Archive for February 2013

Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

February 26, 2013

Last week, I focused on some of the tax proposals in the 2013 Hawaii legislative session. This week, let’s look at education.

Some of the hot-button issues in education include public preschool, mandatory kindergarten, and school safety. One bill stands out for its scope: HB1453 attempts to reform the public education system with a barrage of reforms, such as establishing student-teacher ratios, requiring Internet access, setting teacher salaries, and more.

Here are the education highlights from the 2013 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important education-related bills, please let me know!

There are four proposals that directly affect our students.

1. Early childhood education: HB853 and SB1084 propose a constitutional amendment to establish early childhood education programs. HB862 and SB1093 establish the School Readiness Program. HB864 and SB1095 establish the Early Childhood Education Program.  I am concerned that Hawaii cannot afford it and the schools will basically provide state-funded daycare.

2. Mandatory kindergarten: HB14, HB609, and HB1466 make attendance at kindergarten mandatory. If Hawaii can afford it, I think this is a great idea for kids to get a head start for school. On the other hand, are we taking children away from their parents too soon?

3. School choice: SB278 establishes the School Choice Scholarship program to provide students access to nonpublic schools, based upon financial need. This seems like a test-case for a school voucher program, but available to only lower-income children.

4. Peer education program: SB523 establishes peer education programs in Hawaii public secondary schools.

Here are five proposals that directly affect our teachers.

1. Empowering teachers: HB684 allows a teacher to exclude from the classroom any disruptive or threatening student. Why do we need a law for this common-sense practice?

2. Adjunct teachers in the classroom: HB1276 allows schools to hire adjunct teachers who are exempt from teacher licensing requirements. This would allow schools more hiring options and encourage more people to consider teaching.

3. Adding to teachers’ workloads: HB1306 requires teachers to get 2 hours of training on human trafficking. SB643 requires teachers to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and certification. Teachers have more than enough to do right now, with teaching, preparation, grading, and extracurricular activities.

4. School debit cards: HB1376 allows school principals to use debit cards to purchase school and curriculum supplies. This sounds reasonable, as long as there is accountability for spending.

5. Income tax credits for teachers: SB573 offers a state income tax credit for school teachers. Nice help for teachers, though it will mean more paperwork, of course.

There are six big-picture proposals that affect our schools.

1. Safer schools: HB301 requires classroom doors that lock and unlock under certain circumstances; HB1479 sets up a task force to study the issue. We’re turning our schools into prisons in the name of safety. HB397, SB525, and SB1350 require anti-bullying, anti-cyberbullying, and anti-harassment programs. HB678 limits teacher-student electronic communication (email, social networking) to DOE networks only. HB1295 and SB938 establish the Peaceful Schools Program. HB1477 creates a task force to study school safety. SB701 requires a sexual abuse of children policy and establishes a task force. This is more responsibility, expenses, and paperwork for the schools; but it’s hard to vote against school safety.

2. Healthier schools: HB478 allows schools to grow and consume food from school gardens; HB1243 sets up a task force to study the issue. I don’t think we need “permission” to eat fruits and vegetables that we grow! HB1084, HB1099, and SB1378 require diabetes training for schools with students with diabetes. Isn’t this the responsibility of parents and pediatricians? SB609 requires schools to offer a vegetarian entrée at least once a week. Lunch menus should be left up to the schools and cafeteria managers.

3. Tax incentives for after-school programs: HB569 establishes a tax credit for businesses that sponsor after-school programs. I’d like to encourage businesses and the community to get involved in our schools, but can we ask for their help without offering a tax credit?

4. Local school boards: HB1051 and HB1277 propose a constitutional amendment to establish local school boards. I don’t think it will make a big difference whether it’s a statewide school board or local school boards; it will mean a lot of local input, duplicate work, and more paperwork.

5. Two more years of school: HB1472 raises the age limit from 20 years of age to 22 years of age to provide children with disabilities access to a public education. We need to consider how effective two more years of school will be and whether we can afford it.

