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States' lawmakers gather for meeting

By B.J. Reyes

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:07 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011



The expertise of the East-West Center and its importance in relations with the Asia-Pacific region will be on display as lawmakers from 13 Western states gather in Honolulu this weekend.

Hawaii lawmakers also hope to showcase the state's progress in renewable energy, the recent mortgage foreclosure reform law and the importance of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, as Honolulu plays host to the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-West.

State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chairman of CSG-West, says lawmakers also will get a chance to share ideas on common challenges facing their states.

"We'll be looking to share and learn from each of the other 12 states on how they've addressed their budget shortfalls — different strategies, different ideas in the areas of Medicaid, pension benefits and post-employment benefit obligations," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho).

The conference is expected to bring in as many as 500 people from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Among the panel discussions is one by representatives from the East-West Center, who will give a presentation on trends, challenges and opportunities presented by the APEC conference, scheduled for Honolulu in November.

"I think that it's important for the East-West Center to kind of showcase their expertise and depth and reach that they have as a 50-year-old institution that many people may not understand," Oshiro said.

The East-West Center, a nonprofit entity that helps foreign students receive higher education on scholarships in the United States and provides programs related to training, research and economic development, has been target of budget cuts in recent years as Congress seek ways to reduce the federal deficit.

Last week the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved a measure to abolish the Manoa institution. Members of Hawaii's congressional delegation have pledged to try and restore funding for the center as the bill moves through the legislative process.

"We'll be bringing it up that this is one of the institutions that currently is being looked at to de-fund," Oshiro said.

Other breakout sessions include programs on renewable energy and innovation used to help the state attain its goals; security and readiness of the Pacific Fleet; and a discussion on women in politics.

House Consumer Protection Chairman Rep. Bob Herkes (D, Volcano-Kaina­liu) will be part of a panel discussing the state's mortgage foreclosure reform law passed this year. The law prohibits lenders from holding nonjudicial foreclosure auctions until borrowers have an opportunity to participate in a dispute resolution program.

Herkes said the law has gained some attention nationwide, and he expects to have a frank discussion with fellow lawmakers about the difficulties in getting it passed. Hawaii's law was based largely on recommendations of a 2010 task force and expanded during the 2011 legislative session.

"I'm going to say to the other states, ‘Don't think it's going to be easy for you to pass a bill like this,'" he said. "Because I think there'll be widespread offshore bank opposition."

Other scheduled speakers include CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley and author Joel Kotkin, a futurist who will discuss the next 100 years and what the region might look like by 2111.

"We asked him (Kotkin) to really not sugarcoat anything, but talk about our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities," Oshiro said. "We hope that he's going to end our meetings with a dynamic message for all of us to take back home."






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