Spotlight on 2014 Hawaii laws

Hawaii Legislature 2014 Spotlight

In the 2014 Hawaii State Legislature, 235 bills became Acts (six of them without Governor Abercrombie’s signature). In a news release, Governor Abercrombie called it “a year of progress.” Read through the new laws and decide for yourselves.

Many of the acts seem trivial and routine, such as designating “Gold Star Family Day,” clarifying existing laws, making “technical nonsubstantive amendments,” and correcting mistaken references.

Here are the highlights of the Acts from the 2014 Hawaii Legislative session. If I’ve missed a significant act, please let me know!

Acts that make us safer, reduce fraud, or save us money:

1. Returning housing vouchers: Housing vouchers must be returned to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority if the original household member has died or no longer qualifies for assistance (Act 178, HB1539). Yes. Housing vouchers do not belong to individuals.

2. No malicious sharing of embarrassing images/video: It is a violation of privacy to knowingly disclose an image or video of another identifiable person without their consent, with the intent to harm them (Act 116, HB1750). Yes. “Without consent” and “intent to harm” are the keys.

3. Criminal background checks: The State and counties can perform criminal history record checks on employees, prospective employees, volunteers, and contractors whose positions allow them access to sensitive information, firearms, and secured areas (Act 18, SB2420). Organizations can perform fingerprint-based criminal history record checks on employees and volunteers who work with children, the disabled, or the elderly (Act 196, HB2243). Yes. We need to be able to trust employees and volunteers.

4. Disclosing death notices: The Department of Health can now share death notices with state agencies that maintain official lists of persons (Act 27, SB2262). Yes. A good way to minimize fraud.

5. Reporting lobbyists’ expenses: Lobbyists and individuals who spend over $750 to influence legislation must file a statement of expenditures (Act 224, SB2629). Yes. We can cross-check lobbyist expenses with lawmakers’ donation reports.

6. Saving $250,000: Works of art commemorating Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Patsy T. Mink have been reduced from $500,000 to $250,000 (Act 137, HB2051). Yes. I support modest public memorials, but additional memorials can be funded by private donations.

Acts that attempt to fix something that may be not be broken:

1. Mandatory Kindergarten: Kindergarten is now mandatory for children who are age 5 by July 31 of the school year (Act 76, SB2768). Who benefits from this law? First, 97% of Hawaii’s 5-year olds already attend Kindergarten, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (if you don’t have a subscription, read the article on the Good Beginnings Alliance website). Second, Junior Kindergarten, which accepted children who were age 5 by December 31, was already working – before it was repealed (Act 178).

2. Climate change research: The Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee is established under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, with a public report due by December 2017 (Act 83, HB1714).  What will this committee do that could not be done with the department? In the first year alone, it will cost us $567,748 ($108,874 and $58,874 for staffing plus $400k for research)!

3. Late voter registering – even on Election Day: Eligible voters can register to vote at absentee polling places and on the day of the election, at a cost of up to $100,000 for fiscal year 2014-2015 (Act 166, HB2590). While I encourage all eligible residents to vote, this could enable voter fraud.

4. Higher minimum wage: The minimum wage will increase to $7.75 per hour beginning on 1/1/15, $8.50 per hour beginning on 1/1/16,, $9.25 per hour beginning on 1/1/17, and $10.10 per hour beginning on 1/1/18. The tip credit is also increased to 50¢ per hour beginning on 1/1/15 and 75¢ per hour beginning on 1/1/16, provided that the employee receives at least $7 more than the applicable minimum wage in wages and tips (Act 82, SB2609). There are compelling arguments for and against the minimum wage.

5. Public financial disclosures: This makes public the financial disclosure statements by state boards and commission members (Act 230, SB2682). While this allows for public accountability, it infringes on the privacy of spouses and dependent children.

6. Car-sharing tax: There is a new tax on car-sharing organizations (membership organizations) of 25¢ per half hour car-sharing (Act 110, SB2731). This act discourages people from giving up their cars, penalizes car-sharing organizations, and is redundant–car-sharing organizations already pay taxes.

7. Social determinants and health equity? The Department of Health must consider “social determinants of health” in assessing Hawaii’s health needs. (Act 157, HB2320). I’m not sure exactly what this means in practice, but it sounds like it could be far-reaching.

8. Milk control special fund: Hawaii will establish a minimum $300,000 reserve requirement in the Milk Control Special Fund, which covers the expenses of the Milk Control Act – including salaries (Act 176, HB2009). Are milk control laws still necessary? Could this be handled by the Department of Agriculture?

Acts that made me ask, What about the rest of us?:

1. BOE term limits: Hawaii lawmakers approved term limits for the Board of Education (Act 17, SB2137). What about Hawaii legislators?

2. Unlicensed contractors beware: Unlicensed contractors who commit licensing violations against elders will face a higher fine (Act 32, HB570). What about the rest of us?

3. Clean and private public areas: No public urination and defecation in Downtown Honolulu (Act 50, HB33). What about the rest of Hawaii?

Acts that try to convince us Hawaii lawmakers are vocational licensing experts:

* There are new or revised licensing decisions about dentists (Act 20, SB2033), marriage and family therapists (Act 28, SB2466), advanced practice registered nurses (Act 45, SB2492 and Act 26, SB2491), public accountants (Act 58, HB716), podiatrists (Act 63, HB1882 and Act 69, SB2467), private security guards (Act 94, SB2486), psychologists (Act 187, SB2465), occupational therapists (Act 209, SB2472), and naturopathic physicians (Act 222, SB2577). Maybe we should leave licensing up to the occupational boards, instead of making it law.

How do these new Hawaii laws affect you? Which laws do you support or oppose?

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