How much power does Speaker Saiki actually have?

The nature and extent of power wielded by House Speaker Scott Saiki is the subject of much speculation among policy wonks, lobbyists, and legislative advocates. Some will say he is omnipotent, and others will mock this characterization and defend his actions as “only representing the will of the majority.”

It is true that his powers are bestowed upon him by the majority. But it’s also true that his power is pretty much omnipotent.

The House Rules, adopted and approved by at least 26 members of the House, grant the Speaker total control of almost everything of importance. In order to change those rules, 26 members must agree – otherwise, the Speaker reigns supreme.

Whether a bill is passed into law or not is largely if not completely in the hands of the Speaker.

If you don’t believe me, read the rules which are here and which I paraphrase below.

The Speaker has complete control over all bill referrals to the various committees. If any member objects to a referral that objection is reviewed by a committee. Regardless of that committee’s decision, “The Speaker’s decision shall be the final disposition of the matter.” Rule 2.1(14)

The Speaker controls the final dates for action on legislation. Rule 2.1 (16)

The Speaker has unilateral authority to appoint all members of all committees and chooses who will be the Chair and Vice-Chair. Rule 11.2 (1)

If the Chair’s of two committees have a disagreement, the Speaker’s decision prevails. Rule 13.1 (3)

If a majority of members in a committee want to hold a hearing on a bill against the desire of the Chair, the Speaker’s decision on the matter rules (regardless of what a majority on the committee may want). Rule 11.3

The Speaker literally has authority over whether or not a prayer is offered at the start of each floor session. If you want to offer a prayer, you must seek the Speaker’s permission. Rule 30.2

The Speaker controls where each member sits during floor sessions of the House. It’s not by seniority, or first come first served, or by lottery, but by where the Speaker wants you to sit. Rule 2.1 (17)

Notice of meetings may be shortened at the discretion of the Speaker upon request on the House floor by a chair or vice-chair and upon good cause shown. Rule 11.5 (1)

The Speaker after giving all members at least 15 days prior written notice may authorize legal action on behalf of the House and shall notify members of non-confidential legal action taken on behalf of the House. The Speaker does not have to request permission from the members prior to taking legal action on behalf of the House but merely notify them. And if the legal action is “confidential” they don’t even have to be notified. Rule 2.3

As you can see the Speaker is indeed omnipotent when it comes to power over the State House of Representatives. Yes, a majority can object and change the rules – but good luck rounding up 26 members to agree to undertake such a challenge and risk retaliation for their audacity to do so. Rule 59

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. The rules could be drawn in a way that was more collaborative, more inclusive, and more democratic.

Perhaps a citizen group should be organized to research and make recommendations on changes that would result in a more professional and more collaborative approach to the internal “rules of lawmaking.” This group could review the existing rules in both the House and the Senate and make formal and public recommendations that would result in a more transparent and democratic process.

For example, the State Senate’s rules governing the referral process specifies that the Senate Majority Office professional staff make the initial referral recommendations, then a leadership committee ratifies or amends those suggestions, and then the process can be appealed to the Senate President if a Chair does not agree with the referral.

The Senate Rules can be found here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/docs/SenateRules.pdf

In some States, a legislative committee must hear ALL bills and a Chair (or the Speaker) cannot simply pick and choose those that please them.

Here is an interesting overview of how other state legislatures do these types of things:

It is well past time to decentralize and democratize the process.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Cheat Sheet: Deciphering The Obfuscation

Less than totally truthful is the most gracious way to describe some of the responses being provided by State Representatives when asked to explain their inaction or lack of support for SB676 and SB614 (increasing the minimum wage to $12 in 2022 and SB614 blocking the tax on unemployment benefits).

Engaging directly with YOUR particular District Representative is critically important and the most effective way to impact public policy and YOUR state government. Some Representatives will reply with an automatic standard response, some will respond individually and actually engage you in a conversation, and some will simply ignore you.

Navigating the often conflicting information can be challenging. To help readers through this process below is a short “cheat sheet.”

Your District Representative is elected by you and people who live and vote in your District. They should welcome your involvement and be responsive to your concerns.

If you believe the minimum wage should be at least $12 per hour and that unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic should not be subject to the state income tax, please contact your District Representative and tell them of your support. Please also ask them directly if they support these two measures, AND if they will support passing them on the floor of the House this year, before the end of the 2021 session.

This is how democracy is supposed to work. Discussions between residents and representatives, and then a public vote. But it won’t work unless you actually call and email. So please reach out and contact your Representative. Today if possible, but certainly by the end of this week.

Political Obfuscation – Deciphering The Truth: Here is a “cheat sheet” that will prepare you to rebut likely responses that are sometimes less than entirely truthful.

1) Claim: The bills are dead and the deadlines to pass them have passed. Rebuttal: Well, not exactly – A majority of members can call for a hearing and a full vote anytime between now and the end of the session.

