Archive for the ‘Government’ category

2022 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 22, 2022

Every year, there are an overwhelming number of issues proposed, discussed, discarded, and passed during the 60-day legislative session. When I last checked, there are 5,060 2021 and 2022 House and Senate Bills under consideration.

This week, let’s take a quick look at some of the tax credits and increases that are being discussed.

3 tax exemptions and credits to watch:

1. No taxes on groceries and other necessary items. HB27, HB638, HB1590, HB1904, HB1919, SB361 SD2, SB608, SB849, SB2431, SB2863, SB3233. Various bills would exempt food nonprescription drugs, medical services, and feminine hygiene products from the general excise tax.
Thoughts: I don’t understand why we haven’t already passed legislation to exempt food and medical services from the general excise tax.

2. Tax credit for low-income renters. HB131 HD1, HB1513, SB302 SD2, SB2165. Would increase the amount of the tax credit for individuals and households and the adjusted gross income eligibility cap for the income tax credit for low-income household renters using tax brackets for individuals and different categories of households.

3. Business Tax credit for telework. HB836 Would establish a telework tax credit for employers who allow telework for at least thirty per cent of their employees.

3 tax increases and a fine to watch:

1. Higher personal and business taxes. HB3, SB56 SD1, SB276, SB3250. Various bills would increase the personal income tax rate, phase out lower tax brackets for high earners, increase the tax on capital gains, and increases the corporate income tax.

2. Higher general excise tax. SB1265, SB1266. Would increase the general excise tax to 4.5%. SB1312. Would impose a new 1.5 per cent sustainable tourism tax beginning on 7/1/2022, to fund the sustainable Hawaii workforce program.

3. General excise tax on vacant residential property. SB2547. Would establish a general excise tax surcharge on an owner that allows a residential real property to remain vacant for 120 days or more a year.
Thoughts: I understand the intent (to make more housing available), this seems to force individuals and families to become landlords.

PLUS: New fine for chicken lovers. HB524. Would establish a $500 civil fine for the feeding or attempted feeding of any feral chicken.
Thoughts: We have more important things to enforce.

What are your thoughts, questions, and concerns about these issues? The 2022 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 5. 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! Find out how to contact your legislators.


2022 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Health

February 8, 2022

Every year, there are an overwhelming number of issues proposed, discussed, discarded, and passed during the 60-day legislative session. When I last checked, there are 5,060 2021 and 2022 House and Senate Bills under consideration.

I work for a nonprofit mental health counseling center, so I’m particularly interested in health-related issues. I’d like to highlight 5 health-related issues being discussed in the 2022 Hawaii Legislature.  

Health Issue 1: Hawaii has both public and private health insurance plans. Should we have a single-payer health insurance?

HB164, HB193, SB437, SB444 Authorizes the Hawaii Health Authority to continue planning for the adoption of a universal, publicly-administered health-care-for-all insurance model with a single payout agency.

Thoughts: I don’t know. Sometimes I think a single-payer model would be more convenient and equitable, and other times I think it would reduce our choices and options.

Health Issue #2: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers pivoted to telehealth to continue to provide services, while keeping physically distant. Should telehealth continue be covered by insurance plans?

HB384, HB1634, SB3288 Prohibits health insurers, mutual benefit societies, and health maintenance organizations from excluding coverage of a service solely because the service is provided through telehealth and not through face-to-face contact. Requires parity between telehealth services and face-to-face services for purposes of deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, benefit limits, and utilization reviews. HB2057, SB2073, SB2645 Allows for standard telephone contacts for telehealth purposes.

Thoughts: Yes. Telehealth services are convenient, safe, and in most cases equally effective.

Health Issue #3: Hawaii is facing a physician and nursing shortage. How can we encourage healthcare providers to practice in Hawaii?

HB2437 Establishes a $10,000 income tax credit for physicians, osteopathic physicians, and nurses who are licensed and actively practicing in the State. SB2829 Establishes provisional or associate level licensure requirements for marriage and family therapists and psychologists and authorizes insurance reimbursements in certain circumstances. Allows psychologist license applicants to sit for the licensing examination before completing other requirements.

Thoughts: While I generally disagree with adding another tax credit (I support simplifying the tax code), it could be an effective incentive for healthcare providers. And making it easier for mental healthcare providers to be reimbursed by health insurance companies would increase access to quality mental health care.

