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Caroline Fan on July 30, 2009 - 10:49am
A contentious atmosphere during the general session lingered into a special session as legislators overrode a record total 38 of 53 vetoed bills by Gov. Linda Lingle. Despite the budget shortfall of over $600 million (estimates differ) for 2010 and 2011, legislators were able to enact a number of highly progressive reforms including a majority signup bill, strengthening workers comp and family leave policies, requiring large parking lots to have dedicated electric vehicle spaces with charging stations, and reviving basic universal health insurance for children.
Tax, budget and stimulus: The state addressed its budget gap through over $800 million in budget cuts; using various government sources including non-general funds, penalties, enforcement and carryover balances; the one-time infusion of federal stimulus funds, and a progressive tax increase on high income earners.
The main tax increase enacted applied to those earning more than $150,000 filing singly, $300,000 filing jointly, and $225,000 filing as head of household (HB1747). The legislature also raised taxes on hotel rooms from 7.25 percent to 9.25 percent (SB1111); those who are selling property over $2 million, and second homes and investment properties of any price (HB1741); and cigarette and tobacco sellers (HB1175 and HB895). Gov. Lingle allowed a bill cutting back the state's high tech tax credit to become law without her signature -- which will save the state $120 to $150 million over the next two years. The Senate attempted to revive the Internet sales tax, but it didn't make it past the House. Of note, the Governor signed a bill that imposes a 5% pay cut and salary freezes for elected officials and top staff.
Stimulus funds were used for solar home heaters for low-income families, increased TANF funding (HB1264), and amended for greater access to unemployment insurance in line with ARRA requirements (SB 94).
Labor: Overcoming repeated vetoes by the governor, the state legislature used overrides to enact a number of pro-labor bills this session:
- Majority signup: HB952 (override) certifies entities as exclusive representatives without an election where no other representatives are certified as the exclusive bargaining representatives for employers with an annual gross revenue of $5 million or more.
- HB1479 (override), referred to as the "Little Davis Bacon Act," requires the department of labor and industrial relations to include in certified payroll records a fringe benefit reporting form, on which contractors and subcontractors itemize the cost of fringe benefits paid to both union and non-union laborers who perform work for the construction, alteration, or repair of public buildings and public works. It allows for any certified form containing fringe benefit reporting requirements to be submitted in lieu of a form supplied by the department of labor and industrial relations.
- HB1676 (override) requires that the collective bargaining agreement be submitted to the director of labor and industrial relations in order for the terms in the agreement to dictate the prevailing wages with regard to a project financed through the issuance of a special purpose revenue bond.
- SB19 (override) requires a public works construction contract over $250,000 to prefer bidders who have an apprenticeship agreement registered with the department of labor and industrial relations.
- Workers' comp: SB695 (override) requires the employer to continue medical services to an injured employee despite disputes over whether treatment should be continued, until the director of labor and industrial relations decides whether treatment should be continued.
Unfortunately, HB 643 was enacted, which authorizes the Contractors License Board to suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a contractor's license for employing a worker on a public work project who is ineligible under federal law to work in the United States.
Agriculture: HB 1471, which overcame the Governor's veto, establishes the Safe Food Certification pilot program to promote locally grown produce and facilitate purchasing agreements between Hawaii’s farmers and the visitor and hospitality industry.
Housing: The state budget bill addresses the need for more affordable housing by providing $30 million for the Rental Housing Trust Fund and $20 million for the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund to assist in the development of low-income rental units and housing projects.HB 200 approved money for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to tackle the repair and maintenance backlog. SB1218 (override) allows the commissioner of financial institutions to regulate, license, examine, and enforce laws regulating mortgage loan originators.
Health care: A number of health care reforms were enacted over the vetoes of the Governor:
- Universal health care: HB 989 (override) revives the Keiki Care pilot program, which the Governor terminated last year, to provide basic health insurance for children who are uninsured and do not qualify for other programs through 2012. HB1504 (override) creates the Hawaii Health Authority to develop a comprehensive plan to provide universal health care in Hawaii. SB423 (override) helps hospitals provide care to low-income patients by appropriated $12.3 million in order to qualify for $12.5 million of federal Medicaid allowance funds.
- Community Hospitals: SB1673 restructures the statewide community hospital system and authorizes the transition of the system under certain circumstances.
- Licensing: SB415 (override) requires the department of health to license home care agencies.
- Sexuality education: SB777 (override) requires state-funded sexuality health education programs to provide comprehensive medically accurate sexuality education.
- To address the critical shortage of doctors, the legislature passed two bills over the Governor's veto: HB343 develops a statewide rural primary health care training program and support for University of Hawaii family medicine residency program. SB43 creates a special fund at the U of H School of Medicine and assesses a $60 fee for renewing physician and osteopathic physician licenses, with proceeds to be deposited to the special fund.
Education: SB1665 (override) enhances the workforce development capacity of Hawaii's community colleges by establishing a skilled worker and business development center to provide workforce training to meet the rapidly evolving needs of both employers and employees. Appropriates Reed Act funds.
Criminal justice: SB539 (override) renames the intake service center division of DPS to the reentry intake service centers and directs the reentry intake service centers to work closely and collaborate with the furlough programs in each county, the Hawaii paroling authority, and the correction program services division to ensure that the reentry needs of inmates are being met. It also establishes an oversight committee and reentry commission.
- HB 358 (override) authorizes the placement of certain offenders in secure drug treatment facilities.
- HCR 27 was adopted to inquire into the disproportionate numbers of native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system.
Energy and Environment: In a significant move, the legislature enacted HB1464 which will require establishment of energy-efficient portfolio standards; implementing those standards in public buildings; electricity-cost disclosure in the sale of residential property; establishment of a “Building Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Program”; the use of renewable energy by electric utilities; and more assistance by government agencies in the development and permitting of renewable energy projects. Other key bills enacted include:
- SB 1202 requires large parking facilities to provide dedicated parking spaces (complete with electric charging units) for electric vehicles.
- HB 1270 allows the public utility commission to set a fair rate for renewable energy sources without being limited to the comparable cost of burning fossil fuels.
- SB 266 creates a climate change taskforce to discuss alleviating and minimizing the consequences of climate change.
Missed opportunities: A number of key bills just barely missed passage this session:
- The Governor sustained a veto against a food safety bill, HB 1271, which would have increased the tax on oil barrels by a dollar to fund energy and food sustainability initiatives. The average cost to consumers would have been 2 cents on a gallon of gasoline.
- SB 619, would have allowed incarcerated individuals to vote by absentee ballot, and was passed by the Senate and a House Committee but was not ultimately enacted.
- Civil unions: HB 444 would have provided same-sex couples with the same rights and responsibilities that are provided to married couples. It was one of the came
- very close to being enacted and proved to be one of the most talked about issues this session.
- The Legislature also did not override a veto of a campaign finance bill that good-government groups argued would result in less transparency and more special interest money.