Tell Hawaii’s legislators that it’s time to go to work. Please take action TODAY and before May 4th if at all possible.

Aloha Friends, Please email key legislators TODAY, and let them know using your own words’:

“Putting off the many critical issues facing Hawaii until 2021 will not serve us well. Please, reconvene the 2020 legislative session and extend into a special session if necessary. Do the work, until the work is done. Take whatever time is needed to accomplish the many tasks that await your attention.”

Background and context on this issue can be found here:

Civil Beat: Legislative leadership must rise to the occasion

Hooser Blog: Foresight, not hindsight should be our goal

Email:
Senate President – Senator Ronald Kouchi senkouchi@capitol.hawaii.gov
House Speaker – Representative Scott Saiki repsaiki@capitol.hawaii.gov

Please also email your own State Senator and Representative who represents the district where you live.

Here is a complete list of all State Senators and contact information.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=S

Here is a complete list of all State Representatives and contact information.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H

You can also use this “Find My Legislator” search tool to identify who represents you in the State House and Senate, and their contact information.
https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/findleg.aspx?street=Enter%20Street%20Name

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The 2020 Hawaii State Legislature, must get back to work.

If sending flowers to mom is now considered an essential service, it would seem that it’s past time for the 2020 legislative session to likewise get back to doing “the people’s work”.

God knows, there is plenty of work to do.

Ensuring health care for the recently unemployed, standing up health screening/testing at airports, supporting local agriculture and food-self sufficiency, implementing remote testimony capability, passing automatic voter registration, and preserving the hard-fought Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increases in Hawaii’s minimum wage are just a few of the critical items that must be addressed.

Kick-starting and diversifying our economy, implementing critical “Green New Deal” job-creating programs that focus on energy and food independence, and environmental resource management also require urgent attention.

With most of Hawaii either unemployed or otherwise fearing for their economic future, we are counting on you who were elected to represent our best interest, to in fact do your job.

There are no valid reasons to put off this important work.

The additional cost of an extended session is minimal as legislators and their core staff are paid year-round anyway. The cost of “session staff” and other incidental expenses are likewise minor in scope.

Public hearings and “floor sessions” can be conducted utilizing a combination of remote “Zoom type” technology and basic old fashion “social distancing”. House/Senate rules may need changing but that also is easily accomplished so long as the Senate President and House Speaker agree. Many other state legislatures and our own County Councils continue conducting their business in this manner, and there is no reason the Hawaii State Legislature cannot do the same.

Putting off these critical issues until 2021 will not serve us well. Please, reconvene the 2020 legislative session and extend into a special session if necessary. Do the work, until the work is done. Take whatever time is needed to accomplish the many tasks that await your attention.

Now is the time for Hawaii’s legislative leadership to rise to the occasion. We need you now more than ever before to show us what you got.

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Big Dog Politics & Post Pandemic Policy – Kauai Style

It was interesting to watch the recent mash-up between the big dogs – Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Senate President Kauai Senator Ronald Kouchi, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, and Lt. Governor Josh Green.

The Honolulu Mayor suggested last week that Kauai or “some neighbor island” might be the best place to test out the re-launch of the state’s tourism industry.

Kouchi threw the first punch saying, “I want to be clear to Mayor Caldwell. Kauai does not appreciate being identified as a potential test case to go bring in the tourists so you can make better decisions on Oahu,” (Honolulu StarAdvertiser)

Green, a likely opponent of Caldwell in the 2022 governor’s race also was quick with a body slam, saying he was “shocked at the idea of using the neighbor islands as a giant experiment to see if the virus kills people. It was a pretty stunning comment.” Civil Beat

Then on PBS Hawaii during a live “4 Island Mayor” interview program, Kawakami offered Caldwell a reasoned but sharp and direct rebuke saying, “We gotta be careful with our words…there’s already a situation where there’s a level of fear…when our people hear that we are going to be like a sacrificial lamb or the testing grounds…”

Mayor Kawakami is correct of course that “We gotta be careful with our words…”.

Caldwell has since acknowledged that saying Kauai might be the best place to “test” the relaunch of the state’s tourism industry, was a bad choice of words and a mischaracterization of his intent.

He should have perhaps said instead, that Kauai is in the best position to “lead”.

After all, it seems obvious that we are in fact in the best position to lead and are already doing so. Mayor Kawakami and the residents of Kauai are at this moment leading the effort to eliminate the spread of the virus among our local population with zero new cases of Covid infections occurring during the past 18 days.

Why wouldn’t we also lead the effort and set the example by slowly and thoughtfully reopening our local economy? Why wouldn’t we be the first to establish ultra stringent testing and screening protocols at the airport and then very slowly reopen travel to and from our island?

