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Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Grassroot Institute: Legislative Session in Review
By Keli'i Akina PhD @ 5:12 AM :: 557 Views :: Hawaii State Government, COVID-19

by Keli’i Akina, PhD, President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, May 9, 2022

The 2022 Legislative session is officially over, and now we turn to the governor.

Which bills will he sign right away? Which will he veto? Which will he allow to become law without his signature?

For a full analysis and discussion of the 2022 session, I urge you to attend the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s upcoming legislative wrap-up seminars, May 16, 17 and 18 in Honolulu, Kahului and Kailua-Kona, respectively, featuring three of my institute colleagues: Malia Blom Hill, Ted Kefalas and Joe Kent.

However, for the benefit of Gov. David Ige, who has some big decisions ahead of him, I have some advice. Specifically, here are three bills he should sign immediately and two that he should veto:

Sign: SB3089, the emergency powers bill.

Since the earliest days of the coronavirus lockdowns, the Grassroot Institute has urged that Hawaii’s emergency management law be reformed. As we have all witnessed during the past two years, the law is vague in its discussion of emergency extensions and gives too much unchecked power to the executive. 

SB3089 would correct those problems by insisting that the powers exercised must be consistent with the state Constitution, that any suspension of laws must be justified and that there should be some protection against the suspension of the state’s open-records law. Most critically, it would enable the Legislature to terminate an emergency period by a two-thirds vote. 

I hope that the governor will recognize the importance of restoring the constitutional balance of powers and sign SB3089. Though the COVID-19 emergency is ending, we must be prepared to handle future emergencies. Reforming the emergency powers law is essential to our future.

Veto: HB2510, the minimum-wage bill.

Despite the pleas of business owners warning that such a steep wage hike could force them to close their doors, the Legislature went ahead and approved one anyway, in the form of HB2510. 

The final compromise on the bill seeks to nearly double the existing minimum wage within six years, taking it to $18/hour by January 2028. Though it also would increase the tip credit over the same period and make the earned income tax credit permanent, that would not be enough to offset the damage this bill will likely cause.

As the Grassroot Institute explained in its testimony on this bill, such a wage hike will hurt local businesses while doing little to help working families. If the point is to make Hawaii more affordable, then HB2510 is likely to have the opposite effect, operating as an anchor on our economic recovery. 

The political pressure to enact this bill is significant, but the governor should look at the research on the minimum wage, veto this bill and choose a more effective way to help improve purchasing power in our state.

Sign: SB514, the taxpayer refund.    

It looks like Hawaii taxpayers are going to receive rebates of $100 to $300, but I am disappointed that the proposed refund isn’t greater. Given Hawaii’s current $4 billion surplus, a refund closer to $1,000 each would easily have been possible. 

However, $300 for single filers with an adjusted gross income under $100,000 and joint filers under $200,000, and $100 for those with an income above each threshold is definitely better than the earlier suggestion of $100 for all. 

The governor deserves praise for suggesting the taxpayer refund in the first place, and I can’t imagine that he won’t sign this bill. After the challenges of the last two years, Hawaii’s taxpayers deserve a break.

Veto: HB1147, the HTA funding bill.

There is a lot to criticize in the last-second rush to fund the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

Not only did the Legislature throw together two “gut and replace” bills with different approaches to oversight and funding of the HTA, it then discarded both in conference committee, leaving the tourism agency with no funding at all. At the last possible moment, a capital improvements bill from 2021 that never even mentioned the HTA was revived, “gutted” and “replaced” with a $60 million appropriation for the agency.

Not only was the process to pass HB1147 flawed, it continues the questionable policy of using taxpayer funds to support the visitor industry. Tourism can pay for its own promotion without state funds. Gov. Ige should make a major policy statement by vetoing HB1147.

Sign: HB1837, the “Yes in My Backyard” bill.

An earlier version of HB1837, dubbed the “Yes In My Backyard” bill, would have required that the counties identify and remove their barriers to affordable housing. Its final version seeks only to create a working group that would report on efforts to reduce county barriers to affordable housing and propose legislation. 

Admittedly, this would be just a small step towards dismantling the laws and regulations that make housing more expensive in our state, but it would be a step in the right direction.

There are other important bills that Gov. Ige will be considering, but I hope he pays special attention to the ones listed above. 

If you want to encourage him to do so — or if you want to voice your opinion on any pending legislation — you can write to him using the Grassroot Institute’s action page. It’s an easy way to make your voice heard. 

After such a busy legislative season, I am thankful to all of you who participated in the process, whether you sent a letter, made a call or just supported those who did. 

Let’s keep working together to make a better, more prosperous Hawaii.

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