Health Issue #4: Do we have a right to a clean and health environment, including clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems?

HB551 HD1, SB502 SD2 HD1 Proposes a constitutional amendment that guarantees individuals the right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and a stable climate, and to the preservation of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the environment. HB1803, SB2962 Proposes a constitutional amendment that recognizes and protects, for present and future generations, the inherent and inalienable right of all people to clean water and air and healthy ecosystems, including climate, and to the preservation of the natural, cultural, scenic, and healthful qualities of the environment. Provides that the State and its subdivisions shall protect and shall not infringe upon these rights.

Thoughts: Of course. This is a foundational promise, the basis of stewardship of our land and natural resources.

Health Issue #5: Currently, our protected health information cannot be disclosed without our consent or knowledge. How do we balance our right to privacy with ease of use of healthcare services and transparency of public health information?

HB1106 HD1 Requires all health care and wellness service providers to submit health information to a health information exchange, to be operated and maintained by a state designated entity, for the purposes of facilitating the use and movement of health information among organizations. Effective 7/1/2060. (HD1). SB1022 Requires the department of health to coordinate with health insurance providers to gather and analyze public health statistics, public health program data, epidemiological data, and administrative data to implement and update a statewide public health planning and development program.

Thoughts: I don’t know enough about what information would be shared, how it would be protected, and how it could be used.

What are your thoughts, questions, and concerns about these issues? The 2022 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 5. 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! Find out how to contact your legislators.

Becoming a changemaker

November 17, 2020

It was a Sunday afternoon and instead of relaxing with family or watching a movie, I was in front of my computer, ready to learn about government and policy-making. Not by reading a book or watching “Schoolhouse Rock,” but by learning from changemakers about how to make a change in the Hawaii legislature.

There’s no specific change that I want to make, no specific idea for new public policy, but I signed up for the “Virtual Public Policy and Advocacy Training Series” to learn how it could be done. The training was led by a sincere group of changemakers from Blue Zones Project Hawaii, Youth for Oahu, Hawaii Youth Climate Coalition, and Hawaii Pacific Health Institute,

This first workshop, “Civics for Change,” started off by teaching us that policy is a written statement, binding an enforceable, that affects a group of people. It might be a policy that prohibits, permits, requires, investigates, or performs something. Even if it’s a good idea, even if it’s common sense and most people are already doing it, often we need a policy to make sure it reaches more people, to make it enforceable and hold people accountable, and to institutionalize that good idea.

There are four key components of a campaign: doing your research, building support, making a plan, and communicating the plan. Guest speaker Doorae Shin from the Surfrider Foundation even took us through some of the behind-the-scenes work of passing Bill 40, the Styrofoam ban in Hawaii.

The best and most memorable part of the training (and the most nerve-wracking for introverts) was breaking into small groups and actually working on a plan. As a group, we decided on an issue or problem; identified what we wanted to change; discussed who could fix the problem; suggested possible solutions; looked for other partners and supporters; thought about possible opposition; and came up with interim goals.

In my breakout group, our issue was that local farmers do not have a reliable source of income (the larger problem is agricultural sustainability and sufficiency). Our solution was to require that state and local government, hospitals, and prisons, source fresh food. For Hawaii, this means turning to local farmers, since 85-90% of our food is imported and must be shipped here. I’m sure others have already proposed similar policies, but the process was new to us and gave us a glimpse into how policy is created.

Time went by quickly. We soon overcame our shyness and started throwing out ideas, and worked through all the elements of a policy plan. Then all the teams presented their policy ideas to the rest of the participants. I wish we had more time to delve into the policy ideas of other teams!

If you are interested in learning more about shaping public policy, there are four more training sessions.

Register at or watch the record sessions

If you could propose one change to your state senator or representative, what would it be? If there’s a change you want to make, what is holding you back from taking action?

Selecting legislators like jurors

October 15, 2019

This summer, I received a summons for jury duty. I was instructed to call the court for further instructions the night before my summons date. Though I took the whole day off, the case was settled and I didn’t actually have to serve.

But this whole process made me wonder… what if we selected legislators like jury duty?

It takes a lot of courage, money, and energy, a thick skin, and a willingness to be in the limelight for candidates to run for office.