2) Claim: There aren’t enough votes to pass so why vote? Rebuttal: The truth is we will never know if the votes are there or not if there is never an actual vote. Why would Representatives not want to vote on such an important issue?

3) Claim: Now is not the time to increase the minimum wage. Rebuttal: Actually – Passing SB676 does not increase the minimum wage “now.” The wage will only increase by $1.90 in July of 2022. In addition, 20 other states are in fact increasing their minimum wage this year.

4) Claim: Removing the state income tax on unemployment benefits will cost too much money. Rebuttal: The state is proposing to give $740 million to employers in unemployment tax support at the same time they are taking $190 million away from the unemployed via an income tax on their benefits. If needed, the legislature could finally begin taxing Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), increase the tax on capital gains, and or increase the corporate and personal income tax on those earning over $400,000 per year.

5) Claim: Helping the unemployed by granting them state income tax relief will violate the American Rescue Plan Act. Rebuttal: According to Janet L. Yellen the Secretary of the Treasury: “nothing in the Act prevents States from enacting a broad variety of tax cuts. That is, the Act does not ‘deny States the ability to cut taxes in any manner whatsoever.”

6) Claim: House Leadership does not support passing these two bills. Rebuttal: A majority of members in the House of Representatives can choose to hear, vote on, and pass these bills if they want.

7) Claim: The legislature will do something for working people, next year. Rebuttal: Even if this were true, passing a bill in 2022 means the help would not come until 2023. The time to help Hawaii’s unemployed and low-wage workers is now. The Senate has already passed SB676, all that’s needed is for the House to also say yes.

Bottom line: The Representatives who offer these excuses do not believe low-wage workers deserve a minimum wage increase, and those unemployed during the pandemic do not deserve a tax break – but they are afraid to tell you this.

Everything else is a smokescreen.

SB676 and SB614 offer much-needed and tangible help to the unemployed and low-wage workers. Many of these people are literally standing in line for food and are months behind on their rent.

Increasing the minimum wage is a top Party priority, both nationally and locally. This past week, over 20 different labor organizations formally and publicly asked the House to allow a vote and pass these bills. Well over 500,000 workers in Hawaii will be positively impacted if these bills pass.

Yet, the Democratic Majority in the House will not even hold a hearing, let alone a vote.

There is still time. There is time for Speaker Saiki and/or a majority in the House to come together and pass SB676 and SB614.

Hawaii’s unemployed and low-wage workers deserve support and respect, and they deserve to benefit from the passage of SB614 and SB676.

Please take the time to call and email YOUR District Representative. Use this handy “Find your legislator” tool – https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/
or go here and review the list and contact information for all Representatives: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H

Sincerely,

Gary Hooser
http://www.garyhooser.com

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

House Floor Action – Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

This past Thursday’s much anticipated House action in support of increasing the minimum wage and blocking the tax on unemployment did not happen.

To find out why, call your Representative. They will tell you “There weren’t enough votes.” Of course, we will never know if the votes are there or not if there is never an actual vote.

A huge disappointment, but it’s not over.

This is for a righteous and just cause – SB676 and SB614 offer much-needed and tangible help to the unemployed and low-wage workers. Many of these people are literally standing in line for food and are months behind on their rent.

For Democrats increasing the minimum wage is a top priority of the Party. This week, 18 different labor organizations formally and publicly asked the House to allow a vote and pass these bills. Every progressive advocacy group in Hawaii is pressing for a vote. Well over 500,000 workers in Hawaii will be positively impacted if these bills pass.

* There are 51 total Representatives.
* 47 are Democrats.
* There are 14 in the House Progressive Caucus.

Yet, we can’t even get a hearing, let alone a vote.

House Speaker Scott Saiki doesn’t want a vote, and so there will not be one.

Such is the power of House Leadership.

Each Representative knows that if they vote against the Speaker’s wishes or in any way seek to diminish his power, he can and will punish them. He and his team have the power to kill their bills, block funding for their district, remove them from their committee, and even rearrange their seating placement, parking spot, office location, and staff. In addition, they risk having the Speaker and his team align themselves with an opponent in the next election.

The fear is real.

This is not hyperbole. This is not some fake news description of how things work in the House. Decision-making in the House and to a somewhat lesser extent in the Senate is fundamentally fear-based.

Representatives are now caught in a squeeze play. On one side you have Speaker Saiki and his team, and on the other, you have an influential coalition of 18 different labor unions, numerous progressive advocacy groups, and at least 500,000 unemployed and low-wage workers.

Consequently, many Representatives just choose to keep their heads down and hope they are not forced to vote publicly. Some are fearful that meaningful legislation they have championed, will be killed should they vote against the Speaker. Others are thinking of the important funding for a road, a school cafeteria, a bridge, or a beach park that they have fought so hard for – will be struck from the budget if they cross leadership. Still others are thinking, “Why fall on a sword if other members aren’t going to back me up?”