6. Electronic-based curriculum tools pilot program: SB1296 establishes an electronic-based curriculum tools pilot program for one public intermediate or middle school. Doesn’t Hawaii have an online charter school that we could study?

Please think about these education 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.

Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 19, 2013

The 2013 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 16. There are 1,484 bills proposed in the House of Representatives and 1,388 bills proposed in the Senate (as of January 27, a few days past Bill Cut-off). That’s a lot of proposed changes, improvements, and expenditures, but there are actually 2,391 fewer bills proposed this year than in the 2012 legislative session!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve skimmed through the list of House and Senate bills, relying on the measure summaries to tell me the true intents of the bills.

I’ve divided the proposed legislation into 7 broad categories: taxes, education, people vs. government, up for debate, law on our side, Native Hawaiian issues, and trivial pursuits.

Here are the tax highlights from the 2013 Legislative Session. There are many more tax proposals, some of them hidden and many of them confusing. Some bills, like SB360 are tricky – lowering some taxes while raising others. If I’ve missed any important tax bills, please let me know!

The good: There are 10 proposals that attempt to lower our taxes.

1. No general excise taxes (GET) on food and medicine: HB16 exempts food grown in the state from the GET. SB257 exempts food from the GET. SB788 exempts food and medical services from the GET. SB335 exempts food and over-the-counter drugs from the GET. Food and medicine are basic necessities; this would especially help low-income families.

2. GET on retail transactions only: SB268 repeals the GET on all intermediary business transactions, such as wholesale or re-sale transactions. This would eliminate double taxation and mean less paperwork for businesses!

3. General excise tax holiday: SB249 proposes a general excise tax holiday if retail businesses pass the savings on to consumers. This would encourage spending, especially on big-ticket items.

4. Repeal the mass transit county surcharge: SB275 discontinues the county surcharge on state tax for mass transit. Unexpended moneys must be returned to the state.

5. Lower income taxes: HB694 lowers income taxes, by repealing the temporary increase in income tax rates. HB384 creates a tax credit for low-income persons who fall below federal poverty guidelines. SB360 doubles the standard deduction amounts, the tax credit for household and dependent care services, the income tax credit for low-income household renters, and the refundable food/excise tax credit.

6. Lower taxes for farmers: HB503, SB816, and SB1381 provide a GET exemption on farm fresh produce consumed within Hawaii. SB363 creates an income tax exemption on the first $50,000 of income for family farms.

7. GET exemptions for used vehicles: HB1286 and SB352 exempt used, currently-registered motor vehicles from the GET. This is common-sense – someone paid the GET when the car was new.

8. Lower vehicle registration fees: SB334 reduces the state motor vehicle registration fee from $45 to $38 on 7/1/2013 and $31 on 7/1/2014. SB634 reduces the annual state vehicle weight tax for certain hybrid and electric vehicles by 10%. I’m on the fence about this one – we need to maintain our roads.

9. Encouraging charitable giving: HB860, HB1053, and SB462 remove itemized deduction limits for charitable giving. SB247 and SB786 exempt the GET for fundraising activities by charitable organizations.

10. Tax credits for businesses that relocate to Hawaii: HB553 offers tax credits for businesses that expand or locate their operations in Hawaii and increase employment.

The bad: There are 12 new or higher tax proposals that will take more money from our wallets:

1. Increase the general excise tax (GET): HB149 increases the GET from 4% to 4.5%. SB191 increases the GET from 4% to 5% for two years to fund the acquisition and management of agricultural lands. HB1368 and SB604 increase the GET from 4% to 5% to fund education. SB360 increases the GET from 4% to 5%. SB359 authorizes counties to impose a 1% surcharge on the GET. SB335 authorizes counties to impose a surcharge on the GET. I am opposed to any increase to the GET, because it is an unfair system that taxes every level of production, from wholesale to retail, and forces businesses to pay taxes on the taxes they collect!

