The House and Senate are committing more than $30 million to establish “ohana zones” where the homeless can live, but are leaving it to Gov. David Ige’s administration to figure out the details.
The ohana zones bill would authorize the living areas for the homeless on state or county lands but does not specify where the camps or villages would be. Up to three ohana zones would be established on Oahu, and one each on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.
Lawmakers agreed on a new draft of Senate Bill 2401 that defines ohana zones as a place to address the basic needs of the homeless, and where the state could provide “wrap around” services including health care and transportation for the residents.
The Ige administration has thus far resisted proposals to set up officially sanctioned homeless camps, and Ige has said he will have to study the details of lawmakers’ ohana zone proposal before he decides whether the plan is workable.
House and Senate conference committees also positioned dozens of other bills for final votes next week ahead of the scheduled adjournment Thursday, including one that would impose a new $2-per-day surcharge on cars rented by tourists, to help finance road construction.
Lawmakers on Friday also tentatively approved a controversial bill that would ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. If that measure wins final approval next week and Ige signs it into law, Hawaii would become the first state in the nation to impose such a ban.
Another proposal, to mandate that employers provide paid family leave, was diluted to become a bill authorizing a study to determine the best model for a family leave program.
When asked how the proposed ohana zones would differ from officially sanctioned homeless encampments established at Aala Park years ago and in North Kona more recently, House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti said that “I think we have, one, a crisis situation, and so we need to find different solutions.”
“I also think that the numbers that we’re looking at are going to be manageable on sites that are manageable, and that we will have the support services around these ohana zones,” she said. “It’s not impossible to do, and we have demonstrated as a community that we have homeless service providers that are willing to step up to run these places.”
Senate Human Services Chairman Josh Green said lessons were learned from the previous homeless encampments, such as the one in Kona, where it was clear they needed more security.
He added that “hopefully this is the culmination, and while we put it in the governor’s hands to guide the statewide program, each community and each mayor are certainly going to choose what will work best for their community.”
The bill also includes $1 million to support The Queen’s Medical Center’s effort to provide health care services to the homeless, and lawmakers also provided $1.5 million to Aloha United Way in Senate Bill 2027 to provide services to help prevent at-risk people from becoming homeless.
The Legislature also put another $15 million in the state budget for various services to the homeless.
Other bills that were acted upon Friday:
>> Senate Bill 3095 would ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos and create 100-foot buffer zones around public and private school campuses, prohibiting the application of restricted-use pesticides near schools during the school day.
The chlorpyrifos ban would take effect Jan. 1, but users will be able to apply for a special permit to continue using the chemical until 2022.
The bill also mandates that all users of restricted- use pesticides file annual disclosure reports with the state Department of Agriculture on quantities, locations and dates. The department will be required to produce a public summary by county.
State Sen. Russell Ruderman, the bill’s sponsor, called the buffer zones common-sense protection of children.
“We’re trying to keep machine guns out of schools. I think we should also keep poisonous chemicals out of schools,” Ruderman (D, Puna) said. On the bill’s disclosure requirements, he said the annual reports will provide important data.
“If we know what’s being sprayed and where, then we can begin to analyze its cause and effect,” he said “Data from a purely scientific point of view and public health point of view, having this information is crucial to analyzing what’s going on.”
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a trade association for the seed industry, contends the bill will have unintended consequences and noted that pesticide use already is heavily regulated at the federal and state levels.
“If signed into law SB 3095 will have a profound impact on everyone who uses any type of pesticide, including using home products to control roaches and ants,” the group said in a statement. “The detrimental, wide-ranging impacts on farm and pesticide users will have impacts on the health and well-being of our precious resource, our residents.”
>> House Labor Chairman Aaron Johanson and Senate Labor Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, who authored the paid family leave bill, acknowledged the original measure was ambitious but said the study lawmakers authorized will lay the foundation for a state-run program in the near future.
“Thanks to the advocacy of so many groups and individuals, it shows that this is a clear and present issue. It’s not going away, and it’s something that we need to address and we need to address it well and effectively,” Johanson (D, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens- Aliamanu) said.
“It really does set the foundation and set the course for paid family leave. But it’s about getting it right,” Tokuda (D, Kailua- Kaneohe) said.
>> The rental car tax bill would tack an additional $2 onto the $3 existing daily surcharge on rental cars and apply only to renters who do not have a valid Hawaii driver’s license.
The money would be distributed to the county where the fee originated and could be used for state highway construction projects including new roads, widening or adding lanes, and projects to alleviate traffic congestion.
The bill advanced over concerns from the Attorney General’s Office, which testified that the measure could be challenged for violating equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits discrimination against a nonresident based solely on residency.
>> Lawmakers also agreed on a bill to prohibit therapists from offering so-called conversion therapy to gay youth in an effort to change their sexual orientation.
SB 270 would ban anyone licensed to provide professional counseling — including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and family therapists — from attempting to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expressions and behaviors of anyone under 18 years old.
>> Lawmakers also tentatively approved a pilot project to test voting by mail on Kauai in the 2020 election.
House Bill 1401 includes more than $75,000 to finance the project, but lawmakers expect voting by mail would save the state money in the long run because it would eliminate the need to open schools and hire workers to staff polling places.
>> The House also rejected a bill that would have authorized graduate student assistants at the University of Hawaii to unionize, a move that prompted demonstrations Friday by about 50 graduate students.
The students marched and chanted at the Capitol holding signs featuring pictures of House Speaker Scott Saki bearing the label “Union buster.”