For a majority, the response when asked as to how they would vote is obfuscation. They will speak desperately from both sides of their mouth. They want workers and union members to know that deep down they support them, but even deeper down they absolutely do not want to vote and risk the wrath of leadership.

That word of course is a misnomer. True leadership would not put members in this position – it’s bad politics in support of bad policy.

Think about this for a second, House Speaker Scott Saiki is asking members to choose loyalty to him, over what is fundamentally solid value-based public policy. And he is asking them to choose him over the wishes of the Democratic Party, organized labor, numerous progressive organizations, and hundreds of thousands of workers and the community.

As much as fear-based decision-making seems to be playing a starring role in this play, me thinks that doing the right thing AND garnering the support of labor, progressives, and working people across the archipelago would be a much better script to run on (both literally and figuratively speaking).

A quick update on the script and a primer:

1) The person that first stands to make the initial motion, must either be fearless, have nothing to lose, or be totally dedicated to the cause. This person must have someone also to “second the motion.”

2) After this first motion and a second, 17 votes are needed to successfully pull the bills from the committee to the floor. The substance and possible passage of the bills cannot be discussed or acted upon until this motion passes.

3) To ensure that all votes are public and on the record, a motion for a “roll call vote” is also needed which requires 11 votes.

4) After the first motion is passed with at least 17 votes and once the bills are “on the floor,” there is debate and a vote on the bills themselves – 26 votes are needed to pass the bills.

As to the question now burning on everyone’s mind – yes there is still time. Sine die and the last day of the session is April 29th. There is time for House Leadership to acknowledge that perhaps they should in fact support the Senate’s position and rethink their opposition. And there is still time for individual members of the House, to decide that regardless, they are obligated to stand up and speak truth to power on behalf of the unemployed and low-wage workers.

House leadership will no doubt continue the refrain, “Let’s wait until next year, and then we will do something for working people.” That of course is shibai.

Hawaii’s unemployed and low-wage workers deserve support and respect, and they deserve to benefit from the passage of SB614 and SB676.

Each Representative must ultimately decide for themselves as to what is the right choice and live with those outcomes. The fear is justified. Their districts may indeed suffer and their other policy goals may also be denied or delayed. But the satisfaction of standing up for the people and helping to pass these two bills would be a memory never forgotten.

Until the majority stands up to say enough is enough, the mis-leadership will only continue.

Sincerely,
Gary Hooser

Please hang in there with me to keep pushing forward on this. It is essential that House Leadership and all Representatives know that this issue and our efforts are not going away.



So, if you could please contact your district Representative Find Your Legislator @ https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/ and ask them this question:



When a motion and a second is made to pull SB614 and SB676 to the floor, will they stand and vote in support of that motion?



Please ask them the question, let them know you are a constituent that lives in the district and request a response – polite and professional as always. A response by this Wednesday, April 14 would be very helpful.



Some will be hesitant to say publicly before the vote as to where they stand, and there is no need to make the names public – unless of course they say yes now and vote no later.



If the Find Your Legislator link is not working, a complete list of all Representatives can be found here. https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H

Note: I have no doubt we have at least 26 friends who support these issues and are willing to vote in support, but some of course are concerned about alienating the Speaker. Please be respectful but please also let them know that it is important to you, as a constituent – that you know where they stand on these important issues.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

House subterfuge attempts to block County Covid rules

On Wednesday, March 31, 2021 at 1:30pm, the State Legislature’s House Committee on Finance is holding a hearing on SB266. Why is this important and why have you not heard about this before?

To make a long story short, back on March 16th, when no one was looking Representative Linda Ichiyama, Chair of the House Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Committee, “inserted the contents of HB1286 into a new Part 2 of SB266.”  With no public notice, no public testimony, and no public discussion whatsoever, Representative Ichiyama supported by House Leadership, did an “end around” circumventing the normal legislative process.

The contents of HB1286 removes the ability of individual County’s to establish their own COVID travel rules. HB1286 was recently deferred in the Senate after a triple/joint committee hearing. This normally means it’s “dead” and a pretty strong signal that the Senate wants no part of it.

In summary, HB1286 was killed in the State Senate and resurrected by the House via a back door maneuver in the form of an amendment to SB266.

Unfortunately, House Leadership continues to play fast and loose with the rules, the law, and the intent of the State Constitution.

State Constitution Article II. 

Section 14.  No law shall be passed except by bill. Each law shall embrace but one subject. 

NOTE: HB266 clearly embraces more than one subject. For 2/3 of the process it deals only with COVID appropriations. Then it’s amended to include another subject which relates to COVID travel rules and County authority.

Section 15.  No bill shall become law unless it shall pass three readings in each house on separate days.

NOTE: HB266 containing its true substantive content has not received its required three readings in the Senate.

The Committee Report issued by the Chair Rep. Ichiyama states clearly, “The purpose of this measure is to appropriate funds for COVID-19 response programs and activities.”  

