Archive for the ‘Government’ category

Comments on the draft O‘ahu General Plan

May 23, 2017

The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) for the City and County of Honolulu is currently revising the 2002 General Plan that has been guiding O‘ahu’s long-range objectives and policies. The General Plan addresses the critical issues of growth, development, and quality of life that island residents are most concerned about, including regional population, economic health, affordable housing, and sustainability.

The O‘ahu General Plan covers 11 subject areas: Population, the Economy, Natural Environment and Resource Stewardship, Housing and Communities, Transportation and Utilities, Energy, Physical Development and Urban Design, Public Safety and Community Resilience, Health and Education, Culture and Recreation, and Government Operations and Fiscal Management. The objectives and policies are all based on the principle of sustainability in three key areas: environmental protection, economic health, and social equity.

The first public review draft was published in November 2012, after background research and community input. The second public review draft was released in February 2017.

I couldn’t make it to the public meeting on March 7, 2017 at McKinley High School. I didn’t have time to review the Oahu General Plan by the deadline to submit written testimony on May 8, 2017. I wish we had a just a little more time to submit comments, but I missed the deadline, so I thought I would share my comments here.

A removed Economy policy that we should keep:
Economy, Objective B, Deleted Policy 4: “Prohibit further growth in the permitted number of hotel and resort condominium units in Waikiki.” I believe this should remain a part of the General Plan. Waikiki is already at over-capacity, with overpowering hotels and condominiums, diminishing beaches, a lack of parking, and regular closures for parades and events. I think that further growth and expanded renovations are unsustainable.

A Housing policy that should be re-written:
Housing and Communities, Objective A, Policy 1: “Support programs, policies, and strategies which will provide decent homes for local residents at the least possible cost.” I object to “the least possible cost” stipulation because quality materials and craftsmanship are not cheap.

A Housing policy that needs a prerequisite:
Housing and Communities, Objective A, Policy 12: “Promote higher-density, mixed use development, including transit oriented-development.” RELATED – Physical Development and Urban Design, Objective A, Policy 4: “Facilitate and encourage compact, higher-density development in urban areas designated for such uses.” I think that we need to add a stipulation that infrastructure, utilities, schools, and open spaces can support higher-density developments. By open spaces, we need to think both horizontally (parks and landscaping) and vertically (open sky).

An Education policy that needs a broader definition of employment:
Health and Education, Objective B, Policy 1: “Support education programs that encourage the development of employable skills.” I think that public education has three broad goals: to get a job, to start a business, and to serve the community. To encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, this policy should be expanded to include self-employable skills and public service.

A Culture objective that is divisive:
Culture and Recreation, Objective A: “To foster the multiethnic culture of Hawai‘i and respect the host culture of the Native Hawaiian people.” and Policy 1: “Encourage the recognition of the Native Hawaiian host culture…” I think that the term “host culture” is divisive. If Native Hawaiians are hosts, then every immigrant and late-comer is a “guest,” invited or not, who may overstay their welcome.

A new Government Operations policy that we should consider:
Government Operations and Fiscal Management, Objective B, (new) Policy 4: “Provide for remedies/penalties for mismanagement and gross negligence of government programs.” While there is a nod to accountability in Objective B, Policy 3, the policy lacks power. Government officials need to be held liable for their actions  and inactions, beyond shuffling department heads or buying out contracts.

Ironically, Government Operations and Fiscal Management has the fewest number of policies (just eight, even with two new policies added).

What is your opinion of the revised O‘ahu General Plan draft? Which policies and objectives should be changed, added, or removed?

Should doctors write job prescriptions?

April 25, 2017

Last month, news of Hawaii’s homeless challenge gained national attention on HBO’s Vice News (Hawaii News Now, 3/30/17). The 5-minute segment spotlights that “Hawaii legislators are debating whether to classify homelessness as an illness and housing as a treatment. (via HBO).” This Vice News report is not the kind of attention that Hawaii wants, but maybe it’s the attention that Hawaii needs.

Correspondent Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani interviewed four people to get their perspectives on the proposal to redefine homelessness as a medical condition. Gary Grinker, who is chronically homeless and has a heart condition; he visited the emergency room 241 times in 2016, costing taxpayers $1.2 million in healthcare. Senator Josh Green, who introduced a bill to redefine chronic homelessness as a disease and allow doctors to write prescriptions for housing. Representative Bob McDermott, who believes that Hawaii has “turned the safety net into a hammock.” And Dr. Daniel Cheng, an emergency room doctor at Queen’s Medical Center, which handles two-thirds of all homeless encounters in Hawaii.

