Archive for the ‘Government’ category

13 candidates, 3 hours, 1 night

July 10, 2018

Election signs are popping up along sidewalks, sign wavers are standing along the road during the morning commute, and political debates are underway.

On July 2, 2018 Hawaii News Now broadcast a “Super Debate” with the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, senator, and governor. It was sponsored by Kamehameha Schools and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

I thought the Super Debate was a good idea at first – I could listen to candidates from the three major races. But I didn’t factor in fatigue; my attention span was around 120 minutes. By the time the gubernatorial debate was up, I was ready for a break.

That’s why I’m writing this post a week after the Super Debate – I needed some time to think about what the candidates said, and what I heard.

Notes about the lieutenant governor debate:

* What they said: Former state Senator Will Espero emphasized affordable housing and corrections reform (prisons). State Senator and Doctor Josh Green emphasized homelessness and the opioid epidemic (healthcare). Former school board member Kim Coco Iwamoto stressed government accountability. State Senator Jill Tokuda emphasized education. Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho was charming.

* What I heard is that all of the issues will require more spending and higher taxes. Only Iwamoto admitted that she supports higher taxes on corporations and nonresident homeowners.

* In the open forum, it was interesting to see which candidates jumped up to answer first.

* It was surprisingly civil, though candidates sometimes side-stepped the questions or spoke longer than their allotted time in the open forum.

Notes about the congressional debate:

* What they said: Former Congressmember Ed Case emphasized his experience and willingness to compromise. Lieutenant Governor and former Attorney General Doug Chin supports a single-payer healthcare system. State Representative Beth Fukumoto focused on free college, federal recognition of Native Hawaiians, and Medicare for all. State Representative Kaniela Ing emphasized free college, an anti-corporation stance, federal jobs for all, and Medicare for all. State Senator Donna Mercado Kim emphasized her experience. Councilmember Ernie Martin impressed me by stating that people should earn a free college education.

* What I heard is that many of the candidates support debt-free college and Medicare for all (a single-payer healthcare system), which means raising taxes.

* One of the candidates raised the issue of the Medicare and Social Security crisis. No one mentioned that this is a crisis that was created by government. Both public assistance programs were designed as pay-it-forward programs, in which younger generations support older generations.

* This was arguably the most exciting debate, with two verbal sparring matches: Ing vs. Fukumoto and Case vs. Kim.

Notes about the gubernatorial debate:

* What I heard: nothing really surprising. Congressmember Colleen Hanabusa asked about the false missile alert, challenging Governor David Ige’s leadership skills and aptitude; he answered that he was leaving the house for an event, and he turned around and went back inside to make phone calls. Governor David Ige asked about the Ko Olina tax credit, challenging Congressmember Colleen Hanabusa’s integrity; she answered by saying that the tax credit showed that Waianae is business-friendly, and the developer only used a small portion of the tax credit.

Some of the commercials were refreshing and positive, like messages from the Hawaii Community Foundation (giving to nonprofits), Legacy of Life Hawaii (organ donation), Hawaii Fido Service Dogs, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, and Catholic Charities; but I wish they had excluded all the political commercials.

What is your opinion of a three-hour Super Debate format? Which candidates surprised you or gained your support?

Advertisements

We need student legislators

April 10, 2018

Recently, I wrapped up my review of the 2018 Hawaii Legislative Session, and hearing about the student-led marches to protest gun violence, it occurred to me that something was missing in all the proposals – and missing from the way that we govern.

There is an entire group of Hawaii residents who may be represented in government, and yet don’t have their own voice in government. They make up 21.6% of Hawaii’s population – over 308,500 individuals, according to a July 2016 US Census estimate. Who is this under-represented constituency?

Youth.

More youth are becoming starting companies like Moziah “Mo” Bridges, founder of Mo’s Bows and Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress; writing books like Alex and Brett Harris (“Do Hard Thing: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”) and Christopher Paolini (“Eragon”); and becoming politically active like Malala Yousafzai and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

Adults advocate for children, but students need their own voice in government. Not only would it allow students to advocate for themselves, it would give them valuable experience in the legislative process, inspire other youth to scrutinize government, and encourage young adults to vote.

Here are a few thoughts about how it could work:

* Student eligibility. We could create five “at large” student legislative positions for youth residents of Hawaii who are between the ages of 14 to 19 at the time of the election. They would have to be enrolled for at least the past two years in a public, private, or charter high school in Hawaii, or be home-schooled. Like all state legislators, student legislators would be elected for two-year terms, but they would be limited to two terms – with the option of running for a regular legislative seat after age 18.