Who else is going to lead? Governor Ige? Mayor Caldwell? Are we to wait until Oahu gets it together before we venture out ourselves? If so, be prepared for a long, long wait and no telling what we will get on the other side.

If we allow Kauai to lead, think of the possibilities. Think of what we could do.

First, we make our island safe. This seems to be happening thanks to firm leadership and a population that cares about each other.

Next, we slowly reopen our local businesses.

Then with the help of the State and Federal government (funding and expertise), we establish at our airport the very best testing and health screening protocols available. We require health certificates from incoming passengers and continue the quarantine if needed.

Then and only then do we begin to slowly loosen the existing restrictions on incoming travel and closely monitor and track all incoming travelers (visitors and local residents). We adjust the plan moving forward tightening or loosening the requirements as needed to maximize the health protections of our community, while ever so slowly getting our economy back moving again.

But Kauai being Kauai, we will do much more than just open our doors while screening and testing for COVID. We will insist on the re-visioning and re-making of our visitor industry. There will be no going back to the same ole, same ole

Via changes in State and County laws, rules, permitting requirements, tax incentives, and disincentives, we can and must do things differently.

Hotels, resorts, airlines, and vacation rentals must be required to:
*Pay every worker a living wage and health benefits
*Purchase 90% of their restaurant items from local farms and ranches
*Educate all guests on cultural and local norms

We must also set strict limits on the number of visitor arrivals by:
*Freezing new resort development and reducing the number of vacation rental permits.
*Directly connect taxation of the visitor industry to the number of visitors served so that increasing numbers above a threshold, results in decreased profitability.

To ease our traffic congestion, we must dramatically increase the taxation of rental cars, utilizing those funds for public transportation.

In order to have at least one day a week free from the noise and activity brought to our public spaces by the visitor industry, we might also consider banning all commercial activity on all public lands, beaches, waters, and air space – on Sundays.

And of course, in all beach parks, we must set aside sufficient free parking designated for local residents only.

With bold, creative, and collaborative leadership – we could, in fact, accomplish all of the above and more. No, it’s not easy. Nobody said it would be easy. Leadership is not easy.

While Honolulu Mayor Caldwell stumbled on his words, his instinct was on target – Kauai should lead. And then, if they so choose – Oahu and the rest of the State could follow in our path.

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Where I live there are rainbows, and we help each other

In March 2006, Nancy Arcayna wrote in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that every time Hector Venegas hears the song “Hawaiian Lullaby” he is reminded of his daughter, Krista.

“The song evolved from the situation of my daughter’s life … her life-threatening illness. I was extremely broken-hearted,” Hector said. He wrote the song for Krista more than 30 years ago as she recovered from a long bout of bacterial meningitis. Putting the words on paper helped him deal with an array of emotions, from fear, anger and resentment to love, he said: “I needed to turn my negative thoughts into positive ones. I wanted to see things in a different light. I didn’t want to see a shrink.”

Where I live, there are rainbows
With life in the laughter of morning
and starry nights

Where I live, there are rainbows
And flowers full of colors
and birds filled with song

I can smile when it’s raining
And touch the warmth of the sun
I hear children laughing
in this place that I love
Hawaiian Lullaby – Words by Hector Venegas & Peter Moon

Today, many of us are dealing with similar emotions and perhaps now more than ever need to be reminded of the truths embedded within this beautiful song.

I would add only one new line perhaps:

Where I live, we help each other
Those who have less
Who share our love and laughter
And our island home

While we are surrounded by challenges that may seem insurmountable, it is important that we remind each other that where we live, there are still rainbows.

No matter how desperate the situation or how great the challenge, we need to remember always that we are incredibly blessed to live in this place.
We are surrounded by a natural environment that both heals the body and rejuvenates the soul. Whether by being in or on the ocean, walking a mountain path, or simply looking out the window at the stars or watching the sunset or rise on the horizon, our load will be lightened and our spirit reborn.

Yes, where we live, there are rainbows. We have the beauty of nature and of a people grounded in a culture of aloha. Where we live, we help each other.

Recently I saw that a friend had posted online, that they feared running out of food.

My first thought was that where I come from, we help our friends and that no one in my community was ever, ever going to run out of food. Period.

We just would not let that happen.

We’ve survived Hurricane Iwa, Hurricane Iniki, 9/11, the great recession of 2008 and numerous floods and rain bursts along the way. Through it all, we survived and ultimately grew closer as a community because we helped each other.

Similarly, we will look back at history and see that we survived the great pandemic of 2020, for the same reasons. Because that’s how we roll. It’s ingrained in our collective DNA – we help each other.

