Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Full text: House Speaker Scott Saiki's opening remarks as the Hawaii Legislature begins its 2018 regular session


These are tumultuous times.     

This year, we must step up to the plate.     

The State of Hawaii requires leadership now and the House of Representatives can and should provide that leadership.                

Unfortunately, one need only look to the past weekend to see a glaring instance of the inability of government at various levels to manage major issues facing our state.                

Saturday's events reinforce the importance of the role of government. It also shines light on the role of the Legislature as the policymaker and as the check on the other branches of government. It is our duty to ensure that the three branches abide by their respective constitutional duties so that we all do our jobs well.     

We rely on the executive branch to competently and efficiently implement our laws and to administer programs. This begins with basic functions. Some of these functions must be carried out without mistakes because, when mistakes happen, the public loses confidence in all of us.     

We also rely on the Judiciary to fairly adjudicate and dispense justice. It is not the role of judges to make policy decisions from the bench. It is the Legislature's duty to set policy, and we do this with the benefit of broader public input and context.    

The legislative branch, and particularly we as the House of Representatives, begin this session with a renewed sense of purpose.                

The House is in a unique position to provide leadership. Part of the reason is our composition. Our 51 members are diverse, experienced, and energetic. We represent some of the smallest units of government. Our members have a pulse on what real people actually think, what they do, and what they want. 

This collective insight is very powerful and should not be taken lightly. We should use this insight to be bold and creative. We should always be thinking of how to make things better.     

There are two painfully obvious challenges that confront our state – the lack of affordable housing and the increasing homeless population. They are full of complexity and competing interests that make them hard to solve. They will require commitment and courageous action, sustained over several years.

But the time to start is now.    


There is a shortage of 65,000 housing units in Hawaii. The State has set a goal of building 22,500 affordable rental units by the year 2026, and encouraging the development of housing for all income levels.    

There is a huge gap between what our working families are able to pay and the cost of building new housing in Hawaii. The state and counties must continue to partner with private and nonprofit developers to add to the affordable housing inventory and make these projects pencil out.     

To address the financing gap, we should consider increases to programs such as the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund, and the Rental Assistance Revolving Fund.     

These programs will subsidize rents, infrastructure, and construction costs. 

For the very low income, elderly and disabled, we should upgrade our public housing inventory. We should also invest in infrastructure in areas that are conducive to such housing, including areas near the proposed rail stations.


There are now over 7,000 homeless persons throughout the state, including 667 families.      

The approach to homelessness is multifaceted and requires short and long-term action. But there is a model that we can adopt. That model is Kahauiki Village.     

Kahauiki Village is an example of a successful public-private partnership that included the combined work of the state, the city, nonprofits, and the private sector, some of whom had not interfaced before.    

It is a self-contained community that is comprised of 153 transitional homes, a preschool, a market, and a police meeting room. It also operates from a PV-generated battery system and is off the electric grid.    

This model can be extended to homeless populations with substance abuse and mental health conditions.    

One important takeaway is that Kahauiki Village represents what is possible if people and agencies at different levels work towards a common goal.     

And even as we develop more transitional housing, we must also increase law enforcement to avoid encroachment into public spaces. This encroachment affects the quality of life for all, and we must find ways to divert it.


These are the kinds of issues that our residents are counting on us to solve. But leadership is more than solving issues.     

A year ago, President Obama said something in his Farewell Address to the Nation that reminds me of Hawaii's situation today.     

He spoke of the youth, diversity, and drive of Americans, and the potential that these traits offered to our country.    

But the President also offered this warning:     

"[T]hat potential will be realized," he said, "only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now."    

The people of Hawaii are looking to us for more than problem solving.      They are also looking to us to articulate and demonstrate a sense of shared purpose that calls others, calls on everyone, to join in.     

The House will play a critical role in calling people together in common purpose, but to do it, I believe that each of us must embrace three things. 

First, let’s be open to reform and to challenge the status quo. We can still honor the past, but build upon the foundation that was left for us. It is okay to do things differently.     

Second, let’s view challenges through the lens of those who are impacted by them. Some of the most contentious issues in Hawaii arise when people believe that government does not consider their perspective or history. We need to do better at reconciling these differences – by drawing on the knowledge of all our people – including those impacted by the policies we create – to shape the path forward.     

Third, let's take a global approach to decision-making. Sometimes government is too focused on jurisdiction and turf. We need to move beyond that.


Members, we are at a moment in history where we cannot just be stewards. This legislative session is a call to broader involvement and decisive action.    

We must be courageous activists because the issues facing our state are too urgent to wait.     

I know that we are up to the challenge.     

This year, we will rebuild a foundation that will help many residents throughout our state.    

And by doing so, we will advance Hawaii’s tradition of pioneering justice, fairness, and opportunity for all.    

Thank you and best wishes for a productive session.

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