Looking back at the 2015 Hawaii Legislature

2015 Hawaii Laws

The 2016 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 20. We’re in for another 16 weeks of discussion, debate, testimony, promises, and compromises until May 5, when the Legislature adjourns.

Before we dive into the 2016 Legislature, let’s look back at what the Hawaii Legislature accomplished in 2015. There were 243 Acts signed into law in 2015; four bills became law without the Governor’s signature. Here are the highlights:

Government on our side:

* Out with the old and obsolete. Act 22 amends tax laws to delete obsolete and unnecessary provisions. Act 35 corrects errors and references, clarifies language, and deletes obsolete or unnecessary provisions in the Hawaii Revised Statutes and the Session Laws of Hawaii.

* Encouraging local farming. Act 31 includes traditional Hawaiian farming systems, traditional Hawaiian crops, and small-scale farming to the Hawaii state plan objectives and policies for the economy.

* Seeing is believing. Act 39 requires open movie captioning for the hearing-impaired in motion picture theaters.

* Don’t blow any smoke. Act 19 prohibits the use of electronic smoking devices in places where smoking is prohibited. Act 123 prohibits smoking and electronic smoking devices within the state park system.

* Better for our cars and fuel efficiency. Act 161 repeals the existing requirement that gasoline for motor vehicles be composed of 10% ethanol.

Government in our pocketbooks:

* Higher fees and taxes fees. Act 240 extends the 0.5% county surcharge for rail transit by five years to 2027. Act 42 authorizes the counties to establish and charge user fees for stormwater management. Act 93 increases the transient accommodations tax (TAT) on resort time share vacation units by 1% each year to gradually achieve a rate of 9.25% of the fair market rental value. Act 223 repeals the refundable food/excise tax credit for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $30,000 or above and for heads of households, married couples filing jointly, and married couples filing separately with adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 or above.

* Authorizing special purpose revenue bonds for Anaergial Inc. for renewable non-fossil fuel production on Maui (Act 72); Chaminade University of Honolulu (Act 73); Hawaiian Electric Company Inc., Maui Electric Company, Ltd., and Hawaii Electric Light Company Inc. (Act 75); and Waimea Nui Community Development Corporation for $45 million (Act 207).

* It’s not the end for a failed program. Act 76 appropriates funds for the operations of the Hawaii Health Connector.

Questionable decisions:

* Billboards – a foot in the door? Act 37 authorizes the display of an outdoor advertising device at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

* Behind closed doors. Act 88 authorizes the Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees to hold a meeting closed to the public to discuss or decide upon certain matters.

* Never too young to learn. Act 109 establishes the Executive Office on Early Learning Public Prekindergarten program. Act 139 appropriates $2 million (over two fiscal years) for the Hawaii Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn program. Act 191 appropriates $6 million for fiscal year 2015-2016 for the Preschool Open Doors program.

* Too young to smoke. Act 122 increases the minimum age for smokers from 18 to 21 years.

* Legalizing the illegal. Act 172 creates a limited purpose driver’s license (not acceptable for federal identification and voting purposes) without a proof of lawful presence in the United States.

* Rewriting the past. Act 226 authorizes the Department of Health to issue a new birth certificate, upon request, with a sex designation change. Note: my concern is this: “The new certificate shall not be marked as amended and shall in no way reveal the original language changed by any amendment.”

* Feeling good in the neighborhood. Act 5 designates October 2 as Mohandas Karamchand Dandhi Day. Act 6 designates the ukulele as the official auana musical instrument and the pahu as the official kahiko musical instrument of Hawaii. Act 7 designates December 20 as Sakada Day. Act 13 designates the ʻōpeʻapeʻa (Hawaiian hoary bat) as the state land mammal. Act 145 authorizes the issuance of special license plates for Haleakala National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

If you feel strongly about an issue, please speak up! Contact your state senator and representative by phone, mail, or email. Talk to your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Write to a local newspaper or magazine.

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