Hawaii Legislative Watch: Up for debate

Warning: You may shake your head in amazement. You may get into headed arguments with your family and friends. Your blood pressure may spike.

Here are 7 controversial bills from the 2012 Hawaii Legislative Session that could change our lives, and deserve a lot of civil discussion and open-minded debate. If I’ve missed any important controversial bills, please let me know!

1. Gambling: HB394 legalizes slot machines and video poker gambling in designated resort areas. HB781 and SB1097 grant a 10-year license, and HB2788 and SB2210 grant a 20-year license, for one stand-alone casino in Waikiki (not in a hotel). HB1227 and HB2379 authorize gaming on Hawaiian home lands. SB1528 authorizes shipboard gaming on vessels in state waters, establishing a Hawaii gaming board, an admission tax and a wagering tax, and a gaming fund for the deposit of fees, taxes, and fines. SB2032 legalizes slot machines and video poker gambling in hotels and within international airports. SB2984 grants a 20-year license for one stand-alone casino on Banyan Drive. Each of these gambling proposals would also impose taxes ranging from 6.75% to 15%; and create a new commission on gaming. Gambling tends to attract the poor and may lead to an increase in crime; on the other hand, many people like to gamble, and we are letting gambling dollars flow to other cities like Las Vegas.

2. Lottery: HB2422 and SB2980 authorize Internet lottery and gambling. The big question is: does Hawaii have the power to regulate and tax the Internet? SB2156 creates a state lottery limited to nonresidents. Raffles and informal sporting betting are legal. How is a lottery different? And how can Hawaii prevent residents from participating?

3. Minimum wage: HB168 raises the minimum hourly wage to $8.50. The question is whether an entry-level job should have a “living wage” (enough to pay your bills if you live frugally) or whether it is meant to be an entry-point for teenagers and unskilled workers to gain experience. Also, a higher minimum wage may make it harder for small businesses to retain current workers or hire new workers.

4. No state income tax; general excise tax (GET) increase: SB2329 proposes that Hawaii repeal the income tax code, while increasing the general excise and use taxes and repealing various general excise and use tax exemptions. I support lower taxes and fewer forms to fill out, but a GET tax would affect everyone, especially the poor, and we would end up paying higher taxes on everything from wholesale to retail. I would whole-heartedly support this bill if the GET were changed to a sales tax on retail-level goods and services, excluding food, drugs, and medical services.

5. Reverse sensors in cars: HB81 requires all new motor vehicles sold or offered for sale in Hawaii to be equipped with reverse sensors. This bill could prevent injuries and property damage, but it would also make cars more expensive, hurt the used car market, and leave us with a lot of cars that couldn’t be resold.

6. State ferry system: HB191 establishes the Hawaii state ferry system for people and cargo. Hawaii needs an alternative to airline travel between islands, especially for travel with large groups, cars, and pets. However, the interisland Hawaii Superferry was shut down because of unresolved environmental issues; and both the Wiki Wiki Ferry and TheBoat between Iroquois Point/Barber’s Point and Aloha Tower were too expensive. Can Hawaii effectively run and maintain an affordable state ferry system?

7. Tax credits: There are proposed tax credits for agricultural processing facilities, biofuel facilities and production, business headquarters relocation to Hawaii, business improvements, college savings, construction and remodeling, corporate mentoring of students, corporate wellness programs, elderly care, electric vehicles, emergency room physicians, ethanol facilities, food and medical services, gray water systems, high technology, hiring senior citizens, historic businesses, historic preservation, hotel construction and renovation, interisland ferries, Ko Olina Resort and Marina and Makaha Resort, light-emitting diode lighting systems, medical research, motion picture/digital media/film production, new hiring and job creation, ohana residential construction, parenting and child development classes, pro-bono legal services for the poor, renewable energy, small business investment, solar water heaters, teacher expenses, telecommuting, undergrounding utilities, and vermicomposting. Tax credits are one way to promote fledgling industries and “good” business practices; but they are also hand-outs to “favored” organizations and make the tax code unnecessarily complicated.

Please think about these controversial issues and how they may affect you and everyone around you. If you feel strongly about an issue, speak out! Talk to your family and friends, let your Hawaii legislators know about it, and write letters to the local newspapers.

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