Toward the end of the report it states, “Your Committee further finds…Your Committee believes that having a uniform law regarding mandatory self-quarantine will allow the State to welcome more people, thereby stimulating the economy and improving the quality of life for its citizens…”

How can Rep. Ichiyama claim, “Your Committee further finds…” when there was no testimony, no discussion, and no mention of COVID travel rules whatsoever during the Committee hearing? Watch the video tape please. There is nothing.

The audacity and arrogance of the Chair and House Leadership is appalling.

To their credit, this maneuver is perversely clever. It’s sneaky, and likely unconstitutional, but yes it’s clever and yes it’s subterfuge. By tying HB1286 to SB266 (which is a COVID appropriations measure), the House ensures that if this measures survives the Conference Committee process intact, the Governor will be prevented from vetoing the bill without risking urgently needed COVID-related emergency funding.

State law and rules should represent a floor and not a ceiling. If a County due to its own particular circumstances wants to be more protective and have stricter rules and regulations, they should not be prevented from doing so.  AND emergency rules governing a pandemic should not be frozen in law and unable to rapidly adapt to changing conditions.

This move by the State House, represents bad policy, bad politics, and bad process.

Please take a moment to contact your District Representative and let them know your thoughts on this issue. Locate them on the Capitol website using the “Find Your Legislator” function https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/

Call or email your Representative AND please submit testimony on SB266. Visit https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov , register (it’s easy) and just follow the easy steps to submit testimony. The hearing is scheduled for 03-31-21 at 1:30PM. Ideally testimony is due 24 hours in advance, but late testimony is also acceptable.

Read SB266 and see it’s legislative history here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=266&year=2021

If you have time, please also contact the Finance Committee Members individually;

repluke@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repkobayashi@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repbranco@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repeli@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repholt@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repilagan@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repkobayashi@capitol.hawaii.gov
repmarten@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repnishimoto@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repperruso@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repsayama@capitol.hawaii.gov,
reptam@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repwildberger@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repyamashita@capitol.hawaii.gov,
repmcdermott@capitol.hawaii.gov

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inside Baseball @ State Capitol

Unfortunately, House Leadership continues to play fast and loose with the rules, the law, and the intent of the State Constitution. AND they continue to “lead” their members down a path fraught with bad policy, bad process…and worst of all for those who face re-election every two years – bad politics.

Case in point: HB1286 which removes the ability of individual County’s to establish COVID travel rules was recently “deferred” in the Senate after a triple/joint committee hearing. This normally means the measure is “dead” and a pretty strong signal that the Senate wants no part of it.

But earlier, on March 16 when no one was looking, Representative Linda Ichiyama, Chair of the House Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Committee, “inserted the contents of HB1286 into a new Part 2 of SB266.” With no public notice, no public testimony, and no public discussion whatsoever, Representative Ichiyama thumbed her nose at both the public and the process.

To be clear, this action would not have occurred without the blessing and encouragement of House Leadership – Speaker Scott Saiki, Vice Speaker John Mizuno, Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, and Majority Floor Leader Dee Morikawa.

Watch the video, read the testimony for SB266. There was no discussion at all. The Chair merely announces she is adding HB1286 to SB266, and the vote is taken. Many of the committee members themselves were likely not informed and taken by surprise.

The audacity and arrogance of it all is appalling.

Truth be told, HB1286 was dead on arrival and should never have been introduced. No physician, hospital, or medical professional of any kind has testified in support of HB1286 – in fact, all have been opposed.

With no chance of ever getting through the Senate and a veto by the Governor virtually certain, HB1286 seemed to serve no one except Speaker Saiki and his friends in the tourism industry.

To their credit, House Leadership is perversely clever. They are sneaky, and likely unconstitutional in their maneuvering, but yes they are clever in their subterfuge. By tying HB1286 to SB266 (which is a COVID appropriations measure), they ensure that the Governor will be prevented from vetoing the bill without risking urgently needed COVID-related emergency funding.

“Leadership” in the sense of a political body such as the State House of Representatives, normally means the Speaker and his/her team will “lead” according to the will of the majority. This means supporting public policy initiatives endorsed by the majority and navigating the process in a manner that avoids unnecessary controversy and maximizes “protection of the members” – political protection to be exact.

By pushing on HB1286 (now SB266), House Leadership is actually “exposing the members” in their pursuit of an initiative that is bad policy, bad politics, bad process, and totally unnecessary.

Instead of protecting his friends in the House, the Speaker is dragging them through multiple political minefields:

1) HB1286/SB266 – This fiasco especially impacts neighbor-island Representatives who are forced into a position of voting on a very divisive issue – for naught.

2) A senseless, and politically unpopular personal vendetta against the State auditor continues to raise questions in the media as to motivation and purpose. The Speaker unilaterally launched an investigation without a vote in the House, and without the participation of the Senate, even though the position is under the auspices of both. Auditors whose job is to shine a light on political corruption and mismanagement, are universally appreciated by the public.