I had three successive reactions to the news report.

First, doctors’ first responsibility is to take care of patients’ physical and mental health. A “prescription” for housing would probably involve time filling out forms and coordinating with social workers – time that doctors need to help patients.

Second, having a home may not make people more responsible for their health or reduce emergency room visits. It may even exacerbate health conditions, if people have health emergencies in their home and are unable or unwilling to seek help.

Third, if a solution to rising healthcare costs and chronic disease were housing, we would have more people living in shelters and healthier people at home. But in Hawaii, an alarming 82% of adults have at least one chronic disease or condition and 53% have two or more chronic diseases (heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, asthma, disability, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or obesity), according to the Department of Health’s “Chronic Disease Disparities Report 2011: Social Determinants.”

Instead of a “prescription” for housing, maybe doctors should write a “prescription” for a job.  Research shows that employment increases health status and healthy people are more likely to work, according to a Lead Center Policy Brief, “The Impact of Employment on the Health Status and Health Care Costs of Working-age People with Disabilities” (2015).

“Work is at the very core of contemporary life for most people, providing financial security, personal identity, and an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to community life,” according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) factsheet, “Facts about mental illness and work” (1999).

A job gives people dignity as well as a paycheck. Doctors can assess a person’s physical and mental ability to work, and offer a referral to an employer – who could assess their skills, experience, and trustworthiness.

Do you think that we can reduce healthcare costs by prescribing housing? Could having a job help people be healthier?

We’re growing the wrong tax tree

April 11, 2017

I published this post in 2010 and again in 2013. For those of you who are new to Better Hawaii, and for all of us who could use a reminder, I think it’s worth repeating.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that the IRS tax code is over 44,000 pages, is so complicated that even tax experts don’t understand it, and desperately needs simplification. Let’s ignore the benefits of a national sales tax or a flat income tax.

Think about this: like a tree struggling to shade us from harm, our tax system needs more sunshine, more pruning, and a lot less graft.

In fact, we are growing the wrong tax tree entirely.

Our current tax system is an overgrown banyan tree, with roots extending down and spreading over the whole economy. The federal government has higher income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 35%. The states have lower income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 11% – with Hawaii at the top – but are dependent on federal funds and must comply with unfunded mandates.

It makes more sense to have a tax system like a strong pine tree, simple and orderly. The federal government, which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, should have lower tax rates. The states, which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, should have higher tax rates and not rely on the federal government for funding.

The only rational explanation for this upside-down, overgrown tax code is that the federal government wants the power to redistribute taxes among the states. They want to create welfare states and ensure that states are dependent on the federal government.

Does this make non-sense? Do you have another explanation – or better yet, solution? Does anyone have ideas about how states can reclaim their power and independence from the federal government?

2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Unnecessary and Wasteful

March 28, 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. This is a long post, so I’ve organized the bills into four sections: 4 bills that seem wasteful and ineffective, 11 bills that seem unnecessary, 7 bills about government treating us like children (and maybe rightfully so?), and 7 bills that seem like wasteful spending. If I’ve missed other wasteful or ineffective bills, please let me know!

4 bills that seem wasteful and ineffective:

  1. Prescription: home. SB2 would require all health plans in the State, including EUTF health plans and Medicaid managed care programs, to provide coverage for the treatment of homelessness. Doctors are trained to keep us healthy; they are not trained to be social workers.
  2. A water fountain show at the State Capitol. HB106 would add a choreographed water fountain show with light displays and Hawaiian music to the State Capitol reflecting pool. The State Capitol is not a tourist attraction.
  3. Reproduction guaranteed by health insurance. HB1562 and HB1573 would require health insurance coverage for reproductive health (embryo, oocyte, and sperm cryopreservation). I think that we need a cultural change in perspective to value all children, not just biological children.
  4. Which comes first: the license or the employee? HB438 would requires prospective commercial marine licensees to provide the Department of Land and Natural Resources with a copy of the work contract of all of fishers that it employs, prior to being granted a license. Why would you hire someone if you don’t have a license yet?