2. Tax on Internet sales: SB948 allows Hawaii to implement the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement to tax Internet sales. I am opposed to taxes on Internet transactions that occur in a state where the company does not have a location. This proposed bill would generate confusion and more paperwork for businesses and higher costs for Hawaii residents. More companies might refuse to ship to Hawaii.

3. Expands the GET: HB1257 and SB1335 expand the application of the GET to “business activities in the State that are significantly associated with a seller’s ability to establish or maintain a market in the State.” I’m not sure exactly what this means.

4. Tax on plastic bags and styrofoam: HB356, HB357, SB13 and SB14 add a 10¢ tax on single-use checkout bags, with businesses retaining 1¢ of the tax (subject to income and general excise taxes for the first year). HB934 and SB1165 establish a fee for single-use checkout bags. SB621 adds a 10¢ tax for foam disposable food containers. My ten cents: I think that plastic bags and styrofoam should be a business and consumer decision; I am skeptical that eliminating plastic bags will really help the environment; and I am outraged that businesses would be paying tax on the tax!

5. Higher sewer taxes: SB1132 increases the solid waste management surcharges for solid waste disposed of in landfills, shipped out of state, or disposed of at waste-to-energy facilities. Is this a legitimate increase?

6. Higher taxes on real estate: HB935 and SB1166 increase the Conveyance Tax on certain real estate transactions to pay for watershed protection and invasive species control. This tax is unfair.

7. Tax on soda (sugar-sweetened beverages): HB854 and SB1085 add a fee on sugar-sweetened beverages. SB646 takes it further by creating a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, syrup, and powder. My ten cents: the choice to produce and drink soda is a business and consumer/parental decision; I question whether soda is really the main contributor to obesity (what about diet soda?); and this seems to be a test-case for even more taxes on what we eat (are cookies, chips, and plate lunches next?).

8. Higher gas taxes: HB988 increases the environmental response, energy, and food security tax by at least 2¢ to support native wildlife.

9. Higher vehicle registration fees: HB892 and SB1123 increase the state vehicle registration fee by $1.

10. Higher taxes on tires: HB375, HB441, SB63 and SB569 add a $1 motor vehicle tire surcharge.

11. Higher tobacco and liquor taxes: HB657 and SB492 impose a tax of $3.20 per net ounce of tobacco to fund cancer research. SB645 increase liquor taxes to fund community health centers and the trauma system. On the good side, SB1261 reduces the liquor tax to 23¢ per gallon on the first 60,000 barrels of beer brewed or produced by a small Hawaii brewery. Government excessively taxes alcohol and tobacco use, just because they can.

12. Higher hotel taxes: HB971 and SB1202 raise the transient accommodations tax to 11.25%, by eliminating the sunset of the lower 9.25% rate. On the good side, SB1222 would exempt Hawaii state residents from the transient accommodations tax. We should have a lower “accommodations” tax to encourage visitors to say longer, since they’ve already made such a big effort just to get here. Yes, visitors use city and state services; but they also pay the GET on everything they buy.

Please think about these tax 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.

A little help with public speaking

February 12, 2013

Just last week I talked about getting more involved in government, whether it’s keeping track of bills, submitting testimony, or watching how our elected officials vote.

I submitted my first testimony online a few weeks ago. It was surprisingly easy. I didn’t have to register for an account, and I even received an email confirmation.

When we attend public hearings and submit testimony in person, I think it has a big impact on lawmakers. But many of us, myself included, may feel uncomfortable standing up in front of a small group and making a short speech.

So I collected a few tips about public speaking to help us when we need take a stand with words:

1. Look your best. The better you look, the more confident and professional you’ll feel, recommends the Editors of Publications Int’l in “18 Public Speaking Tips.” Stand straight and try not to fidget.

2. Smile at your audience as they enter the room, and smile at them when you begin speaking. This will make you feel relaxed, confident, and connected, advises Susan Cain in the article “10 Public Speaking Tips for Introverts.”

