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Tuesday, September 02, 2014         

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Minimum wage, kindergarten measures still in play

A smoking ban in public housing and an invasive species bill fall short

By Cathy Bussewitz

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Hawaii lawmakers are heading into the final stretch of their legislative session, and the fates of many bills have been decided thanks to the passing of a major deadline.

The bills that generated the most heated discussion are headed to conference committees, which start this week.

Proposals on raising the minimum wage, putting air conditioners in public schools and making kindergarten mandatory all survived.

But attempts to require testing to limit the spread of invasive species and require labeling on genetically modified foods failed.

Both chambers also approved bills that saw little opposition and sent those to the governor. Among those was a bill to increase fines on unlicensed contractors who take advantage of elderly people.

Lawmakers in both chambers had to vote to send bills back to the house of origin.

"Everybody's getting ready for conference, so the real stuff is going to be happening next week," said Carolyn Tanaka, spokeswoman for the House of Representatives.

Here's a look at where many bills stand:

ALIVE

» Mandatory kindergarten. Young ones would start their education earlier under a bill that passed both chambers (SB 2768). Members still have to decide how much money to spend and when the requirement will go into effect.

» Minimum wage. Does 10 cents an hour — up to $208 per year for those who work 40 hours per week — make a difference to the quality of a worker's life? Some senators think so. They'll be debating House members in a conference committee to decide whether the minimum wage will be raised to $10 or $10.10 an hour, and how long it will take to reach that goal (SB 2609).

» Health exchange. The fate of the Hawaii Health Connector may be in the hands of the Legislature, which has the power to give the troubled insurance exchange the money it needs to survive. Lawmakers also are pushing for more transparency and changes to its board of directors in the bill (SB 2470).

» Substance abuse. Inmates at Halawa Correctional Facility could be treated for substance abuse under a proposal (SB 2315) headed for conference.

» Lobbyist spending. A bill that requires lobbyists to report spending after special sessions (SB 2429) will go to conference.

DEAD

» Smoking approved. An attempt to ban smoking in and around public housing projects and low-income housing projects (HB 2577) died in the Senate. The bill would have authorized a landlord to terminate a lease, a punishment that some felt was too harsh.

» Invasive species. A bill that would have prohibited the sale or transport of plants that are diseased or infested with an invasive species (SB 2347) died when it failed to make it out of a committee.

» No refund. The Senate's lone Republican, Sam Slom, sought to give taxpayers a refund when Hawaii had excess revenues. But the bill (SB 3071) never got a hearing.

» Wages unchecked. One of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's bills (HB 2323) sought to raise fines on contractors that didn't pay the prevailing wage, but the proposal died after strong opposition from the Building Industry Association and the General Contractors Association of Hawaii.

» Farming future. Representatives wanted to encourage youth to go into farming, but a bill to fund the Future Farmers of America (HB 2008) languished in the Senate.






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