11 bills that seem unnecessary:

  1. The right to choose your last name. HB799 and SB123 would allow parties to a marriage or civil union to choose any middle or last name. We already have the right to change our names.
  2. A state microbe for Hawaii. HB1217 and SB1212 would designate Flavobacterium akiainvivens as the official microbe of the State. Why do we need a state microbe?
  3. Colored sea salts. SB1221 would fund a study about the use of color additives in sea salt products. This should be funded by private businesses.
  4. Health insurance coverage for paddling, hula, and lua. SB1315 would require health insurance companies to cover Native Hawaiian culture-based activities, including but not limited to canoe paddling, hula, and lua. A nice thought, but it sets a precedent to require coverage for all fitness and exercise classes/expenses from every culture.
  5. Domestic violence classes for hairdressers. HB680 would require barbers and hairdressers to complete a one-time, one-hour training program on intimate partner violence awareness and education. A nice thought, but it sets a precedent for bartenders, sales clerks, and anyone who deals with the public to take this class.
  6. What is Lunar Architecture? HB960 and SB1246 would create the Multinational Lunar Architecture Alliance to devote to hold an International Lunar Development Summit and implement prototype lunar architecture. This is over my pay grade.
  7. Dark night skies protection. HB427, HB1159, SB140, and SB1025 would create a Dark Night Skies Protection Advisory Committee to preserve dark night skies and reduce light pollution. Do we need another committee to handle this?
  8. Candidate filing fees fill political party coffers. HB1376 would require a partisan candidate for state office to pay a $100 filing fee, $80 of which shall be provided to the candidate’s party. This seems like a tax to benefit the political party.
  9. In Hawaii, air travel is a necessity, not a luxury. SB105 would require state agencies to participate in a carbon offset program to offset carbon emissions caused by their employees’ air travel. Maybe we should prohibit off-island travel and require video conferencing instead (a half-serious idea).
  10. In Barack Obama’s footsteps. SB269 would place markers in the State to indicate significant sites in the life of President Barack Obama. I think that there are few “significant sites” in Hawaii.
  11. Who needs to know? SB354 would establish a temporary task force to define a “bona fide agricultural producer.” We don’t need a task force for this.

7 bills about government treating us like children (and maybe rightfully so?):

  1. Hiker safety public awareness campaigns. HB479 would fund a public awareness campaign to educate the public about hiker safety and preparedness.
  2. “Previously frozen” in big letters. HB905 specifies the font size for the words “previously frozen” on frozen food product labels. (I’m not making this up).
  3. Diaper-changing stations in every restroom. HB956 would require public restrooms built or renovated after June 30, 2017 to provide baby diaper-changing accommodations. I like the idea of a family restroom for parents, which would accommodate p infants and the elderly.
  4. Making public urination and defecation illegal. HB16 and HB1595 would make it illegal to urinate or defecate in public. It pains me that we need a law about this.
  5. Is that really a service animal? HB1599 would make it illegal to lie about whether an animal is a service animal. If we cannot ask to see a service animal license, how could we prove that someone is lying?
  6. Safety helmets for mopeds. SB178 and SB179 would require safety helmets for drivers and passengers of motorcycles, motor scooters, and mopeds. I am torn between the desire to keep people safe and the right to do reckless things.
  7. No riding in the back of the truck. SB587 would make it illegal to ride in the back of pickup trucks. I am torn between the desire to keep people safe and the right to transport additional people.

7 bills that seem like wasteful spending:

  1. “I voted” stickers. HB532 would distribute “I voted” stickers at polling places. There are better ways to encourage voting.
  2. Filipino Veterans Legacy Exhibit. HB886 would fund a Filipino Veterans Legacy Exhibit at the Honolulu International Airport. I think this should be funded by private donors.
  3. 50th anniversary celebration of the state capitol. HB1225 and SB1074 would fund celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Hawaii State Capitol. There are better things that we could celebrate.
  4. Basalt rebar market study. HB1326 would fund a basalt rebar market study. Shouldn’t market studies be conducted by private businesses?
  5. Stipends for volunteers. HB1445 would offer stipends to volunteers assisting in the point-in-time homeless count. If they receive a stipend, they are not really a volunteer.
  6. A new symbol and all-new signage. SB189 would require a new international symbol of access: a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement. Is this really necessary?
  7. Billfish tournament grant. SB1256 would fund the 58th Annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. I think this should be funded by private donors.

