The 2014 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 15. As of January 23, the bill introduction cut-off date, there were 1,240 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,189 bills introduced in the Senate.
The legislative session is more than half-way through, but I wanted to provide an overview of the proposed bills that could have a big impact on our state.
In the last few weeks, I highlighted proposals about taxes and education that could affect us all. This week, I’m highlighting those bills that champion taxpayers and residents; and bills that affect our rights and freedoms. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know! And if you have updates about any of the measures, please feel free to post an update.
Top 4 bills that would empower Hawaii citizens:
* Recall, Initiative, and Referendum: SB2141 and SB2359 would provide for recall; SB2142 and SB2631 would provide for initiative; and SB2143 would provide for referendum. HB1816, SB2360, and SB2361 would provide for initiative and referendum. SB2355 would provide for the recall of the governor, lieutenant governor, state senator, and state representative. As citizens and voters, we should have the right to propose bills, discard laws, and replace public officials.
* Unicameral legislature: SB2154 would create a unicameral legislature, which should consist of 51 members serving 4-year terms. This would not reduce the number of elected legislatures but it could limit the number of proposed bills and eliminate duplicate committees, giving lawmakers more time for discussion and debate. I would add that the legislature should be nonpartisan, which would allow voters to focus on the issues and candidates’ character, not party affiliation.
* Term limits for legislators: HB2417 would limit state representatives to five consecutive full terms. SB2144 would limit state senators to three consecutive 4-year terms and state representatives to six consecutive 2-year terms. This would encourage citizen-lawmakers, and discourage career politicians.
* No fundraisers during legislative sessions: HB1825 would prohibit fundraisers during a regular legislative session or special session. With so many proposed bills, debates, and testimony, lawmakers need to focus on legislation, not elections.
What’s missing from the proposed bills:
* Price tags (fiscal notes): We need a bill that would require legislatures to estimate the costs of each bill, including start-up costs, on-going costs, staffing, financial reporting, and auditing. I would like to see a separate column for “estimated cost” in the summary list of legislative bills.
Look out – the most ill-advised proposed bill:
* Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants: HB1673 would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a motor vehicle driver’s license. The driver’s license is a legal form of identification. This law would take away power from both the people and government to know who is in our state, could encourage fraud, could raise auto insurance costs for everyone, and could make us all a little less safe.
If you want to read more, here are the rest of the significant proposals I found that give more power to the people – or that take power away. It’s a long post. How can we balance our rights and freedoms with the demand for public security and protection?
13 bills that give more power to the people, try to keep us safer, and spend our money more wisely:
1. Photographic privacy: HB1668 would make it a misdemeanor to distribute private, intimate images of another person with the intent to cause serious emotional distress or recklessly creating a risk thereof. Similarly, HB1642, HB2373, and SB2096 would make it a first degree offense to distribute images of the intimate body parts of another, with intent to cause serious emotional distress. HB1750 would make it a criminal offense to distribute without permission a sexual recording made or obtained with the consent of the person represented in the recording. SB2319 would make it an offense to publish partially nude or nude photographs or recordings with the intent to cause emotional distress. Both deliberate and thoughtless actions have consequences.
2. Electronic privacy: SB2630 would prohibit businesses from acquiring or using location data from electronic devices without the owner’s consent. Informed consent is important.
3. More civil protection for victims: HB1839 would establish the Hawaii Hope Card Program to issue Hope Cards to people who have a long-term protective order, with specified relevant information about the protective order and all covered parties. This could help law enforcement deal with stalkers and prevent violence, and give victims more legitimacy when asking for help.
4. Investigating welfare fraud: HB1891 would fund welfare overpayment investigators and recovery workers. HB2262 would authorize the Department of Health to report deaths to state agencies. Recurring verifications should already be in place, especially for long-term recipients.
5. Home care and adult foster care licensing: SB2004 and SB2005 would require home care agencies to be licensed by the Department of Health. SB2006 would require adult foster homes to have a certified caregiver. HB1734 would require the Department of Health to post information and ratings of certain state-licensed care facilities. This would give more protection to the elderly and greater peace of mind for families.