* Reorganize the legislature to reduce costs. To allow for additional legislators without increasing the legislature’s size or budget, we could create a unicameral legislature, in which there is only one legislature (instead of a separate House of Representatives and Senate). This could reduce the number of proposed bills and allow more time for discussion.

* Adjust the legislative calendar to accommodate the school calendar. To accommodate students and allow more time for public discussion, we could extend the legislative session over the year. There would be bill introductions during spring break, legislative sessions during the summer, and second crossover or final votes during fall break.

* Amend legislative meeting requirements to allow for video conferencing. Student legislators may live on neighbor islands, and would be reimbursed for travel, lodging, and incidentals. However, it might be a hardship to continuously travel while attending school and participating in extracurricular activities. We could expand the Senate Video Conferencing Pilot Project to include public testimony as well as committee discussion and legislative voting.

I realize this is not a quick or simple change to the Hawaii legislature. If you think of other considerations that would need to be addressed, feel free to write them in the comments below.

Do you think that youth should have a larger role in Hawaii’s government? Do you know any high school students who you would nominate as a youth legislator?

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Freedoms and Rights

March 27, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, I decided to highlight a select number of bills covering the issues that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Over the last two weeks, I focused on significant tax, education, and business/economy issues to watch. This week, I’m wrapping up my 2018 legislative review by looking at 3 noteworthy bills that affect our freedoms and rights. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

* More rights for voters. Every year, there are proposals like HB962, HB1202, HB1365, HB1430, HB2616, HB2662, SB832, SB833, SB2313, SB2723, and SB2725 that provide for direct initiative (where registered voters can force a public vote on an issue), popular referendum (a direct vote on a particular issue), and recall (a direct vote to remove an elected official from office). Only HB1202 calls for all three. I believe these rights would make legislators and elected officials more accountable to voters, and would encourage voter participation.

A major concern is that elections could be distracted by unreasonable or frivolous petitions. One solution would be to require petitions to be reviewed by the Hawaii State Legislator’s Legal Counsel – before petitions are circulated. Another solution would be to limit the number of new or revised bills that legislators can submit each year – and limit the number of variations on the same proposed bill. This could increase the time for public debate, and reduce the amount of legislative paperwork.

* More opportunities fir citizen legislators. On a related note, every year, legislators discuss term limits, and fail to take action. HB411, HB1710, SB827, SB828, SB2486, and SB2724 would limit the terms of members of the Legislature. If we want to increase voter participation and encourage people to take an interest in government, we need to make room for more people to participate in government. Term limits could help by increasing the number of available candidates.

* End of life rights. There are several bills supporting End of Life or Aid in Dying choices, such as HB150, HB201, HB550, SB357, SB1129, and SB2727. As long as it doesn’t harm others, I don’t think we can tell people how to live their lives – or end it. The choices of people who are facing a terminal illness, or caregivers for someone with a terminal illness, should have greater consideration.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. 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!

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Business and Economy

March 20, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, I decided to highlight a handful of bills covering different issues that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Over the last two weeks, I highlighted significant tax and education issues to watch. This week, I’m highlighting three bills in the 2018 Legislative Session that could have a huge impact on Hawaii’s business and economy.

 * The Good: Attracting international sports events. We need to continue to attract sports events and other industries to Hawaii, so that we decrease our dependence on tourism and the military. I think that Hawaii is well-positioned to host statewide sporting events as well as international sporting events and tournaments. We could attract an international yacht race or mountain marathon. I am uncertain about whether it’s worthwhile to attract national sporting events like the Pro Bowl or National Football League preseason game, because of the distance and expense involved, but that’s for the Hawaii Sports Task Force to decide. I’m also not sure there needs to be a separate Task Force, instead of the Hawaii Tourism Authority working with Aloha Stadium, but maybe it’s a reporting issue.

* The Bad-Ugly: State jobs for everyone. Some legislators want to establish a task force to study the “feasibility” of creating a “public option” to provide jobs for all in the State of Hawaii. HB1992 attempts to address the complicated issues of unemployment, under-employment, and discouraged workers. It would examine whether government could guarantee Hawaii residents over the age of 18 a job with the State government.

I have serious concerns about this proposal. Can we afford it? This year, legislators are raising taxes, even though there is a budget surplus. Will it solve a problem? Giving everyone who can work a job may lower the number of people who are unemployed, and improve Hawaii’s unemployment rate, but it will create a host of new problems. How would a guaranteed job affect students’ motivation to learn and employee’s motivation to work? Can we maintain it? We might be able to maintain it by cannibalizing private sector jobs. But hiring more public employees means finding more work for those employees to do, which means passing laws that increase the size and scope of government.