As voters, we often don’t know our legislators very well. We vote based on a combination of personal charisma, vision, debates, campaign donations, sign-waving, sound-bites, and handshakes.

The approach to jury duty is much different. Every US citizen at least 18 years of age, in good physical and mental condition, who has not been convicted of a felony, is eligible to serve.

Juries are not filled by people who campaign for the job. They are filled by ordinary people who often don’t want to be there, but show up anyway and do their best to uphold the law.

So I’ve been wondering… what if we created a few at-large legislative positions, from a “legislative pool” of full-time residents who are registered voters, with no criminal records? How would these at-large legislators affect the law-making and budgeting process – and the way we view our elected officials?

A legislative pool might work something like this:

  1. Eligible candidates could be summoned to legislative duty by random drawing.
  2. State attorneys could interview potential legislators for potential conflicts of interest; whether they are exempt from serving (such as members of the armed forces, emergency personnel, and government personnel); and whether it would be an undue hardship to serve (such as economic hardship and physical or mental disabilities).
  3. Twelve statewide “at-large” legislators could serve for one legislative session, roughly January through May.

Legislators drawn from our “peers” might better represent the diversity of Hawaii’s culture and values; be less influenced by campaign donations, since they would not have to fundraise to run for office (this is the same argument for publically-funded elections); offer new perspective and solutions to the problems we face; and give people legislative experience, potentially increasing the number of interested candidates.

I don’t know how much it would cost to create a pool of citizen-legislators, or how it would affect committee assignments and discussions, or whether it’s a good idea to have more legislators tinkering with legal and tax codes. Doing something different isn’t always better, but it could be interesting.

How well do you know your state legislators? How confident are you that you are voting for the right candidates? If you were called to be a legislator, would you serve?

A view of Honolulu views

May 28, 2019

“Each time Honolulu city lights stir up memories in me
Each night Honolulu city lights bring me back again”
Honolulu City Lights, Keola Beamer and Kapono Beamer, 1979

The City and County of Honolulu is conducting a Honolulu Public Views Study. The goal is to prioritize views of natural and manmade features that we need to protect. It’s a chance for us to share our opinions about what we want to see when we look out a of a high-rise building, glance out the window of a rail car, drive along scenic roads, or hike along mountain trails.

I was curious about the study itself. Would we get to comment about building height restrictions? Would they ask what we wish we could see when we step outside our front door? Would they ask about the trade-off between affordable housing and building higher condominiums?

Not quite. The survey literally asks us to identify mountain ranges, manmade buildings, and ocean views that we think are important and should be protected. It seems to be written to future residents of high-rise buildings, with the goal of approving building permits for more high-rise buildings in the future.

Here is my view about Honolulu views:

Protect views of nature. In the study, manmade features (buildings and landmarks) are weighted equally with natural features. Buildings age and neighborhoods change over time. We are already protecting valuable sites – there are 1,384 designated historic places in Hawaii, according to the State Historic Preservation Division (as of 4/25/19). The view of the sites from somewhere else isn’t protected.

Instead, we need to focus on protecting views of nature. Our mountain ranges, valleys, marinas, ocean views, and islands are what make us Hawaii. Like some homeowners’ associations, we can focus on protected “view channels” to ensure that new buildings minimize their impact on existing buildings – including impacts on trade winds, utilities, traffic, and parking.

Enforce existing building height restrictions – with graduated limits. The study asks us to choose between Mauka or Makai, sunrise or sunset, one mountain range over another. It suggests that if the public doesn’t prioritize a view, Honolulu would be open to approving even more building height limit variances.

I think we need enforce the building height restricts we have and create more graduated building height limits. For example, Waikiki increasing building heights, from 220 feet on the Diamond Head side to 350 feet on the Ala Moana side, according to a Honolulu Magazine article.

Protect Honolulu’s natural skyline. The study asks whether we want a recognizable urban Honolulu skyline. I think we already have several iconic skylines: the view of Diamond Head, the view of Waikiki Beach, even the view of Hanauma Bay. Almost instantly recognizable, and set apart from other urban skylines. Older than the Golden Gate Bridge, more tranquil than the Eiffel Tower, more verdant than the Great Pyramid.

There’s still time to take the online survey, which closes on May 31, 2019 at

Have you taken the Honolulu Public Views Survey? Do you believe Honolulu should have a recognizable skyline? What views stir up memories in you?