2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Up for Debate

Hawaii Legislature 2017

The 2017 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 18 with prayers, speeches, and music. Hawaii residents definitely need the prayers – our lawmakers have been busy, introducing 1,601 bills in the House of Representatives and 1,317 bills in the Senate. It’s a mountain of paperwork, negotiation, tax dollars, and details.

Every year, I do a legislative round-up that spotlights bills that could have a big impact on Hawaii. I will focus on taxes, education, individual rights vs. government powers, controversial issues, and (in my opinion) unnecessary and wasteful spending. With over 2,900 bills being proposed in 2017 and less time than ever to read through them, I rely as always on bill summaries to accurately reflect the bills’ intentions.

Here is an overview of controversial, thought-provoking, and argument-inspiring bills being proposed in the 2017 Legislative Session. I’ve organized the bills into two sections: 9 controversial bills that are sure to spark debate and 5 bills that are a little puzzling. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

Marijuana on our minds. One issue that I’m not going to discuss: the use, taxation, and regulation of marijuana. I don’t know enough about marijuana to have even a half-baked opinion, and I don’t understand why there are so many bills that want to change legislation with so little information about the effects of current legislation.

Oxybenzone out of our waters. One issue that I don’t think is controversial is the prohibition of sunscreens and sunblocks with oxybenzone. Sunscreen chemicals that may be safe for our skin, but not for coral reefs, fish, or the ocean. I think it’s reasonable to require more testing to ensure that sunscreens are safe for the environment.

9 controversial bills that are sure to spark debate:

  1. Making prostitution legal. HB1532 and HB1533 would make prostitution legal. I usually support the rights of consenting adults to act without government interference, but I oppose making prostitution legal. Many people are forced or pressured into prostitution because they feel that they have no other options. Legalizing prostitution would make it easier and even profitable to exploit those who are vulnerable, naïve, or who lack supportive families.
  2. Raising the minimum wage. HB5, HB442, and SB544 would increase the minimum wage. HB441 would increases the state minimum wage to $22 by 2022. SB14 would increase the minimum wage to $14 by 2023. SB107 would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2019. SB267 would increase the minimum wage to $14 by 2022. SB1165 would increase the minimum wage to $15.10 by 2023. I believe that minimum wage increases help employees in the short-term, but inevitably prices go up and buying power goes down again.
  3. Sick leave, family leave, and maternity leave. HB4, HB1434, and SB638 would require minimum paid sick leave. HB213 would allow family leave. HB214 would require 4 weeks of paid family leave for full-time State employees. HB683 and SB521 would require 6-week paid maternity and paternity leave for government employees. HB986 would require sick leave. SB207 would create a shared leave program for State employees. SB516 would allow an employee to take family leave in addition to victim leave. I support family leave for parents of newborns, but I don’t think we should mandate one-size-fits-all paid leave policies.
  4. Making death easier for the dying. HB150, HB201, HB550, SB357, and SB1129 would allow terminally ill adults to choose to end their life by prescription or lethal dose of medication. I would like this choice if I am ever in this situation. While I don’t think doctors should be responsible for death, I don’t know who else we could trust to make these decisions.
  5. Gambling: lotteries, shipboard gaming, and online fantasy gambling. HB348 would create a state lottery. HB766 would allow shipboard gaming. HB855 and SB204 would allow online fantasy sports contests. SB677 would allow Internet gambling. I think a lottery would be such a bad thing.
  6. Banning polystyrene take-out boxes. HB371, HB1545, and SB1109 would prohibit polystyrene food containers and require compostable containers. In theory, this sounds good, but what would we eat on? Would restaurants become bring-your-own-bowl and start to offer washing stations?
  7. Preserving Affordable Care Act (ACA) benefits. HB552, HB687, and SB403 would make certain health insurance benefits a requirement. While I agree with some provisions, such as covering people with preexisting conditions, I have reservations about others, such as extending dependent coverage to age 26.
  8. Single-payer health insurance in Hawaii. SB1120 and SB1199 would establish a single-payer universal health care insurance system. This may seem to simplify health insurance for consumers and providers, but I have concerns that it would be costly, inefficient, and have burdensome regulations and paperwork for healthcare providers.
  9. State support for Hawaiian sovereignty. HB1297 would require the State to support a model of sovereignty and self-governance chosen by the Hawaiian people that complies with federal and state law. I don’t think it’s a good idea to support something without knowing what it is.

5 bills that are a little puzzling:

  1. More inherent and inalienable rights. HB1582 would make access to 1) clean drinking water, 2) meaningful health care, and 3) a quality education inherent and inalienable rights.
  2. An interisland ferry doover. SB117 would create an intra-island or inter-island ferry system. We had a ferry. Proponents said that permits were streamlined; opponents said that permits cut corners. Now we don’t have a ferry.
  3. Specific homeless rights. SB589 would make 1) equal access to housing, jobs, and shelters, 2) equal treatment by government agencies, and 3) access to life-sustaining activities and essential services inherent rights of homeless individuals. Everyone has the right of equal access to services and treatment. We also have the right to be safe in our homes, workplaces, and public spaces.
  4. Hawaii becoming a loan officer. SB869 would create a pilot program to allow Hawaii to make consumer loans of 600 to $5,000. I think that micro-loans could be done by local credit unions, not the government.
  5. Hawaii getting involved in home ownership. SB1106 would create the Family Self-Sufficiency Program to provide matching funds so that public housing tenants could purchase housing units. We don’t have a right to home ownership. I think that government should help subsidize affordable housing, but should not subsidize home ownership.

The 2017 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 4. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, our children, and our grandchildren. 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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