* The Debatable: Minimum wage. Every year, the legislator proposes multiple bills that adjust the minimum wage. Some bills increase the minimum wage incrementally, like SB2013 raising the minimum wage by $1 every year for five years until it reaches $15 per hour. Other bills increase the minimum wage all at once, like HB5, ripping off duct-tape, raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2021.

Here’s a thought experiment: What do you think would happen if there were no minimum wage? Imagine that the State of Hawaii repealed the minimum wage in 2019. Would businesses dramatically lower the hourly wage they pay employees? Would businesses quickly renegotiate salaries? Would there be no change to the hourly wage? Or maybe no change in 2019, but no pay increases in the next few years – or ever? Would employees quit their jobs or go on strike? Would businesses lower their prices (okay, probably not) or increase prices less frequently?

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. 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!

Learning from the Annexation Debate

March 13, 2018

Chanters descended from the twin curving staircases, their soaring voices filling the rotunda of Ali‘iolani Hale. Barefoot, they led the way through the open doors of the restored 1913 courtroom. We followed silently and sat in hard wooden benches in front of a judge’s bench.

Recently, I attended a performance “Mai Poina: The Annexation Debate,” an eloquent and insightful reenactment that presented the background of Hawai‘i’s annexation through the words of people involved in the debate.

Emma Aima Nāwahī, Ke Aloha Aina newspaper editor and confidant of Queen Lili‘uokalani, and James Keauiluna Kaulia, president of Hui Aloha ‘Āina, greeted each other after a long absence, wondering why they have returned. They drew in the audience by acknowledging us, and realizing that they have been called back for a purpose: to educate us about the events leading up to Hawaii’s annexation in 1898.

Dressed in period costumes, performing in a historical courtroom, Emma (played by Karen Kaulana) and James (played by William Murray) began talking about the annexation debate – using the power of their voices and first-person accounts to walk us back through history. They took us through the so-called “bayonet” constitution of 1887, signed by King Kalākaua,  Queen Lili‘uokalani’s attempt to restore power to the monarchy, and her subsequent overthrow in 1893, to the efforts of Native Hawaiians to organize, petition, and send delegates to the U.S. Capitol to oppose annexation.

They were joined by other historical figures, such as William O. Smith, who played a role in the creation of the Republic of Hawaii, and Senator John Tyler Morgan, U.S. Senator from Alabama who strongly supported annexation. They presented their side of the debate: that the monarchy was ineffective, that Hawai‘i was strategically located, that America needed to ensure their power in the Pacific, and that foreign powers like Japan might seize Hawai‘i – against the wider American policy of nation-building.

With minimal props – chair and podiums – and nothing to distract us from the power of their words, the cast brought to life the emotions, determination, and conviction of the people involved, on both sides of the debate. Karen Kaulana’s clear, incisive voice echoed in the courtroom, a powerful complement to William Murray’s smooth, confident baritone.

In the discussion afterward, we were fortunate to have some knowledgeable audience members who started a discussion about the legality of a Congressional Resolution, whether an attempt to write a new constitution can be considered treason, and how students today are learning about both sides of the annexation debate. We all received an informative viewer’s guide with a timeline, historical photos and illustrations, articles, and the text of the 1897 Resolution Protesting Annexation so that we could take the discussion home.

“Mai Ponina: The Annexation Debate” was free and open to the public, presented by the Hawai‘i Pono‘ī Coalition, a consortium of Native Hawaiian-serving organizations.

What did you learn about Hawai‘i’s annexation in school? How different was it from what students learn today? What can or should be done to address the annexation debate?

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

March 6, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intensions. This year, instead of compiling an overview, I decided to narrow it down to the bills that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Last week, I highlighted three significant tax bills to watch. This week, I’m summarizing three significant education issues proposed in the 2018 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

1. Should curriculum be imposed top-down? There are five major proposed changes to the K-12 curriculum. The bills include requiring an anti-bullying program; implementing a sexual abuse prevention program; setting civics knowledge requirements for graduating students; offering computer science or design thinking/coding classes, or accepting them in place of a math or science class; and teaching digital citizenship and media literacy. I do not oppose these curriculum changes, but I believe that many of them are already being implemented in schools. I wonder why the Legislature must mandate these programs from above, instead of letting the Hawaii DOE set curriculum policies. Is state legislation required to make these curriculum changes?

