haven’t roamed a state Capitol in one capacity or another. But thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to tune in and get my legislative fix online, courtesy of Olelo.

Technology in general took center stage for most of the legislative session, with lawmakers tweeting their news from the floor, advocates pushing social media campaigns to get their bill passed and strongly worded emails coming from every direction. Despite all that interest in technology, lawmakers still managed to pass a bill ending high-tech tax credits early and suspending investors’ ability to claim the tax credits.

The people’s access to government didn’t fare so well either. The Legislature passed two obviously well intentioned but nonetheless restrictive bills curbing the public’s constitutional right to oversee its government. SB 2937, in response to multiple requests for President Obama’s birth certificate from the so-called “birthers,” allows state agencies to ignore requests for records that are “substantially similar” to a request that individual has made within 12 months. HB 1212 will make secret thousands of complaints against businesses and licensed professionals.

Both of these bills await action by Gov. Linda Lingle, who is currently so inundated with public input on the civil unions issue it may take some time to consider the ramifications of these measures. She has until July 6 to sign or veto legislation, and has requested public comment on these bills.

Meanwhile, at least eight lawmakers have announced they’ll be leaving the Legislature this year, with most seeking higher office. Wishing them aloha in their future endeavors, and until next week, I am just sayin’.