Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hawaii legislative session opens today, Kauai ag firms post pesticide reports, mayors seek to raise excise taxes, Maui tourism agency reveling in same-sex weddings, Honolulu PAC funding exposed, more government and political news from all the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii Capitol courtyard, courtesy photo
Hawaii lawmakers have several issues on their agenda as they get set to report for the 2014 legislative session today. Health care and education funding debates are expected to divide legislators. And other priorities include bills that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, increase the state’s minimum wage and direct officials to plan for a significant sea level rise. Associated Press.

An anti-paparazzi celebrity privacy law and proposals to decriminalize marijuana were among the bills that kept lawmakers busy last session – both made headlines, neither became law.  Several Representatives and Senators who spoke to Hawaii News Now say they don't think either will be major issues during the 2014 Legislative Session, which convenes Tuesday. One topic that is expected to be widely discussed is the use of genetically modified organisms.  In recent months, counties across Hawai'i have taken up the GMO issue.  Now all eyes are on the State Capitol.

The state House and Senate will open the 2014 legislative session this morning by honoring the past and celebrating the 55th anniversary of statehood. Hundreds of former lawmakers have been invited to attend the opening-day ceremonies, and each chamber has prepared booklets that document the state's legislative history. Star-Advertiser.

The message delivered at the annual Diocese of Honolulu's Red Mass, held on the eve of opening day at the Legislature, stressed stepping up collaboration in providing affordable housing for Hawaii's most vulnerable residents. Star-Advertiser.

The Hawaii Health Connector will be on the hot seat as it heads into the legislative session today without permanent leadership or an adequate funding source once federal grants expire at year's end. Lawmakers are considering turning the nonprofit they created in 2011 into a state agency three months after it fumbled the start of the online insurance marketplace created by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Star-Advertiser.

The number of small businesses that have signed up for health-care through Hawaii’s exchange network is decidedly miniscule. Of Hawaii’s 30,000 small businesses, 296 registered for insurance through the Hawaii Health Connector by the Dec. 25 deadline, according to the exchange. Hawaii Reporter.

The Hawaii Department of Education is asking lawmakers for $25 million to help keep classrooms cool. The department presented its supplemental budget request before the state House Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. The request totals nearly $32 million in operating funds and $164 in capital improvement project funds. Associated Press.

Lawmakers took the Department of Education to task Tuesday for moving ahead with a "Cadillac" version of a new performance-based teachers evaluation system, saying resources to implement it are "grossly underfunded." The criticism comes as the DOE seeks $14 million for next year for schools to each hire the equivalent of one teaching position. Star-Advertiser.

The $1 trillion federal omnibus bill includes more than $744 million for Hawaii for military, education, health care, transportation and the environment. The bi-partisan bill would fund the U.S. government through October, the rest of fiscal year 2014. Civil Beat.

Local, state and national regulations intended to protect the public and the environment can be swiftly overturned if President Obama signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the world’s most ambitious and far reaching free trade agreement yet. On January 9, the U.S. Congress introduced “fast-track” legislation allowing the Obama administration to sign the TPP without undergoing public debate. Fast-track authority would grant the White House the power to speed up negotiations, while giving Congress only 90 days to review the TPP before voting. Hawaii Independent.

University of Hawaii's interim president, David Lassner, will be at the White House for a national workshop on increasing college access and success for disadvantaged students. Associated Press.

Skepticism Over Kingdom Land Title Claims. Civil Beat.

Oahu

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City Councilman Ikaika Anderson has introduced a bill that aims to get police more involved in enforcing the sidewalk nuisance law despite objections by homeless advocates who say the ordinance unfairly punishes the disadvantaged. Star-Advertiser.

The East-West Center, hit by the recent resignation of its energy research team and criticized for "poor leadership," would see its pre-sequestration funding of $16.7 million restored under the omnibus spending bill now being considered by Congress. Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Tuesday that Senate appropriations leaders increased East-West Center funding by nearly $6 million above the request in President Barack Obama's budget, and the $16.7 million allocation was included in the bill even though the House of Representatives originally dropped financial support altogether. Star-Advertiser.

When the Pacific Resource Partnership began its work to keep former Gov. Ben Cayetano from becoming Honolulu’s next mayor, it was a campaign unlike any seen before in local politics. But tax forms filed with the IRS are now providing a clearer picture of how much PRP actually invested in 2012 to keep rail on track and Cayetano out of Honolulu Hale. Civil Beat.

First Wind's wind farm sits north of 300-plus homes in Kahuku's Koolau housing area. Now another wind farm company -- Champlin GEI Wind Holdings -- wants to plant 15 more wind turbines above Kahuku. The Kahuku Community Association opposes the idea. Hawaii News Now.

The state Department of Health ordered warning signs at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park to be taken down on Friday after a sewage spill, even though its own test data showed that bacteria levels in the water significantly exceeded Hawaii's safe water standards. Civil Beat.

A Hawaii National Guard soldier who was the married father of a 4-year-old son with another child on the way was killed in the crash of a surveillance plane in Afghanistan on Friday. Star-Advertiser.

The selected buyer of 12 rental complexes is asking for an additional six months to a year to pay a large share of $142 million it promised to Honolulu -- and 20 more years to pay the rest, city administration officials said Tuesday. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii

Mayor Billy Kenoi says he isn’t seeking a higher general excise tax, but he’s supporting fellow mayors in asking the Legislature for the flexibility to raise it with a county surcharge. The Hawaii Council of Mayors is asking the Legislature to allow counties to add a surcharge of up to 1 percent on the state GET, which is currently at 4 percent. West Hawaii Today.

Ordinarily, finding bones in a cemetery wouldn’t be considered much of a stretch. But in the case of an incomplete set of human remains found Monday at the East Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2 in Hilo, there was no record of a body having been buried there, said Lt. Greg Esteban with the Hawaii County Police Department. Tribune-Herald.

WHEA student designs, builds 3-D printer. West Hawaii Today.

Maui

Two Maui businesses have arranged more than 50 same sex nuptials since a new law went into effect in December, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, according to new information released by the Maui Visitors Bureau. Maui Now.

Maui-based Ocean Vodka is reporting strong visitor traffic to its new solar-powered home on the slopes of Haleakalā, since opening doors to its new organic farm and distillery in April 2013. Maui Now.

Molokai

The Molokaʻi Landfill was reopened today after an explosive ordnance team detonated a suspected piece of unexploded ordnance found at the facility on Monday, county officials said. Maui Now.

Kauai

Today is the deadline for Kauai’s largest agricultural companies to submit summaries of all restricted use pesticide applications to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. The monthly post-application reports are one portion of the state’s voluntary Kauai Agricultural Good Neighbor Program, which kicked off Dec. 1. Garden Island.

Early education, invasive species, public hospital funding, and pesticides and genetically modified organisms. These are just a few of the issues state lawmakers will be considering over the next few months as the Legislature convenes today for its first regular session of 2014. It is one that, some Kauai legislators say, promises to deal with a range of issues that have direct ties to the Garden Isle. Garden Island.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative will host a candidate’s forum from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Kapaa Public Library. Garden Island.