 The Legislature also seems to be unnecessarily managing other aspects of the school day, such as requiring schools to have at least 15 minutes of recess before lunch (SB2385) and requiring schools to provide allow at least 30 minutes for lunch (SB2386). The schools should have the responsibility to reasonably set and adjust their own schedules.

2. Are 3-year olds ready for school? Legislators want to open preschool for 3-year olds, in addition to 4-year olds (HB388 HD1 and SB181). However, not all 3-year olds are ready for structured school. In fact, not all 4-year olds are ready for structured school. Children may learn better in a home environment, with nurturing parents and caretakers I believe that the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) needs to focus on its current K-12, undergraduate, and graduate responsibilities, instead of expanding its mandate.

3. How can we promote college attendance? Higher education can lead to better employment opportunities and higher salaries, while lowering the chances of being unemployed and needing government assistance. Legislators are proposing an income tax credit for college savings contributions (HB128 HD1, SB2544), tax deductions for college savings account contributions (SB3062), income tax deductions for student loan interest payments (HB1276 HD1 SD1 and SB1081 SD1), and even paying student loans with pre-tax income (HB958). I am less convinced about another proposed bill, HB373 HD1, which would establish a state matching grant program for resident undergraduate UH students with financial need and whose parents have not earned a baccalaureate or higher degree. I don’t know which bill(s) would be most effective, but I like the intended effects: to encourage people to save for college, and to help recent college graduates manage their college loans and help them gain control of their finances.

4. How can we encourage more teachers to remain in Hawaii? There is a chronic teacher shortage in Hawaii public schools. Only 52% of new teachers in Hawaii stay for five years, according to a Teacher Recruitment Data Report for 2016-2017; and 43% of teachers who resigned from the DOE left Hawaii, according to the DOE Employment Report SY2016-2017. HB2166 has an elegant solution: create housing vouchers for full-time classroom public school teachers. In Hawaii, we may not be able to pay teachers what they are worth, and we can’t do anything about the high cost of living, but perhaps we can make sure that they have an affordable place to live.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. 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!

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 27, 2018

Opening Day for the Hawaii State Legislature was on January 17 – the same day, 125 years ago, that the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown.

Slightly less outrageous is the sheer number of bills that are active in the 2018 Hawaii Legislature, which seems to multiply over the years. There are 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate). There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, instead of compiling an overview, I decided to narrow it down to the bills that I think need the most consideration and debate.

 Here are three significant tax bills to watch in the 2018 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any tax bills that you think we need to keep our eyes on, please let me know!

1. Would you pay higher taxes for public education? There are a number of tax proposals that want to raise money for public education by adding a surcharge on residential investment properties and visitor accommodations (HB180 HD2, HB182 HD2) or by increasing the general excise tax (GET) by 0.5% (SB1132). As a public good, everyone pays for public education through state income taxes and the GET. Even with strong, fundraising parent-teacher groups, the schools are always in need of more money. Is it fair to require homeowners, including non-residents, to pay higher taxes for a service that is unrelated to their home or property? Is it effective to create a dedicated funding source that has little oversight by Hawaii legislators and taxpayers?

2. Tax over-reach on out-of-state businesses. In an effort to raise more tax revenue, the Legislature is looking to tax retailers or vendors that are not Hawaii businesses – but who may have customers in Hawaii. I think this is a blatant tax overreach. Some bills would require retailers or vendors to submit an annual report to Hawaii (HB398 HD2) or even collect GET (HB345, HB2417, SB161, SB620 SD2 HD2), or create a “marketplace provider” designation for businesses with sales over $100,000 from Hawaii residents (SB2871, SB2890). I think that these bills are a tax over-reach because they tax interstate commerce and attempt to impose taxes on businesses without representation in Hawaii. It places an unfair burden on businesses to be in compliance with Hawaii tax laws.

I hope that if other states attempt to tax Hawaii businesses that do business in their state, but do not have a business presence, our Hawaii legislators will protect us from their tax over-reach.

3. General excise tax (GET) vs. sales tax debate: Some people support the GET, because it has a wide tax base and spreads the burden of taxes to everyone. For just this reason, I think that the GET is unfair – it taxes every level of production, from wholesale to retail, and forces businesses to pay taxes on the taxes it collects! Instead, I support a reasonable sales tax, one that only taxes goods and services sold to the end-user, and affects taxpayers according to how much they consume. So I hope that HB2615, which would require the Tax Review Commission to conduct a feasibility study on whether the general excise and use tax laws should be replaced with a sales tax, gets some support from the Legislature this year.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. 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!