3. Don’t apologize if you are nervous or if there is a problem – the audience probably never noticed it, reveals Toastmasters International in “10 Tips for Public Speaking.”

4. Capture your audience’s attention from the beginning with an interesting comment or story, suggests the Avery article “Conquering Common Presentation Blunders.” Keep your presentation snappy and use anecdotes to slip in facts and statistics.

5. Speak as if you’re having a conversation, instead of reading or reciting your speech. Take your time. Show your excitement through your voice, facial expressions, and gestures, advises a “Public Speaking Tips” article.

If you want to practice your public speaking, check out Toastmasters International. They are a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. There are 66 Toastmasters clubs in Hawaii!

Are you comfortable with public speaking, or would you rather nudge someone else into speaking for you? How do you prepare to speak in public?

Keeping involved with Hawaii law-making

February 5, 2013

The 2013 Hawaii Legislative Session is already underway. There are only 60 working days in the session, but in these few months our legislators can have a big impact on everything in Hawaii, from taxes and business regulations to public spending and personal freedom.

To get ready for the proposed legislation that is coming our way, here’s some helpful tips to get involved in the Hawaii legislative process.

* How can I find out my legislative districts?
If you’re registered to vote, you can check your yellow Notice of Voter Registration and Address Confirmation Card. You can also check the Office of Elections 2012 Election Maps.

* How do I contact my representative and senator?
The Hawaii State Legislature website has a directory of all legislators.

* How can I get on a committee’s mailing, fax, or e-mail list?   
Visit the Hawaii State Legislature website at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/, click “Bill Status & Documents,” and click on “Subscribe to Hearing Notices by e-mail”.  If you don’t have internet access, you can call or write to the appropriate committee chair’s office to be placed on the committee’s mailing list.

* How do I find out about public hearings?
The Hawaii State Legislature website lists current public hearings with links to the proposed bills and hearing notices. To receive hearing notices via email, you must register for an account. The account will also let you track measures and submit testimony.

* How do I submit testimony for a public hearing? 
You can submit testimony online through your account with the Hawaii State Legislature by clicking on “Submit Testimony.” For written testimony, follow the instructions on the bill notice regarding the minimum number of copies, and submit it to the appropriate office at least 24 hours prior to the hearing. For the House, testimony should be delivered to the committee vice chair’s office, faxed to the number provided on the committee’s hearing notice, or emailed to the lead committee’s email address. For the Senate, testimony should be delivered to the committee chair’s office, faxed to 586-6659 (Neighbor Islands: 1-800-586-6659) or emailed to the lead committee’s email address.

For more information, read the Citizen Participation Factsheet.

If you’re interested in finding more about how bills become laws, here are some legislative terms that will help us understand the Hawaii legislative process:

* Bill Cutoff is the last day to introduce bills. In 2013, Bill Cutoff was on January 24. There was also a Grants/Subsidies Cutoff on January 31.

* First Lateral is the last day to move bills to a final committee within each house. Since most bills are referred to more than one committee, this ensures that the referral committees have time to review the bill.

* First Decking is the last day to “deck” bills for Third Reading in the original house. “Decking” is the time when the final form of a bill is made available to the Legislature, at least 48 hours before put to a vote. Note: Bills introduced in the 2013 session that fail to meet this deadline can still be considered in the 2014 session.

* First Crossover is the last day for Third Reading of bills in the originating house. If it passes, it “crosses over” to the other house for consideration.

* Second Lateral is the last day to move “crossover” bills to a final committee within each house (all Senate bills with House referrals, and all House bills with Senate referrals).

* Second Decking is the last day to “deck” bills amended by the receiving (non-originating) body. A House-Senate conference committee meets to resolve differences if there is a formal disagreement.

* Second Crossover is the last day for Third Reading of bills amended by the receiving (non-originating) body, at least 48 hours after the amended bills were decked.

* Disagree is the last day to disagree with the other chamber’s drafts of bills.

* Crossover is the last day to pass concurrent resolutions to the non-originating body. If adopted, these concurrent resolutions cross over into the other house for further consideration.

