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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Homeless campgrounds. HB1377, HB1447, and SB1243 would create residential campgrounds for the homeless. I don’t think that a “tent city” is the answer.
- 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!