3) The messy public spotlight on their own hefty legislative pay raises while refusing to even hold a hearing for SB676 an extremely modest $1.90 increase in the minimum wage only adds fuel to the fire of distrust and disgust the public holds for politicians. A large majority of the State House has stated publicly their support for increasing the minimum wage, 26 other states are already acting on the issue this year, AND it’s a top priority of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. So why not just pass it?

4) Totally disrespecting unemployed workers and offering the lamest of excuses for failing to pass SB614 granting tax relief to the unemployed will be the nail in more than one incumbent’s coffin, of that you can be sure. Rather than enthusiastically supporting the unemployed, the House prefers to protect Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS), very high-income earners, and real estate speculators. They are giving zillions of dollars of relief to business and commercial interests but giving the unemployed and low-wage workers nothing.

Spoiler Alert: If legislators are concerned about the COVID federal stimulus rules disallowing tax credits or the reduction of state tax income, they should reframe the proposal to be a “grant” to unemployed workers instead of a tax credit.

During the past 12 months, over 600,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits (over 37% of the labor force). If an aspiring candidate for the House were able to garner support from the unemployed (and formerly unemployed), AND appeal also to those residents who oppose the loosening of COVID travel protections – it seems that could be the starting point for a formidable campaign(s).

Just sayin…

Gary Hooser
Pono Hawaii Initiative ()

Some legislative truths:

When they tell you there’s no money, what they’re really saying is it’s not a priority.

If they want to they can, but they don’t so they won’t.

All that talk about it being “too late” or “sorry you missed the deadline” or “the title is wrong” is BS.

Any rule or deadline can be “waived” or changed by the House Speaker and/or the Senate President.

Action Steps

CONTACT YOUR DISTRICTS REPRESENTATIVE AND LET THEM KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE ISSUES – Locate your Representative and the contact information by entering your address at “find your legislator” here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/

SB266 () (which now includes HB1286): The next step is the House Finance Committee. While a hearing has not yet been scheduled, please contact committee members and give them a heads up as to how you feel about this issue.

SB676 () increasing the minimum wage: Please continue pressing Representative Onishi and Speaker Saiki to hold a hearing, hold a vote and pass this important measure.

SB614 () – eliminating the state income tax on unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Bottom line – If Finance Chair Sylvia Luke wants this to happen it will happen, so she is the one who needs the calls and emails.

Attend this important event at the Capitol on Thursday, March 31 raise your voice in support of SB676 and SB614. For info contact hiworkerscenter@gmail.com or visit http://www.hawaiiworkerscenter.org

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The politics of pork and military spending

Expanding the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) via a new $1.9 billion radar project that the Pentagon doesn’t want, says isn’t needed and will be obsolete before it’s even completed – is a bad idea.

The benefits of the pork are simply not worth the negative baggage that comes with it.

The waste of taxpayer funds, the increased militarization of our island (and the planet), the inevitable negative environmental impacts, the false economy this expansion would create, the inflated housing costs, and the continued erosion of access to this beautiful coastline, are only some of the negatives that will be forthcoming should this project move forward.

The proposal reeks of what is no doubt a well-intended, basic political desire to “take care of the district” by bringing home the bacon of jobs and economic development. While the goal of supporting Hawaii’s economy is a worthy one, the path of increased military spending on this particular project especially is not.

Last year the Pentagon itself actually attempted to defund the $1.9 billion Homeland Defense Radar – Hawaii project. According to the widely read publication Defense News, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said ‘that the agency decided to hit the brakes on its plans to set up the radars in the Pacific, instead are planning to take a new look at the sensor architecture in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command region’.

MDA Director Hill also indicated that the region was already protected by, “…forward-deployed AN/TPY-2 radar in Hawaii as well as the deployable Sea-Based X-Band radar. Additionally, Aegis ships with their radars are mobile and can be repositioned as needed to address threats in the near term.”

“Yet, over the summer, the Hawaiian radar gained traction in Congress via funding support in the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee’s version of the FY21 defense spending bill and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense policy bill.” Defense News.

Bottom line: This project is driven by politics and pork.

I get it. Our elected representatives and those elected representatives in the districts where Lockheed Martin and other military defense contractors are based want the money and the jobs that will be created by this project.

However, as residents and taxpayers, we should say thanks but no thanks. Instead of increased military spending (on a project that is not even a high military priority and based on old technology), what we really need is funding for infrastructure, affordable housing, and health/social services.

My father was a career Navy man, a Chief Boatswains Mate who served honorably for over 30 years. I have friends and relatives who are veterans and who now serve in the Middle East. I am proud and thankful for their service, and I believe the United States must maintain a strong defense.

The amount of money spent globally on militarism is obscene. According to numerous public sources, annual military spending by the United States was $732 billion in 2019 and accounted for 38 percent of global military expenditures. China was second at $261 billion followed by India at $71 billion and Russia in fourth place at $65.1 billion. For some context: North Korea spent $3.6 billion, Iran spent between $12 and $20 billion, and Afghanistan $0.23 billion.