After all, if you go back far enough we are in fact all related. We are all ohana.

And as my grandson Rixon and granddaughter Isabella will no doubt be reminding me in the future, “Ohana means family, family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten.” (Lilo & Stitch)

As ohana, we must remember to reach out to check on friends and family. We must offer food and friendship before the need arises and anticipate those among us who might need additional help and support. Yes, we all are taking a hit, but each of us can offer help in some meaningful way, whether it is with cash contributions to a worthy cause, or banana or papaya or lettuce from our garden.

To those who say that “it will never be the same” and that “life has changed forever” – I disagree and encourage you to revisit those thoughts. We collectively have survived many, many challenges over the years, from wars to plagues to earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunami. Rather than lamenting how things won’t be the same, or just simply thinking about surviving and returning to normalcy, let’s work together, learn from the past and create an even better future.

The good news is that Hawaii’s infection rate seems to be dropping daily. If we continue to be strong, stay home, wash our hands, wear our masks and practice appropriate social distancing – sooner rather than later some sense of normalcy will in fact return. But we must remain vigilant. Sooner than we think, the COVID-19 era will be behind us.

Life goes on. The sun always comes up the next day, this too shall pass and always, always remember that where we live, there are rainbows.

Published in The Garden Island Newspaper – 04/22/2020

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Foresight, not hindsight should be our goal

2020 vision and decisive action by our state legislature is needed now more than ever. Hawaii cannot afford to wait until 2021.

The State House and Senate have each convened a “Special Committee on COVID-19”. Ostensibly the mission and goal of each committee is to monitor and review the pandemics’ economic impacts, and the executive branch’s management of the situation. Unfortunately, neither committee provides an opportunity for public input or testimony. Citizen input is a valuable and necessary component of any successful information gathering process and should be welcomed, not prohibited.

It would seem that by now both legislative committees have done their due diligence and that our legislature at some point soon will actually begin legislating. Whether the 2020 Session reconvenes in May and/or extends into a special session in June or even July, the work can and should begin now.

Word on the street however, is that leadership in the House and Senate is considering simply putting everything off until January of 2021. Apparently, they are thinking to “gavel in” the session around May 1, schedule a handful of hearings necessary to pass and fund Grant-In-Aid (GIA) requests and Capital Improvement Projects (CIP), and put off all other work until 2021.

Needless to say, I believe adjourning without addressing the many critical issues facing our community now, would be a gross failure of legislative leadership. There is much work to be done and no valid reason why the legislature cannot do it, this year.

Legislators can and should be doing the nitty-gritty work now, remotely. Just as the COVID-19 Special Committees are meeting, so can other committees of the House and Senate. Proposed bill language can be discussed remotely with experts and stakeholders, and possible amendments refined.

At some point in the coming few months, Hawaii will start reopening both business and government. The legislature could then be reconvened and extended into June or July as may be needed. There is no shortage of legislative “vehicles” (bills), and the appropriate public hearings could be held to comply with open government laws and avoid issues associated with “gut and replace”.

Hawaii needs more than just a blanket approval of so-called “shovel ready” projects and pending Grant-In-Aid (GIA) funding.

There are many issues that simply cannot wait until 2021.

The state budget must be massively readjusted in order to deal with the financial realities of tax revenue grinding to a halt as economic activity does the same. This process deserves and requires active legislative participation. Hiding on the sidelines, sheltered from the political ramifications of the hard choices while leaving the governor hanging out to dry – is not acceptable.

Nearly 25% of Hawaii’s workers are now unemployed. Without employment, most are also now without health insurance. Whether through an expansion of Med-Quest or via other means our legislature must develop and fund health coverage for these workers.

In order to fully reopen our economy, incoming travelers must be screened and tested for COVID-19. A statewide screening and testing program must be established with appropriate personnel hired and trained to implement it. This requires legislative action.

It is essential that worker rights be protected during the economic recovery period and beyond. Recently laid-off workers must be given first preference to return to their former jobs under the same terms that were previously held. The government must not allow nor reward businesses who attempt a shift to part-time, no health insurance, lower-wage workers.

The EITC and other tax credits aimed at low income working people along with the minuscule increase in the minimum wage must be preserved and passed into law. Our state budget must not be balanced on the backs of low income working people.

The fragility of our food supply chain has become more apparent than ever. Providing both public policy and tangible financial support to local farmers growing food for local consumption is crucially important and should not have to wait until 2021. Our farmers need help now.

