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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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Making law in Hawaii via the ballot box

What if Hawaii residents, fed up with the lack of leadership at the state legislature, decided to take matters into their own hands and change the law themselves?

This is the power of citizen initiative. “A process of a participatory democracy that empowers the people to propose legislation and to enact or reject the laws at the polls independent of the lawmaking power of the governing body.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law,

While the Hawaii State Constitution does not provide citizens with the power to pass State law at the “ballot box,” this citizen law-making tool is available at the County level.

Citizens have the right with certain limitations to put on the ballot for a public vote, proposals for both new County ordinances (laws) and/or changes to the County Charter.

Though rarely used, the power of citizen initiative at the County level is potentially a powerful tool.

In theory, citizens could tackle the elephant in the room and limit the growth of tourism.

For example citizens could be asked to vote on a measure that essentially states, “No new lands shall be re-zoned for short-term visitor accommodations, nor shall any residential transient vacation rental permits be issued, until the County has established visitor industry carrying capacity limits via a comprehensive community planning process, and has passed into law appropriate ordinances intended to limit negative impacts on cultural, environmental and other essential community resources/services (roads, housing, emergency services etc.).”

Note to those who enjoy quibbling over words: The exact language of any proposal would require extensive thought and legal review. The examples used here are intended only to be a launching point for further discussion.

Another idea likely to resonate with some: “No agricultural lands shall be converted to any nonagricultural use except those lands that directly abut existing urban areas, are serviced by adequate infrastructure, and developed for affordable housing defined as 100% of median or below.”

It’s unclear whether or not the County has the right to establish a minimum wage that applies to private business within the County. In other municipalities on the continent this is possible, but in Hawaii this power may be reserved to the State.

However, there are always “work arounds.” It may be possible that a citizen based ballot initiative could require that, “The County may contract with and purchase supplies only from entities who pay their Hawaii employees at or above a specified minimum wage.”

On the issue of environmental protection, a ballot initiative could expand on existing law and propose a broad and comprehensive ban on single use plastics or other similar items.

County elections are also fair game to an extent. Do you support Council Districts? Multimember Districts? A County Manager system?

The primary caveat is that any proposed initiative must deal only with issues that fall within the County’s legal authority. For example the County may not pass laws that directly impact public education, airports, courts, harbors, and similar State regulated areas of society.

Generally speaking County ballot initiatives cannot directly spend money, cannot increase taxes and cannot down-zone property. It is my understanding that a ballot initiative may set conditions that legally limit “future up-zoning” and may create new programs/departments that will cost money in the future to implement. However a ballot initiative cannot actually amend the County budget nor directly spend money. Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer and welcome the input of those who know this area of the law better than I.

The challenge is clearly identifying a proposed ballot initiative that:

1) Falls within County jurisdiction and legal limits of ballot initiatives.
2) Creates bold systemic change – It only makes sense to tackle a ballot initiative if the issue/proposal is “big” and enables/creates systemic change that would be unlikely to pass through a normal Council process.
3) Is broad in its impact yet easy to understand.

If there is interest and energy, there is still time. Depending on various factors, the proposal would have to be clearly articulated and legally vetted by August of this year in order to provide the many months needed to gather the signatures and meet the various legal deadline requirements.

The citizen initiative process only happens when citizens take the initiative to make it happen. So…what say you?

Signature requirements per County:

Kauai County
Ordinances: 20% of voters registered in the last general election.
( = 9,450 signatures needed based on 2020)
Charter Amendments: 5% of voters registered in last general election.
( = 2,365 signatures needed based on 2020)

City and County of Honolulu
Ordinances and Charter Amendments: 10% of the voters registered in last regular mayoral election. ( = 55,000 signatures needed based on 2020)

Hawaii County
Ordinances: 15% of total number of persons who voted for the office of mayor in the last election. ( = 13,000 signatures needed based on 2020)
Charter Amendments: 20% of the total ballots cast in the last general election. ( = 17,750 signatures needed based on 2020)

Maui County
Ordinances: 20% of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the last mayoral general election ( = 10,200 signatures needed based on 2018)
Charter Amendments: The Maui charter provides two separate options. The first requires a petition signed by 10% of the voters registered in the last general election. ( = 10,800 signatures needed based on 2020). The proposed amendment is presented to the city council, which votes on whether or not to submit it to an election. The second option is a petition signed by 20% of the voters registered in the last general election ( = 21,600 signatures needed based on 2020). After certification of a 20% petition, the proposed amendment shall be submitted at the next general election.