In addition to far out-spending virtually every other country in the world, the U.S. also is the top seller of military arms on the planet.

The United States was the largest exporter of major arms from 2015-2019, delivering 76 percent more material than runner-up Russia. According to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute study reported in Defense News, “The U.S. provided major arms — defined as air defense systems, armored vehicles, missiles, and satellites, among other material — to 96 countries in those five years, with half of the weapons going to the Middle East.”

Kauai and all Hawaii can and should lead on this by simply saying, no. We don’t need, nor do we want to be part of this madness. Use the $1.9 billion for education, healthcare, and housing – please.

The Missile Defense Agency is sponsoring a scoping session prior to preparing a draft EIS for the radar project. It closes on April 12. Its purpose is to select one of 3 sites for the radar; Kahuku Training Area on Oahu, PMRF, or No Action Alternative (the right choice). The public is invited to testify, and they are especially interested in environmental and cultural inputs.

How to testify:
By Email; NDA.hdrh.eis@kfs-lic.com. Subject Line: MDA HDR-H EIS
By Phone (4 minutes only) 1-888-473-6650

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On behalf of that man under the bridge

The House of Representatives in Hawaii is essentially telling that man under the bridge – too bad, too sad. Get a second, or third job, or do whatever, just suck it up and stop complaining is the message.

We’ve got ours and we’re going to protect those that have given it to us, so accept your lot in life and keep out of sight, please. As long as you stay out of sight, we will leave you alone but if you start cluttering up our sidewalks, we will be forced to sweep you deeper under that bridge or even further into the woods.

You don’t vote, you don’t pay taxes, and none of your friends are my friends, so take your dirty clothes, your broken down cars, and your family too, and just stay out of the way.

Every legislator working in that big square building called the Capitol will be getting a raise this year, in July to be exact. Their pay will go up by approximately $6,000 per year or $3 per hour.

Yes, their pay is going up but yet they refuse to even schedule a hearing on SB676 which proposes increasing the minimum wage from the existing $10.10 to $12, effective July of 2022. Mahalo to the Senate for passing it out. While it’s not enough, it’s better than nothing which is what the House is saying the working poor deserve.

We’ll take our $3 per hour raise now, this year and in fact, we will even take another $3 per hour in 2024 – but we will give you wretched people nothing.

Why? Because we can, they say with a smirk as they head to still yet another important meeting with important people.

Such is the arrogance of “House Leadership.”

This will be the third year House Speaker Scott Saiki has blocked an increase in Hawaii’s minimum wage.

Representative Richard Onishi, Chair of the House Labor and Tourism Committee has not scheduled a single House bill proposing to increase the minimum wage.

House Leadership is refusing to allow any public discussion of the issue whatsoever.

Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said recently, “It would be more rational for both the Senate and the House to take another look at it next year.”

Not this year says Representative Luke, Saiki, and Onishi. Not in 2019, not in 2020, not in 2021, not in 2022 either.

Let them eat cake and tell them to shut the front door on the way out is the clear and unequivocal message.

The Hawaii State Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) has determined, “A single adult with no children needed to earn an hourly wage of $17.21 in 2018 to be able to meet his/her basic needs and to be economically self-sufficient.”

President Biden, every member of the Hawaii Congressional delegation and almost every single Democrat in the U.S. Congress is fighting for a national $15 minimum wage, and yet Hawaii’s overwhelmingly Democratically controlled State House (47 Democrats to 4 Republicans) is unwilling to give Hawaii’s working people any raise at all.

It’s sad really. It’s sad, it’s unjust, and it’s unacceptable.

If someone works 40 hours a week, they deserve to earn a wage that can provide a dry, safe place to sleep at night. While $12 won’t do that, it’s much better than the $10.10 they get now.

The research is clear and Hawaii’s own recent history proves it to be true. Modest incremental increases in the minimum wage phased in over time, do not result in job losses, increased bankruptcy, or excessive inflation. What actually happens is increased spending that benefits both workers and the economy as a whole.

Hawaii’s workers deserve respect and they deserve a wage increase, just like the entire legislature will be getting this year.

Please take a moment and share your thoughts on this important topic with your own Representative who represents the district where you live and vote. They will no doubt profess support for an increase, and then they will pivot to “But this year is probably not the right year for this to happen.”

Remind them then, that 26 other states are increasing their minimum wage this year. Remind them that they failed to increase the wage in 2019. And remind them also that they themselves are getting a big fat raise this year.

Ask them about that man under the bridge, and tell them that you will be thinking of him when you cast your vote in August of 2022.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Blowing Smoke On Cannabis Legalization – Pulling back the curtain on SB767

Your calls to Representative Nakashima encouraging him to give a fair hearing to SB767 relating to the legalization of cannabis – definitely worked.