Emergency funding could and should be used to support “remote access” that will allow all residents access to the legislative process and meaningful public participation, regardless of where they reside. According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), Alaska began holding remote hearings for residents in 1978. In 2014, more than 4,000 citizens participated remotely in 5,000 hours of legislative teleconferences. Here in the islands, Hawaii County and Maui County both allow residents to testify via teleconference from remote locations. Given the COVID-19 limitations on “social distancing” and other “stay-at-home rules, now more than ever the Hawaii State Legislature needs to make universal remote access a reality.

GIA funding should be substantially increased and new applications from entrepreneurs focused on food-self sufficiency, import-substitution, recycling, economic diversification, and job creation should be encouraged. Construction projects should be funded only if they truly meet the needs of the community, and are genuine “shovel ready,” rather than just pet projects located in some influential legislators district. 

Waiting until 2021 to tackle these and many other issues facing our state would be an unequivocal failure in leadership. I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that those elected to high office, will not let us down.

First published on April 15, 2020 in The Garden Island newspaper.

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Neighbor-Islands Poised To Lead Economic Recovery

“Essentially, economists say, there won’t be a fully functioning economy again until people are confident that they can go about their business without a high risk of catching the virus.” New York Times April 6, 2020.

A high bar to overcome, with new cases of COVID-19 being reported daily through-out Hawaii. For the City and County of Honolulu and its 1,000,000 residents living in relatively dense urban communities, the challenge to reach this threshold is significantly greater than the other three less populated, neighbor-island counties.

Thus Kauai, Maui and Hawaii County could, in fact, lead the way in terms of both protecting health and restarting the economy. Oahu, of course, will also get to the same place, but primarily because of the larger population, it will likely take longer to do so.

Step one for all islands is to eliminate the spread of the virus. Thankfully, the flow of incoming travelers has slowed to a trickle and police are increasing enforcement of the 14-day quarantine. We need to take the next step and basically lock our islands down.

If we show the discipline and commitment needed, we can, in fact, stop the virus. But we must do better and avoid going out, period. Running errands because we are bored, is not acceptable – we must only go out when it’s absolutely required – as in urgent.

So first we aim for zero. No new cases of COVID-19 are the goal. In order to even start a gradual reopening of businesses, we must slow the spread and reverse the trend.

To get to zero and stay there we must also further tighten requirements for all incoming travel. With the coming availability of the FDA approved Abbott laboratories “15 minute test”, every incoming traveler regardless of their point of origin should be tested (either prior to their point of origin departure or upon arrival). This is the same test taken by President Trump and the same test currently being deployed widely in Detroit Michigan.

With an approximate population of fewer than 75,000 people on Kauai, 160,000 on Maui and just over 200,000 on the Big Island of Hawaii – and with increasing testing capacity, soon we should be able to test virtually 100% of neighbor-island residents. Oahu, with a population of about 1,000,000 people, represents a much greater logistical challenge.

Think about it. When any island can get to zero spread (or statistically as close to zero as is possible), and testing of travelers is mandated, then all businesses on that island can reopen and residents can go back to hugging, high-fiving and shaking hands with family, friends, and neighbors.

That island or islands then becomes the most valuable visitor destination on the planet that people cannot come to unless they first “test negative”.

According to a report recently released by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Office (UHERO):

“Tourism could resume quickly if two necessary conditions are met: (1) Potential tourists perceive Hawaii to be a safe place to visit and (2) Hawaii residents can be assured tourists are free of the coronavirus.

The first condition could be satisfied sometime this summer if Hawaii builds on its already considerable achievements by moving ahead with the testing, contact tracing, isolation, and mask policies recommended in this report.

The second condition could also be satisfied this summer if rapid antigen and antibody tests become readily available to people wanting to vacation in Hawaii. Travelers will take a rapid antigen test within a day of boarding their flight to confirm that they do not carry the coronavirus. A second antigen test might be required in Hawaii within a day of the passenger’s flight home…Abbott Labs is currently rolling out an antigen test that provides results within 5-15 minutes…It is possible, but far from certain, that Hawaii will become particularly attractive as a vacation destination later this year if it is one of the first global visitor destinations to have its epidemic under control.” Read the entire UHERO Report.

The UHERO report is important reading and focuses on the entire state of Hawaii. The reality though is that the neighbor-islands have the ability to reopen their economies independently of Oahu and each other. With a population of only 75,000 people, a Mayor who has been particularly assertive in enforcing the “stay at home” orders, and the potential introduction of “15 minute” airport testing – Kauai County is in a unique position to lead.

Each island community can and must pull together to make this happen. As hard as it is, we must continue to stay home. Our government leaders must work together with the medical community and with the airline and travel industry to make this happen, sooner and not later.

