Hawaii Senate Minority announces legislative agenda for 2015
News Release from Office of Sen Sam Slom January 14, 2015
HONOLULU—Senator Sam Slom held a press conference today to announce the Senate Minority’s legislative agenda for the 2015 legislative session, stressing the need for transparency and accountability in state government.
Senator Slom emphasized five main areas of focus for the upcoming session. Top concerns include the state economy, education, the Hawaii Health Connector, oversight of the Public Utilities Commission in light of the Hawaiian Electric Industries/NextEra merger, and positively affecting the cost of living for Hawaii residents.
Senator Slom also introduced the Senate Minority staff, who then explained the areas of focus further:
Budget Director Paul Harleman – Improve the state economy through economic diversification and budget reduction. Mr. Harleman announced that the Senate Minority will introduce a bill to eliminate the corporate income tax, explaining the potential effect of doing so on Hawaii’s business climate.
Mr. Harleman explained, “Hawaii ranks at the bottom of most national business environment rankings and in order to diversify our economy, we have to create a business environment that welcomes new businesses and industries. The best way to do that is through corporate income tax reform. In Hawaii, corporate income taxes account for less than 2 percent of state general fund tax revenues and are not a significant source of income for the state yet they heavily burden corporations seeking to do business in our state. The Senate Minority is therefore introducing a bill to eliminate the corporate income tax. This will allow the corporations in our state to invest in business expansion as opposed to subsidizing the state government. Overall corporate income tax reform will improve our business climate and grow our economy through an expansion of current business operations and the infusion of new business investment.”
Office Manager and Chief of Staff Kim Kepner – Affect cost of living and promote transparency and accountability in state government. Ms. Kepner announced that the Senate Minority will introduce a resolution seeking an exemption from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, in an effort to positively affect the cost of living for Hawaii residents.
Ms. Kepner said, “A Jones Act exemption would serve to increase competition among the carriers that serve U.S. ports and help to reduce the cost of shipping. When shipping costs are reduced, the cost of goods decline and the savings will be passed on to Hawaii business owners and consumers. This relates to energy costs as well. As the State is able to import fuel at lower rates, the savings could be passed onto consumers.”
Ms. Kepner also announced that the Senate Minority will further the idea of transparency and accountability in state government by introducing bills “requesting financial and managerial audits of the Department of Education and University of Hawaii.”
Legislative Aide Kathy Higa – Increase oversight and transparency of the Public Utilities Commission in order to affect accuracy of data utilized in evaluation of Hawaii Health Connector. Ms. Higa announced that the Senate Minority will seek reform of the Public Utilities Commission in light of the HECO/NextEra merger.
Ms. Higa said, “With the planned merger of Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy before year end, the Public Utilities Commission will be doubly challenged to ensure prompt and thorough oversight as well as public dialog to ensure that this transaction truly benefits the citizens of Hawaii.”
Ms. Higa also commented on the Hawaii Health Connector and related Affordable Care Act issues: “The pressing question continues to be whether the Connector should file for an exemption from ACA requirements at the earliest possible date in 2017. Despite modestly rising enrollment, Hawaii’s cost per enrollee continues to be the highest in the nation with the second lowest enrollment as a percentage of population of the 14 state-based exchanges. We now know the Connector forecasts a need for $28 million in state funding on top of the $204.5 million in Federal grant funds already received. Sustainability will not be for another seven years and enrollments must quadruple to achieve this goal. Presented with an estimated $28 million request for funding, we have to ask whether there are more effective ways to reach Medicaid/CHIP beneficiaries and help individuals and small businesses determine eligibility for tax credits.”
Research Attorney Tim Sutton, Esq. – Empowerment of citizens as participants in the legislative process, through referendum and recall, protection of Hawaii’s keiki, and empowerment of parents in decisions regarding education. Mr. Sutton announced renewed efforts at bringing referendum and recall to Hawaii, describing them as “mechanisms that will foster participation by the people in the governing of our state.”
Mr. Sutton also talked about introduction of legislation to protect the children and elderly of Hawaii: “We will continue to support those most vulnerable in our society, our keiki, by introducing versions of Jessica’s and Caylee’s law, setting mandatory minimum sentencing for sexual assaults against children and consequences for those who would conceal the whereabouts of an abducted or missing child. The Senate Minority has also renewed the effort to support our Kupuna by establishing a silver alert system to expedite the recovery of displaced seniors.”
Lastly, Mr. Sutton discussed the need to empower parents of school-aged children to make decisions regarding education. He said, “The Senate Minority supports the people’s wish to create a school scholarship voucher system, granting families the choice to seek a school setting that serves the best interest of the child’s educational needs.”
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