6. Monitoring repeat criminals: SB2387 would require repeat criminals to be electronically monitored if they are not sent to jail. This makes sense; repeat criminals have already proven that they will break the law.
7. Remote live oral testimony: Residents of Hawaii county (HB2125) and Maui county (HB2130 and SB2946) would be allowed to present live oral testimony through audio or audiovisual technology. It is often hard to go to public hearings (either because of work or distance), and this would allow more residents to testify.
8. Websites, email, and text options for meeting notices: HB2382 and SB2289 would require a website to be including on public meeting notices for instructions on meeting testimony; and would allow meeting notices to be provided by email and text messaging, as well as postal mail. SB2638 would allow meeting notices via email. This could save us money in postage costs, as well as get information to the public faster.
9. Vote for a constitutional convention: HB2397 and SB2766 would put the question of a constitutional convention on the 2014 ballot. I don’t know if we need a constitutional convention, but all voters should make that decision.
10. Protections for religious freedom: HB1822 would establish the Hawaii Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prohibit laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion. SB2328 would allow teaching about religion in public schools are part of the curriculum and allows students to engage in voluntary, student-initiated religious activities. Religious freedom is about not forcing religious participation; it is not about removing all religion from public life.
11. Yes to the cottage food industry: HB1992 and SB2561 would permit the cottage food industry. HB2153 would exempt certain cottage food products from regulations. This is great for home businesses and start-ups, who would sell their food goods at farmer’s markets and bazaars; but it could be a hassle for volunteers who donate to bake sales and fundraisers. SB2381 would exempt food prepared for charitable, noncommercial purposes. Our bake sales and potlucks would be safe from the government.
12. Safer highways: HB2512 would increase the penalties for unregistered vehicles and drivers with suspended or revoked licenses. Instead of letting unregistered vehicles or people with expired drivers licenses drive away, we should be able to impound the car, take away the license, or at least fine the driver.
13. No bathroom breaks on sidewalks: HB1498 and SB2503 would prohibit urination and defecation on paved roads or sidewalks. It’s sad that we need a law for this.
10 bills that give more power to the government:
1. More limits on smoking: HB325 would prohibit smoking on all public beaches. HB2077 and SB2498 would prohibit smoking on University of Hawaii premises. HB2133 would raise the smoking age to 21 years. HB2321 and SB2871 would prohibit electronic smoking devices where smoking is prohibited. HB2577 would prohibit smoking anywhere in a public housing project. I don’t smoke, but I find it hard to tell (not ask) an adult that they can’t smoke.
2. More hurdles to fireworks: HB1628 and SB2087 would raise the fireworks display permit fee from $110 to $300. HB1631, HB1800, and SB2090 would limit the use of consumer fireworks to cultural or religious events. Maybe we can teach people to handle fireworks safely instead of banning them completely.
3. More barriers to food entrepreneurs and food choices: SB2010 would require that food and beverages sold in concessions on public property meet minimum nutritional requirements. HB2202 and SB3015 would require restaurants to offer compostable or reusable disposable food service containers. Consumers and businesses should decide about food choices and food service containers.
4. Wider ban on plastic bags: SB2508 would prohibit businesses from using non-biodegradable single-use checkout bags. SB3111 would prohibit the sale of bulk “biodegradable” plastic bags without approval from the Department of Health. Consumers and businesses should decide whether to use plastic bags.
5. More secrecy in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands: HB2287 and SB2837 would prohibit certain applicant and lessee records from being disclosed. This is unnecessary; state law already protects personal information from public disclosure.
6. Less power to landlords: HB676 HD1 would prohibit discrimination in the rental of real property based on lawful source of income. In theory, we shouldn’t discriminate against lower-income people. But landlords have the right and financial duty to evaluate possible tenants based on their ability to pay rent and whether they will be a responsible tenant.
7. No super-sized drinks and no fruit punch for kids: SB2693 would set a maximum serving size of 16 fluid ounces for sugar-sweetened beverages at food establishments, and would prohibit sugar-sweetened beverages as part of children’s meals. This is petty. Restaurants and adults should be able to choose their beverage size (I know that I often share a drink with my spouse). And parents should be able to choose their children’s drinks.