*Mahalo to Tim Brown (EWC epidemiologist) Sumner La Croix (Ph.D. Economics) for the UHERO report, and to Kauai resident Steve Lauryn for bringing the entire discussion to my attention.

Detroit will be first US city to use newly approved rapid coronavirus tests, mayor says: USA Today – Detroit Free Press

CVS ramps up drive-through coronavirus testing sites with faster kits: Reuters News

Abbott Launches 5-Minute Virus Test for Use Almost Anywhere: Bloomberg News

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Post-Pandemic Public Policy – The Conversation Starts Now

Post-Pandemic Public Policy – The Conversation Starts Now

Incoming travel has just about been eliminated. The hotels and airlines are shutting down, restaurants and many businesses have closed, and residents are staying home.
At some point soon our broader community conversation must shift from the fear and response of the moment to our hope and plans for the future. And yes, for now anyway we must have this conversation from home.

As a former legislator who served at both the State and County level, I tend to look at problems and challenges through a public policy lens.

1) How do we maximize the opportunity for a strong economic “bounce back” once the pandemic has peaked and life starts returning to normal?

2) How do we immediately and boldly charge down the long-overdue path of food self-sufficiency?

3) What about the 48% of those who were already living on the edge of poverty, prior to the arrival of Covid-19?

4) The homeless situation is only going to get worse. How do we get ahead of this issue in a humane and economically sensible way?

5) Can we use this emergency to make our government better and more accessible by offering statewide access and remote testimony?

6) How can we improve our health care system to ensure that no-one will be denied treatment, and our hospitals and medical facilities remain strong?

For each of these challenges, there are public policy proposals now in place that await legislative leadership. Some measures sit in the form of bills introduced during the 2019/2020 legislative session and others will need to be amended and/or added to existing legislative vehicles. When the 2020 legislative session resumes, the State House and Senate could and should “re-boot” an array of legislative vehicles, hold the necessary public hearings (avoiding the issues with “gut and replace”), and appropriately address these pressing needs.

The list and suggestions contained here are not all-inclusive but rather intended to show clear examples of what can and should be done.

We need construction jobs and we need to invest in rebuilding our public infrastructure. Investing in construction is an obvious and important part of getting our economy back on its feet. At some point, we also must kick-start our visitor industry back into gear. Both are pillars of our economy. We need construction projects that reflect good planning and benefit our community, without sacrificing our natural environment. We need a visitor industry with limits, that pays its own way, and that caters to travelers who are mindful of their impact, and who tread lightly when they visit our special places.

The fragility of our “supply chain” and the need for food self-sufficiency has never been so apparent. We must attack this challenge with the commitment it deserves. There are many, many ways to tackle this issue and it starts with requiring all State and County owned institutions that serve food, to whenever possible purchase only locally grown agricultural products. Imagine the immediate impact on local food production if every public school, every UH campus, every jail and prison, and every public medical facility, were required to purchase their food from local farmers and ranchers.

The economically vulnerable 48%, are likely post Covid-19 closer to 70% of our population. Now is not the time to balance the state budget on their backs. Hard-earned and much-deserved tax credits and modest incremental wage increases must be preserved and in fact, expanded.

Those who are houseless require multi-faceted support delivered via intensive individual case management. Mental health services, shelter availability, job training, and access to food and medical services- all must be managed by qualified trained service providers. There is a public price to pay no matter what. An investment in expanded support services and additional trained social workers, is both morally and economically, the right thing to do.

Creating a system that allows everyone in Hawaii to participate in delivering testimony to the State legislature and other public institutions, without having to fly to Oahu is long overdue. One-third of our population is effectively disenfranchised by the current system. During the current Covid-19 crisis that number is closer to 100%. With the wide availability of modern communication technology, there is no legitimate excuse to continue delaying the implementation of a system that would allow remote testimony and public participation, regardless of where you live.

The revamping and providing of increased support for Hawaii’s health care system is above my pay grade. While I still have a lot to learn about this topic, I do know one thing for sure. This whole experience has reaffirmed that people’s healthcare should not be tied to their employment. Hawaii’s residents deserve single-payer universal health care.

Legislative leadership together with the Chairs’ of key committees can start this process now without convening formal in-person meetings. Discussions with experts, agencies and key stakeholders can be held remotely and the proposed amendment language developed. Then, when it’s safe and appropriate to reconvene the legislative session, the bills can be promptly scheduled, hearings held, the measures amended as needed, and then passed into law.

Yes. Let’s turn our attention toward utilizing the urgency of the moment to create something good for our future. We need to stay home and hunker down, but also get moving toward making that lemonade.

First publishing in Civil Beat – April 4th, 2020

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