2015 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Up for debate

2015 Hawaii Legislature

The 2015 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 21. Astonishingly, there were 1,515 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,379 bills introduced in the Senate.

So far, my legislative session round-up has covered taxes, education, and people vs. government (individual rights vs. government powers). With over 2,800 bills being proposed and no legislation-reading minions, I’m relying on bill summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions.

By now, most of these bills will have been abandoned (for now), but we should still take a look at what our legislators, organizations, and residents envision for Hawaii – and the issues that could persist in years to come.

Here is an overview of the hot-button bills being proposed that I think are controversial and up for debate in the 2015 Legislative Session. I’ve divided the bills into two sections: 3 sets of bills with government’s hands in employers’ pockets and 9 bills on controversial issues. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

3 sets of bills with government’s hands in employers’ pockets

Hawaii already sets the minimum wage for employers; withholds state income taxes, state unemployment and disability insurance; and mandates health insurance coverage. Now government wants to require sick leave, family leave, and minimum holiday wages too. The costs of doing business in Hawaii could skyrocket.

  1. Can employers afford it if employees get sick? HB9, SB129, and SB1025 would require employers to provide a minimum amount of paid sick leave. HB1047 would require employers to provide employees with a minimum amount of paid sick leave, accruing not more than 56 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year for employees or 40 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year for small business employees (fewer than 10 employees). It’s not just the paid sick days; it’s also the additional employees who may need to work on those days.
  2. Can we trust a family leave “trust fund”? HB496 and SB965 would create a Family Leave Insurance Program, which would require employees to make contributions into a trust fund. HB535 and HB1049 would require employers to provide 12 weeks of family leave and establish a partial wage replacement trust fund, funded by employer contributions and employee wage withholdings.
  3. Are employees worth three times more on state holidays? SB234 would require retail employers to pay retail employees who work on state holidays at a wage of three times the retail employee’s regular wage rate and prohibits a retain employer from taking any retaliatory personnel action against employees who elect not to work on state holidays.

9 bills on controversial issues

I was surprised that the gambling debate has been put on hold, except for a bill about slot machines at the airport (HB91) and a bill about horse-racing (SB1373).

  1. The marriage question. HB1302 proposes a constitutional amendment to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.
  2. Grandparents may need to support their grandchildren. HB128 would allow the Child Support Enforcement Agency to pursue support and maintenance for the child of a parent under the age of 18 from the child’s grandparents.
  3. The marijuana debate. HB717, HB788, HB841, HB889, HB1203, HB1371, SB383, and SB1259 would legalize marijuana. HB321, HB1485, SB595, SB890, SB1029, and SB1302 would establish a system of medical marijuana dispensaries and production centers. HB372, SB596, SB666, SB681, SB708, and SB879 would make it a civil offense, not a criminal offense, to possess one ounce or less of marijuana.
  4. When is free speech not free? HB783 and SB217 propose a constitutional amendment to provide that the right to freedom of speech does not include the expenditure of money to influence elections. What does this mean? No advertising, direct mail, newsletters, phone calls because they cost money?
  5. Sending mixed messages about the importance of recycling. HB167 would repeal the Deposit Beverage Container Program. HB655, HB769 would repeal the glass container recovery program. HB1245, SB180 would establish a pilot program to recycle difficult-to-recycle products. HB1246, SB175 would reimburse recycling centers by weight, not by number of containers. HB1247, SB176 would allow general funds to pay for the beverage container deposit program if necessary.
  6. Hurricanes and volcanoes and lava, oh my! HB737 would allow Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund money to pay for extraordinary losses caused by the flow of lava or other volcanic activity. The Hurricane Relief Fund is funded by hurricane insurance premiums and should be used for its stated purpose.
  7. Protecting unborn children. HB1234 would create the crime of feticide and manslaughter of an unborn child. What is the difference between abortion and feticide?
  8. Native Hawaiian child custody. SB992 would create the Native Hawaiian Welfare Act, establishing the Na Kupuna Tribunal which would be granted exclusive jurisdiction over child custody proceedings involving Native Hawaiian children. I consider this bill “debatable” because it is a separate law for Native Hawaiians. Could we change existing Hawaii law to add the option to hanai or lawe hanai a child with the child’s extended family or families close to the child?
  1. Re-issuing birth certificates. HB631 would require the Department of Health to issue a new birth certificate upon request to align with the birth registrant’s gender identity. While we need to acknowledge gender identity, birth certificates clearly indicate sex.

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 7. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

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