8. Government-mandated body mass index: SB2351 would require doctors to provide an annual body mass index measurement to children ages 2-18 and the Department of Health. Not only is this an invasion of privacy, it could negatively affect children’s body image. I may be paranoid, but I am concerned about how the Department of Health could use this information. Could children’s records be tracked? Could it be used to determine how much lunch students are served in school?
9. Fees for all fishermen: HB1911 would require nonresidents to buy a permit in order to fish in saltwater or freshwater. Most nonresidents would charter a boat; the charter company already pays for a fishing license. HB1912 would require everyone to get a license to catch saltwater fish for noncommercial purposes. This is basically a tax on subsistence fishing and recreational fishing, since commercial fishermen already pay a license fee. HB2379 would limit the number of aquarium fish permits issued statewide to 100. Is this necessary? The limit of 100 permits, with no more than 25 permits in any one county, seems arbitrary.
10. Petty restrictions on dog owners: HB2599 would require notification if a dog license is transferred. I don’t think the government needs to get involved in pet licensing.
6 bills that need further debate:
1. Bank of the State of Hawaii: HB2112 would require a study to establish a bank of the State of Hawaii, which would buy distressed residential properties. I am not convinced that we need a state bank.
2. Voting age of 16: HB1779, HB1781, SB2015, and SB2016 would lower the voting age from 18 to 16 years. While I encourage everyone to vote, I think that we should be informed voters who consider candidates and issues carefully, and have real-world experience.
3. Protection against unmanned aircraft surveillance: HB1561 would prohibit unmanned aircraft systems by law enforcement to gather evidence. HB1657 would make it a criminal offense to use unmanned aircraft to violate privacy. SB2608 would prohibit unmanned aircrafts to gather information, except by law enforcement agencies. HB1691 is less stringent; it would prohibit unmanned aircraft from collecting data except under a search warrant or by certain law enforcement, counter-terrorist, and military operations. HB1775 would restrict the use of remotely operated vehicles, including the gathering of evidence by law enforcement. HB1827 would restrict the operations of unmanned aircraft systems. SB2152 would allow the police to use unmanned aircraft systems, but provides penalties if it is used to cause a nuisance, fitted with firearms, or invades privacy. SB2582 would require individual consent or a search warrant to track an individual using an unmanned aircraft system, and prohibits them from carrying weapons. This sounds like it is protecting our privacy, but it could also limit legitimate business practices – videographers who record sports events, real estate agents who photograph real estate, researchers who survey remote locations, even kids who play with remote-controlled cameras.
3. Concealed guns: SB2168 and SB2353 would permit the issue of licenses to carry a concealed pistol or revolver. I think that law-abiding citizens with guns can keep us safer, but I’m not confident that the government can keep guns away from criminals or the mentally ill.
4. Marijuana – legal, illegal, or medical: HB1587 and SB2942 would create registered medical marijuana dispensaries, while HB1710 and SB2734 would authorize compassion centers for medical marijuana dispensing. HB1708 and SB2733 would legalize the personal use of marijuana. SB2418 and SB2574 would legalize medical marijuana, and SB2593 would create a medical marijuana registration card. On the other hand, HB1709, SB2358, and SB2735 would make it a civil penalty to possess one ounce or less of marijuana. HB2124 would legalize marijuana for export only. SB2316 would create a task force on medical marijuana. HB2358, HB2660, SB2175, and SB2645 would authorize the growing of industrial hemp. Personally, I think that marijuana can be regulated safely and is no more dangerous than alcohol, and it could bring in a lot of tax revenue; but I don’t know enough about it..
5. Fertility rights for women and cancer patients: HB2355 and SB2909 would provide insurance coverage equality for women diagnosed with infertility. HB2061 and SB2694 would require insurance coverage for embryo, oocyte, and sperm cryopreservation for adults diagnosed with cancer who have not started cancer treatment. I am conflicted. Everyone has a right to have children, but fertility treatments are a privilege, not a right. Maybe this should be an insurance policy option?
6. Bills of rights for special interests: HB1889 and HB2661 would establish a homeless person’s bill of rights. HB1910 would establish a bill of rights for disabled persons. The bill of rights covers everyone. Should some people get special protections or privileges?
The 2014 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 1. 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.