Note: Persons serious about pursuing a County ballot initiative are advised to read the County Charter, do their own math, and seek legal advice as to process, language and authority.

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Political Labels And The Man Under The Bridge

A “radical centrist” is how I’ve recently taken to describing myself and my politics. Needless to say, I’ve taken flack from progressive friends on the left who see centrists as the enemy, blue dogs, and regressive corporatists in hiding.

I use that label because I can’t believe that values based on equality and fairness are somehow fringe. Bigotry is fringe. Inclusivity and a celebration of our diversity is a value held by most. Ditto to so many other values and goals held by those of us who are too often characterized as being “far left.”

Don’t a majority of us believe that if someone works 40 hours a week, they deserve to earn a wage that can provide a dry, safe place to sleep at night?

Environmental protection, access to healthcare, and taking care of the elderly, the infirm, and the very young – are not radical ideas.

The radical part I suppose is the urgency of now. We want to actually move this agenda forward. Perhaps those on the left feel this more deeply than others. Many I suppose, are more insulated from the hardship and injustice that surround us, view the world through a different lens, and literally may not see the world that we do.

We see the blue skies, the rainbows, and the opportunity that is before us, but we also see that man under the bridge. We drive by him daily and know he is not there by choice. We know he would much rather live like we do, in a house with a roof and a refrigerator with food in it. Some who drive by will mutter that he needs to get a job. But we know there are no jobs for people like him, at least no jobs that pay a living wage.

We see the sea eating away at the side of the road, and we read about the fires and the storms. It’s common knowledge and accepted science that carbon emission from burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change, yet our government does little to nothing. Grand proclamations, yet another task-force, and endless lofty feel-good fake green energy goals will not save the planet. Spoiler alert and our collective dirty little secret: It’s about consumption, not just generation.

There is no shortage of wealth in the world and we live surrounded by abundance. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this abundance is held by less than 5% of the world’s population. Requiring that 5% who have so much more to pay more, is not a radical idea. It’s not communism to require those that use more, consume more, and pollute more – to pay more. It is also not communism to strictly regulate corporations who extract, sell and profit from our planet’s natural resources.

The level of income inequality in the U.S. is higher than all European allies and Canada (G7 nations). According to Pew Research, “The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled between 1989 and 2016…the top 5% held 248 times as much wealth at the median…”

The money we spend on militarism is obscene. The cost of just the F-35 failed fighter jet program so far is $1,700,000,000 (that is one trillion, seven hundred billion dollars).

The top federal tax rate in the United States in 1960 was 90% and today it’s at 40%.

Again, there is no shortage of wealth.

Most of the moving forward solutions are basic, tried and true, and really not that complicated: Increasing social security, raising the minimum wage, investing in education, expanding affordable healthcare, and increasing taxes on the wealthy. The strict regulation of extractive and environmentally harmful industry must be made a priority and agencies charged with this oversight must put people and the planet above corporate profits.

The Green New Deal has been made into a boogeyman program by those on the hard right, but even a cursory review reveals the great potential it holds for job creation, climate change mitigation, and environmental protection.

There is no shortage of good ideas and solid public policy initiatives that can move us forward. What’s lacking is the political will to buck the fringe on the far right that has claimed the mantel of the centrist. To be clear, the far-right whether they be the entitled, the ignorant, or the uninformed – do not represent the center.

Truth, equality, and justice are the core centrist ideas and values the vast majority of us hold dear. It’s time now, to roll up our sleeves, and radically pursue them. Now. Today.

That man under the bridge will be dead and that road will be gone unless we act soon.

Gary Hooser

First Published in The Garden Island newspaper, March 3, 2021

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