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!

2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Up for Debate

March 21, 2017

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!

2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: People vs. Government

March 14, 2017

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 bills being proposed in the 2017 Legislative Session that have to do with individual rights vs. government powers. This is a long post, so I’ve organized the bills into five sections: 4 bills about elections and voting, 4 bills that show government on our side, 4 bills that put checks on government power, 3 innovative bills that try to help the homeless, 3 unconvincing bills that try to help the homeless and could end up causing more problems. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

4 bills about elections and voting:

  1. Elections by mail (11 proposals), with various start dates and procedures. HB131, HB1401, SB175, and SB334 would start in 2020. HB291, HB1187, HB1269, SB428, SB459, and SB1066 would start in 2018. I like the idea of voting by mail or Internet, because it saves us time and money, though I will miss going to my polling place on election day and feeling the energy of other voters.
  2. Automatic voter registration (13 proposals) with driver’s licenses and ID cards. HB292, HB439, SB206, SB301, and SB811 would require automatic voter registration when applying for a new or renewed motor vehicle driver’s license, provisional license, or instruction permit; or a new, renewed, or duplicate identification card. HB245, HB1188, HB1268, HB1290, SB231, SB246, SB460, and SB855 would require automatic voter registration when applying for a civil identification card or driver’s license. I encourage everyone to vote, but I think that choosing note to vote is also a right.
  3. Voting age lowered to 16 years. HB1576 asks for a study about lowering the voting age to 16 years. I don’t think we need a study about this. Vote about it – or not.
  4. Getting rid of partisanship. SB106 would remove party affiliation or nonpartisanship in primary, general, and special elections. I strongly support nonpartisan elections.

4 bills that show government on our side:

  1. Residency requirements for public assistance. SB1241 would establish residency requirements in order to receive public assistance and state low-income housing. We need to help Hawaii residents first.
  2. One job for the governor, mayor, and elected officials. HB71 would prohibit the governor or mayor from maintaining outside employment or receiving emoluments. HB969 would prohibit elected officials from receiving a second income that is more than 20% of their government salary. This would avoid possible conflicts of interest.
  3. Common-sense restrictions on drunk drivers. HB306 would require drunk drivers to be fitted with a continuous alcohol monitoring device. Driving is a privilege, not a right.
  4. Encouraging health professionals in Hawaii. SB735 would create a loan repayment program for medical professionals who work in underserved areas of Hawaii. We need to ensure that everyone has reasonable access to healthcare professionals.

4 bills that put checks on government power:

  1. More power for the people: initiative, referendum, and recall. HB1201 would empower voters with Direct Initiative, Popular Referendum, and Recall. HB444, SB832, and SB833 would empower voters with Initiative. HB1365 would empower voters with Referendum. HB962 and HB1430 would empower voters with Recall. This is true grassroots power.
  2. Supermajorities required for tax increases and new taxes. HB353 would require a two-thirds supermajority voting requirement for the legislature to pass laws that raise taxes or create new taxes. Taxes are never temporary, so we need to scrutinize tax increases and new taxes.
  3. Term limits for legislators. HB411 would limit legislators to 20 consecutive years of service. SB827 and SB828 would limit legislators to 12 consecutive years of service. I hope that more citizen-legislators get involved in government.
  4. No “gut and replace” bills. SB1135 would prohibit the passage of bills that have been amended so that they no longer reflect their original purpose, unless the bill is approved by a two-thirds vote in both the house and senate. It doesn’t seem ethical to completely change proposed legislation and pretend that it’s the same bill.

3 innovative bills that try to help the homeless:

  1. Mobile clinics and mobile courts for the homeless. HB527 would create two mobile clinics to serve the homeless population. SB718 would create a community court outreach to serve the homeless population and individuals unable to travel to the State court. If we want them to participate, we need to take medical care and courts to where the homeless are.
  2. Work-for-a-Day jobs program for the homeless. HB1281 would create a three-year Work-for-a-Day Pilot Program that provides homeless individuals with work opportunities and connects them with service providers. Having a job increases self-esteem and gives people a sense of purpose.
  3. Stay-for-Work program. HB1374 would create a Stay-for-Work Program to homeless individuals and families with legal campsites at parks in exchange for their volunteer services maintaining park grounds. This would encourage people to protect the land they are staying on, instead of destroying it.