* Final Decking is the last day to “deck” bills for Final Reading.

* Adjournment Sine Die is the last day of the session and the last day to vote on bills for Final Reading and on resolutions up for adoption. In 2013, Adjournment Sine Die is on May 2.

The 2013 Hawaii Legislative Timetable is already posted, so we know the important dates to contact our legislators.

If there is a bill or resolution that affects you… if there is an issue that you feel passionate about… please don’t hesitate to submit testimony or contact your legislators. We need to show our legislators that we care about what they are doing and that we are watching their actions.

“The Battle of Nu‘uanu 1795” by Neil Bernard Dukas

February 2, 2013

The Battle of Nuuanu 1795

I’ve driven along the Pali Highway, a scenic route through the Ko‘olau Mountains, and rarely thought about the epic battle that took place there. I’ve stood on the concrete platform with the wind streaming around me, and seen the beauty of the valley – but not the last stand of desperate warriors. And until now, I never really thought about the battle as a whole, from the military deployment to what it meant for Hawai‘i.

“The Battle of Nu‘uanu 1795: An Illustrated Pocket Guide to the O‘ahu Battlefield” (2010) by Neil Bernard Dukas offers a historical account of the last great battle in Hawaii, a turning point between island self-determination and unification. The account is based on Hawaiian mo‘olelo (story) and mele (chant), journal entries by visitors, and research and interviews by historians.

In April of 1795, a great battle was fought on the island of O‘ahu that would change the future of an island nation. The Battle of Nu‘uanu was the last stand of Kalanikūpule and 9,000 warriors of O‘ahu against Kamehameha and his invading army of 12,000 warriors from Hawai‘i. Outnumbered and outgunned, the O‘ahu defenders were already weakened by the Battle of ‘Aiea (Kuki‘iahu) and a failed attempt to seize two well-armed foreign merchant vessels.

Kalanikūpule concentrated his forces around the base of Pūuwaina (Punchbowl Crater) and at Nu‘uanu. Kamehameha landed unopposed at Diamond Head. When Kamehameha unexpected infiltrated Papakōlea, a critical line of defense that connects the crater to the base of the ridge heading up to Tantalus, the defenders retreated to Pauoa Valley and then Nu‘uanu.

With their strongholds falling and Kalanikūpule wounded, the warriors were demoralized. At Kahuailanawai (Jackass Ginger Pool) in lower Luakaha, the defenders were caught between Kamehameha’s driving army and a flanking force that had crossed over from the back of Pauoa. Pressed back toward Kaholeakeahole (Nu‘uanu Pali), the defenders fought to the death or threw themselves off the heights to avoid capture.

Interwoven in the narrative is a glimpse into the personal story of Ka‘iana, one of Kamehameha’s leading warriors, who defected to Kalanikūpule. He was killed at ‘Elekōki (now Craigside Place on South Judd Street), and comforted in his dying moments by his wife Kekupuohi, who had remained loyal to Kamehameha.

In the aftermath of the battle, prisoners were sacrificed, land was reallocated and colonized by the victors, powerful family lines ended, and natural resources were strained. Kalanikūpule survived the battle, but was later captured and sacrificed by Kamehameha at the Diamond Head heiau of Papa‘ena‘ena. While the battle didn’t result in a unified kingdom – civil war continued for five more years, and the islands were unified after the peaceful submission of Kaua‘i in 1810 – it was a pivotal battle that changed the islands’ future.

With beautiful illustrations and photographs, maps, driving directions, and even invasion routes, “The Battle of Nu‘uanu 1795” brings to life the entire battle from a military perspective. It is easy to read, thoughtful, and balanced. I was sad to read of the destroyed heiau, and distressed to learn that the skeletal remains at the base of the Pali were thoughtlessly obliterated during the construction of the Old Pali Road in 1897. I appreciated the background information on weapons and strategies, but I would have liked more personal stories about Kamehameha, Kalanikūpule, and other prominent warriors.