As a result of the many calls that were made to his office, Representative Nakashima is walking back his previous statements, telling people now he will give SB767 “all due consideration should the Health Committee decide to pass it to JHA/CPC …”

For those who may have missed it, according to an article in Civil Beat Hawaii Senate Votes To Legalize Marijuana, Raise Minimum Wage, ”House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Nakashima said he is not inclined to hold a hearing on the legalization bill, which means the measure will probably die for the year.”

So now, today the calls and emails must be made to the Chair of the Health Committee, Representative Ryan Yamane whose contact information is here</a.

Please call/email Rep. Yamane before the end of the day on Wednesday, March 17, and request politely, professionally, and firmly – that he promptly schedule and pass out SB767. Your message can be brief and to the point. I don’t really think you need talking points for this one 😉

It is interesting that the House has decided to refer this measure to the Health Committee. The Senate did not refer the measure to its Health Committee, as it more appropriately fits in the Consumer Protection & Judiciary Committees.

It’s also interesting that when the 2019 decriminalization bill HB1383 was passed in the House, the Health Committee was not involved in the discussion at all. It’s also useful to note that Representative Yamane was one of 16 House members who voted NO on HB1383 which ultimately decriminalized possession of an infinitesimal 3 grams of cannabis.

Though HB1383 passed in 2019 with a supermajority (35/16), Finance Chair Sylvia Luke characterized it as a “close vote” in recent conversations on Civil Beat .

Soooo – If I was a jaded cynic and wanted to speculate on Speaker Saiki’s intent, I would say referring SB767 to the House Health Committee and Representative Yamane, is a move intended to ensure cannabis is not legalized. It adds one more committee to the process, thus one more roadblock to the passage, and it protects Representative Nakashima (his Vice-Speaker) from the political fallout of being blamed for the decision.

A brief political vulnerability analysis, IMHO, warrants this conclusion:

Representative Nakashima represents Hamakua, North Hilo, and South Hilo. The Big Island, in general, is considered “cannabis-friendly.” He has been challenged in several primary elections in recent years, and he has one of the highest percentages of “blank votes” of any House Democrat. When he last ran for reelection, almost half the voters (47.7%) did not vote for him even though his name was the only one on the ballot.

Representative Yamane has served for nearly 18 years has never had a primary challenger. His blank vote percentage when running unopposed is at 25% and he has 3 X the campaign bankroll as Representative Nakashima ($54,000/$12,500). And his district, Mililani, Waipio Gentry, and Waikele is not exactly a hotbed of pro-cannabis advocacy.

Small additional wrinkle: The Health Committee has a total of 8 members. 50% of the committee, Representatives LoPresti, Gates, Tam, and Kapela are members of the “House Progressive Caucus.” It will be interesting to see if they make a formal request to Health Chair Yamane to schedule SB767 for a hearing.

And of course, there is always House Rule 11.3:
“If a chair of a standing committee refuses a request of a majority of the committee members to set for public hearing a bill or resolution referred to the committee, the majority of the committee members may petition the Review Panel established under Rule 2.1(14) to compel the chair to set the bill or resolution for public hearing.”

Contact information for the entire House Health Committee is here. In addition to contacting Chair Ryan Yamane , if you have the time and are motivated to help move this important issue forward, please send a message to each member.

Now you know…while perhaps not the entire story…at least a good chunk of it.

Gary Hooser

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Testimony needed today for Environmental Protection, Criminal Justice Reform, Election Reform, Tax Fairness

Here is a short but long list of important bills that need your/our attention today. Please – Take the time to submit something even if it is short and to the point. This may be the last chance for you to do so and it’s important to show there is strong community support.

And yes, if you happen to miss the “24 hours in advance” deadline, it’s ok. The testimony will be marked “late” but it will still be included in the public testimony file and committee members will still be provided a copy.

So please join me if you can! Most of you know the routine but for the “newbies”…just go to https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov and “register” at the top or “sign-in” if already registered. Next: Either click on testimony, enter the bill # SB### (no spaces), and follow instructions. Or, if you would like to read more about the bill first, then enter the Bill # in the “Bill Status” spot on the main https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov page and use the testimony link found there to submit.

Please take the time to figure it out – it’s easy really. Once you are registered and use the system once or twice, it’s really quite easy to maneuver.

Bills/Resolutions To Support

HR131 AND HCR155 – URGING THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY TO RESIST LOCATING THE PROPOSED HOMELAND DEFENSE RADAR-HAWAII WITHIN THE STATE

https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HR&billnumber=131&year=2021

HR104 AND HCR128 – Free and Fair Elections – REQUESTING THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO PROPOSE AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM THAT WILL RESTORE BALANCE AND INTEGRITY TO OUR NATIONAL SYSTEM OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE Support and amending the legislation (HCR128) to call for a limited Article V convention to propose a campaign finance reform amendment that will end the era of Citizens United.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HCR&billnumber=128&year=2021

SB159 – Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) – Automatically registers those who are eligible to vote upon their application for a motor vehicle driver’s license or identification card unless the applicant affirmatively declines.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=159&year=2021