3 unconvincing bills that try to help the homeless and could end up causing more problems:

  1. Yard space and driveways for the homeless. HB968 would allow property owners to lease yard space or driveway space to campers and recreational camping vehicles. This could cause safety and sanitation concerns residential neighborhoods.
  2. Homeless campgrounds. HB1377, HB1447, and SB1243 would create residential campgrounds for the homeless. I don’t think that a “tent city” is the answer.
  3. Pu’uhonua safe zones for the homeless. SB158 would create Pu’uhonua Safe Zones where homeless persons may reside. SB1223 is an omnibus bill of good and bad ideas, one of which would create Pu’uhonua Safe Zones. Is this something like a “sanctuary city” or a “tent city”? Would this be safe for the homeless or safe for the public?

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!

2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

March 7, 2017

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 the significant education bills being proposed in the 2017 Legislative Session. I’ve organized the bills into three sections: 6 bills that could be positive steps in education, 5 bills that micromanage schools, and 3 bills that need more discussion. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

6 bills that could be positive steps in education:

  1. Promoting careers in teaching. HB1169 would require the University of Hawaii to promote careers in teaching to high school students. Instead of complaining about the lack of teachers, we can do something about it.
  2. Promoting college savings. HB1074 and SB940 would allow State income tax deductions for college savings. Instead of worrying about student debt, we can encourage families to save more for college.
  3. Making college more accessible and affordable. HB1154 and 1020 would offer scholarships at UH community colleges. HB1591, HB1594, SB135 and SB1162 would create a scholarship program called the University of Hawaii Promise Program. SB15 would make community college tuition free for residents. I tentatively support this program, but I want to know more about how much it would cost and how students would qualify.
  4. Reducing the burden of student loans. HB958 would allow individuals to pay student loan debt with pre-tax income. HB1276 and SB1081 would offer a State income tax deduction of up to $5,000 per year for student loan interest paid on qualified education loans. This could help reduce anxiety and student loan defaults.
  5. Promoting computer science classes. HB1166 and SB299 would encourage computer science classes in high school and college. Technology jobs can help keep Hawaii’s graduates in Hawaii.
  6. Getting ready to work. SB298 would create a Workforce Readiness program that would allow students to graduate from an extended high school enrollment with a high school diploma and an industry-recognized associate’s degree. SB619 would create a K-12 Curriculum to Career Pipeline initiative. We need to prepare students for getting jobs – and promotions.

5 bills that micromanage schools:

  1. Legislating class size and minimum teacher salary. SB176 would limit the class size in public schools to 18 students and establish a minimum salary for new teachers of $55,000 per year. I think schools should have the flexibility to decide class size.
  2. 100 years of student records. HB1232 and SB1100 would require schools to keep student records for at least 100 years. Why 100 years? Why would someone need their school records from over 50 years ago?
  3. Jumping through hoops for innovation grants. HB1092 and SB958 would make teachers and schools write grants for “innovative” programs. I think schools should be the gate-keepers of innovation, and teachers should not have to spend extra time writing grant proposals.
  4. School libraries required. SB616 would require all public schools to have a library. I think that schools should make this decision.
  5. Legislator approval for university tuition fees. HB23 would require University of Hawaii tuition increases to be approved by the Hawaii State legislature. I think that UH should retain the authority to set tuition, without getting politicians involved.

3 bills that need more discussion:

  1. Local school boards. HB1201 would create at least 7 local school boards. One school district may offer cost savings (economies of scale); local school districts may offer more flexible and innovative solutions. Before creating a flatter bureaucracy with more bureaucrats, can we fix the system we have?
  2. Anti-bullying classes for students and parents. HB890 and SB561 would require anti-bullying policies that include anti-bullying classes for students who have engaged in bullying as well as their parents/guardians. I think that the parents who would attend an anti-bullying class are the parents who already support their children. Are there other, less formal ways to reach students and parents?
  3. Student loan forgiveness for State employees. SB348 would offer a loan forgiveness program for University of Hawaii graduates who work for the State or county. While I admire innovative solutions to student loan debt, I think this would be an expensive program and could result in government expansion as more people work for the government.

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!