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Hawaii lawmakers to eye energy, living cost, fishing labor


    Rep. Scott Saiki, House majority leader.

Hawaii lawmakers are pushing for energy independence, easing the high cost of living and improving working conditions in the state’s commercial fishing fleet as they begin the 2017 legislative session.

They’re also facing tough battles over money.

The state ended last year with money in the bank, but the budget proposed by Gov. David Ige relies on deficit spending as revenue is projected to come in lower than expected. The budget is already stretched tight by growing unfunded liabilities for public pensions and retiree health care costs, and lawmakers are concerned about the ballooning cost of building Honolulu’s rail transit project.

“The state finances will be a big project for us, especially if you consider the tax revenue forecast and the big ticket items, such as the unfunded liability, infrastructure costs and the rail project,” said Rep. Scott Saiki, House majority leader.

The rail line, which is supposed to go from Oahu’s west side into parts of Honolulu, has cost estimates ranging up to $11 billion.

In the fishing industry, lawmakers are exploring what the state can do to help after an Associated Press investigation that found fishermen on commercial boats in Honolulu have been confined to vessels for years without basic labor protections.

“If there’s anything we can do to stop human trafficking or unfair labor in the state, we have to do it,” said state Rep. Kaniela Ing, chairman of the Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee. “We’re under a moral obligation to create a system that wouldn’t allow this to happen.”

Ing is floating a bill to require fishing boat operators to use licensed commercial agencies to hire workers.

The strategy would allow the state to gain access to employment contracts between the agencies and fishermen, which would permit periodic audits to make sure the boats are in compliance with those contracts, he said.

State leaders will continue to look for solutions to the homelessness crisis and affordable housing shortage. Sen. Josh Green plans to introduce a bill to classify homelessness as a medical condition, hoping Medicaid funds could then be used to pay rent.

“The moment you do that, it opens up all kinds of possibilities,” Green said.

Ing is proposing a series of bills aimed at redistributing income from Hawaii’s wealthiest residents to those most in need. A pair of his bills would cap CEO wages at 20 times the average salary of employees and create a surcharge for companies in which 50 percent or more of the employees get social assistance payments.

“It’s my belief that if you rely on the government to pay your employees, you’re anything but a success,” Ing said.

Ing wants Hawaii to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019 and $22 an hour by 2022. Minimum wage in Hawaii is now $9.25 an hour and set to increase to $10.10 next year.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said that proposal is likely to face a battle because the latest changes to the minimum wage aren’t fully implemented, so “it may be premature to consider raising it again.”

Hawaii is a leader in renewable energy with its goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. Advocates are pushing proposals to accelerate the transition.

One way is by increasing the use of storage, so the Blue Planet Foundation and others will propose tax credits or incentives for installing batteries to speed adoption of the technology that is falling in price.

“The faster we can roll that out, the faster we can reduce cost for consumers and avoid the need to build additional power plants and other grid upgrades,” said Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

Renewable energy advocates also will be pushing for a transition to clean fuel in the ground transportation sector.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye plans to introduce a bill to reduce state tax credits for installing solar panels, and she’s planning a bill to enhance state control over geothermal development.

In health, there will be a bipartisan effort to introduce legislation to curtail opioid abuse along with a push for legislation to give patients access to aid in dying, led by former lobbyist John Radcliffe, who has cancer.

The group wants terminally ill adults to be able to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take to die peacefully. Several states already have such legislation.

“I’m not sure at this point what the support level is for it in the House, as well as in the general public,” Saiki said. “That’s the kind of a bill that really needs to go to a public hearing.”

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  • Sounds like a full agenda. I think homelessness should be at the top of the agenda, followed by support for the completion of the rail. Working to decrease the availability of opioids is a good idea, because high school kids are beginning to use them. Something needs to be done to help folks dealing with long term care issues, but that will probably be pushed to the wayside as usual. The issue of medical assistance in dying is critical to a very few, but educating the populace on the need for Palliative care and Hospice should be more important. Affordable housing needs to be a major issue and we need to keep our roads in good repair.

  • Fishing labor regulations should require, health standards, labor law protections to include medical and the payment of state and federal taxes. All not done under the floating prisons system in the Hawaii Long Line Association. Illegals are smuggled in from the Philippines where there is an ongoing war on drugs. The men have no labor department work permit, are improperly licensed by the state and do not practice good hygiene. Russian, China and the USA are the biggest human rights violators. They should be return to the Philippines and labor trafficking should cease to exist in Hawaii. No other country in the world is failing to address floating prisons. Hawaii and the United States are shameful in that regard

  • More idiots that can’t run a State. Worried about foreign workers. What about American fishermen help them out instead of the foreign workers. Flat tires ALL OF THEM. Worry about the locals. You have major projects going down the toilet because foreign workers are more important BS. You can fix a lot of things BUT YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID.

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