Looking back at 2012 Hawaii legislation

January 16 is the opening day of the 2013 Hawaii Legislative Session. Before we start talking about upcoming session, let’s take a look back at what our legislatures accomplished in 2012.

In Hawaii, 329 bills became law in 2012. These bills have passed both houses of the Legislature, and were enrolled, certified, signed or unchallenged by the governor, and published.

Here are some of the major bills that affect us, for better or worse. I tried to read the bill summaries carefully, and added some comments. If I missed something important, please let me know!

Bill that affects employers, employees, and the unemployed:
* HB2096 HD1 sets the maximum weekly benefit amount at 75% of the average weekly wage from April 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012; increases the employment and training assessment in increments of .01% retroactive to January 1, 2012 for payments of interest on federal loans for unemployment insurance benefits. My main concern is the retroactiveassessment, which seems unfair.

Bill that affects parents with young children:
* SB2545 SD2 HD2 CD1 repeals junior kindergarten programs at the end of the 2013-2014 school year and requires students to be at least five years of age on July 31 of the school year in order to attend kindergarten. This could increase childcare costs for parents. It may benefit “late-born” children who are not ready for school (preventing them from repeating kindergarten).

Bill that affects condo owners:
* HB1746 HD1 requires for separate utility metering of nonresidential and residential condominium units, regardless of when constructed. This could increase maintenance fees for condo owners.

Bills that affect health care:
* HB1964 HD2 limits out-of-pocket costs for cancer treatment under health insurance plans. This could save cancer patients money, but increase health insurance premiums for everyone.
* SB2798 SD1 HD1 requires all private health insurers to share their membership list with the Department of Human Services for Medicaid eligibility determination. This seems to infringe on members’ privacy.
* HB 2275 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes a hospital sustainability fee. The Department of Human Services will charge and collect a provider fee on health care items or services provided by hospitals from July 1, 2012 and repealed on June 30, 2013. This could increase hospital costs and may conflict with federal hospital fees set by the Affordable Health Care for America Act.
* SB2825 SD1 HD1 CD1 allows health insurers limited access to the Hawaii immunization registry. I question the need for a registry, except for medical providers and first responders; and I don’t understand why health insurers need access to it.

Bill relating to Native Hawaiians:
* SB2386 SD2 HD2 requires the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to verify documents from individuals seeking to be included in the roll of qualified Native Hawaiians, and prohibits the release of any verification documents. What is a “qualified” Native Hawaiian? Why can’t the Commission release verification documents with the individual’s approval?

Bill that increases utility costs:
* SB2752 SD1 allows electric utility companies to recover all power purchase costs that have been approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Electric companies are guaranteed to break even.

Bills that could boost our economy (and boost us into outer space):
* SB112 SD1 HD1 CD1 authorizes the application of a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration to establish space tourism in Hawaii. What an exciting opportunity!
* HB2873 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes a board of directors for the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) and transfers oversight to the Office of Aerospace Development. Seems like a change in housekeeping, from research (University of Hawaii) to development (Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism). On an unrelated note, how long did it take them to come up with the acronym?

Bills that authorize special purpose revenue bonds:
* There are eight special purpose revenue bond bills. 1. Dams and Reservoirs (HB2595 HD2 SD2 CD1); 2. Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HB2127); 3. Seawater Air Conditioning Projects (SB745 SD2 HD2); 4. St. Francis Healthcare System and Hawaii Medical Center East (SB2939 SD1 HD1 CD1); 5. The Queen’s Health Systems (SB2383 SD1 HD1 CD1); 6. Le Jardin Academy (SB2952 SD2); 7. Clearcom, Inc. and Hawaii Broadband Initiative (SB2236 HD2 CD1); and 8. Hawaii Pacific University (HB2248 HD2 SD2 CD1). Special purpose revenue bonds are not supposed to cost Hawaii taxpayers anything, but they do give preferential treatment to some companies, choosing “winners” and “losers.”

Bill that may inhibit free speech:
* HB2751 HD2 SD1 makes the disrespect of a house of the legislature into a petty misdemeanor offense. Under the guise of “decorum,” this may stifle spirited debate and instill a fear of speaking out. What’s wrong with arguing with passion, expressing enthusiasm or outrage?

How would you grade the Hawaii Legislature in 2012? How do these new laws affect you?

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