SB335 – Requires the Agribusiness Development Corporation and the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture to annually lease at least 50% of its land to local food production businesses. Though the preference is to abolish the ADC, we are suggesting supporting SB335 with amendments to:
* Mandate the prioritization of regenerative farming operations that utilize soil and water conservation practices.
* Adding a representative of an environmental organization, indigenous farming practitioners, and an organic/natural farmer to the ADC board.
* Require a comprehensive plan for the future of Hawaiʻi’s agricultural lands and overall food system. The planning process must involve small food producers, food systems planners, farmers steeped in organic and natural farming practices, and individuals who partake in Native Hawaiian food systems restoration projects from each island

SB338 – Requires the department of agriculture to establish a 5-year food hub pilot program to increase access to local food.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=338&year=2021

HB576 Allows Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to provide in-clinic early abortions. Provides increased access to reproductive health services for neighbor-island residents.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=576&year=2021

SB1243 – Requires the State to phase out the use of private correctional facilities to incarcerate Hawaii inmates.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=1243&year=2021

SB1260 – Eliminates the use of monetary bail and requires defendants to be released on their own recognizance for traffic offenses, violations, and nonviolent petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor offenses, with certain exceptions.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=1260

Must Read Restore Justice. End The Cash Bail System – Civil Beat
https://www.civilbeat.org/2021/02/restore-justice-end-the-bail-system/

HB433 – Assesses a climate change mitigation impact fee on every customer who rents, leases, or utilizes a rental motor vehicle.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=433

HB767 – Establishes a programmatic goal for the department of education that at least thirty percent of food served in public schools shall consist of locally sourced products
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=767

HB1352 – Requires: (1) an inventory of lands within the State that are leased or controlled by the federal government; (2) any known contaminants or environmental hazards associated with the inventoried lands; (3) proposed alternative uses for the lands; and (4) proposed legislation, based on this information.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=1352

HB243 – Identify existing and planned facilities that are vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding impacts, and natural hazards; assess mitigation impacts of sea-level rise.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=243

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Injustice and hypocrisy at the state legislature

SB676 increasing the minimum wage to $12 has passed out of the Senate and is now awaiting a hearing by Representative Richard Onishi, Chair of the House Labor and Tourism Committee.

Unfortunately, it appears that House Speaker Scott Saiki is going to refuse to even allow a vote on SB676.

As further evidence of Speaker Saiki’s intent, Labor Chair Onishi has not scheduled a single House bill proposing to increase the minimum wage, refusing to even hold a public discussion on the issue.

A third key member of the Speaker’s team, Finance Chair Sylvia Luke has also weighed in opposing increasing the minimum wage saying, “it would be more rational for both the Senate and the House to take another look at it next year,” according to Civil Beat.

Not this year says Representative’s Luke, Saiki, and Onishi.

Yet all three will themselves be getting a pay raise this year.

SB676 proposes a modest increase in Hawaii’s minimum wage from $10.10 to $12 per hour that will not take effect until July of 2022.

So when Representative’s Luke, Saiki, and Onishi say “not this year” they are really saying not next year either. It’s important to note, that they also said “not this year” in 2019 and in 2020.

Yet all three, and the entire legislature will be getting a pay-raise this year – a 10% increase, over $6,000 per year or about $3.00 per hour effective July of this year. Then in 2024, they are slated to get still another $3.00 per hour increase.

The State Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) has determined, (https://files.hawaii.gov/dbedt/economic/reports/self-sufficiency/self-sufficiency_2018.pdf) “A single adult with no children needed to earn an hourly wage of $17.21 in 2018 to be able to meet his/her basic needs and to be economically self-sufficient.”

Yet “Hawaii’s House Leadership” has determined that $10.10 is good enough for 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022. President Biden, every member of the Hawaii Congressional delegation and almost every single Democrat in the U.S. Congress is fighting for a national $15 minimum wage, and yet Hawaii’s overwhelmingly Democratically controlled State House (47 Democrats to 4 Republicans) year after year, tell our workers to eat cake at $10.10.

Pandemic or no pandemic – 26 other states are increasing their minimum wage this year. Hawaii needs to be #27.

If you are as angry as I am about this, I hope you will join me in calling out the hypocrisy and injustice of it all.

Please send a message asap, today if possible to Speaker Saiki, Committee Chair Onishi, and Finance Chair Luke. Ask them with “one-click” to schedule a hearing for SB676 and increase Hawaii’s minimum wage to at least $12 in 2022 and include further incremental increases to achieve $17 by 2026.

Even if you have already sent an email in the past, please take this action again today and ensure they get the message. Yes – please send them another message today.

If you prefer to call or send them individual messages, their contact information is here: Speaker Scott Saiki, Finance Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke, and Labor Chair Rep. Richard Onishi.

Thank you for taking the time to stand up and be counted.

Gary Hooser

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments