The Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives Minority Caucuses have joined forces this year and introduced several pieces of companion legislation, in an effort to relieve the burdens on Hawaii citizens. A top priority for the Minority Caucus is reducing the rising cost of living in Hawaii, where expenses like rent, home prices, taxes, groceries, fuel, child care and education carry a steep price tag compared to the rest of the country.
Senator Sam Slom said, “People in Hawaii are struggling, and I have yet to see the legislature or the executive really address the needs of those people who are holding multiple jobs, sacrificing time with their families, and just barely making ends meet. Those are the people we lawmakers have to think of when we are asked to extend this tax or increase that tax. So far there has not been any real action to reduce taxes or to bring the cost of living down. So, early in this session my colleagues in the House and I met and discussed our goals for 2015, and what we could do to make a real impact. We realized early in our discussion that we had several common objectives that were important to us. It just made sense for both the House and Senate Minorities to work together.”
Representative Beth Fukumoto Chang said, “The Minority Caucuses in both chambers have always been in favor of lowering the cost-of-living and creating job opportunities for the people of Hawaii. We know that the economy is always an important issue for our constituents and the Legislature doesn’t always do enough to help. These ideas are meant to help alleviate financial burdens and improve the quality of life for our residents.”
Other important initiatives the Minority Caucuses introduced this year are bills promoting citizen empowerment, protection of our keiki, and education reform. The Minority Caucus’s companion bills include:
Cost of Living
SB956/HB469 amends the Historic Preservation Act to alleviate some of the costs associated with maintenance and renovation of historic property and encourage collaboration between the state and private owners.
SB957/HB477 exempts food purchased for home consumption from the state general excise tax (GET). According to the US Department of Agriculture, Hawaii families spend significantly more on groceries for the home than families on the mainland. An exemption could save Hawaii families hundreds of dollars off their grocery expenses every year.
SB958/HB470 repeals the corporate income tax. With this bill, the Minority Caucuses hope to alleviate Hawaii businesses of some of their tax burden, improve Hawaii’s business climate and promote job growth.
SB953/HB475 has to do with criminal court calendars and protection of child victims, and allows judges to prioritize criminal cases involving minor victims upon written request by the minor’s parent, guardian or other advocate. The measure is an effort to minimize the trauma inherent in having to prepare a child victim for trial only to be delayed.
SB960/HB471 calls for the State Office of the Auditor to conduct a managerial, financial and program audit of the Department of Education. The bill also prompts the DOE to present findings and recommendations to the legislature before the start of the 2016 legislative session.
Finally, the Minority Caucuses will seek to preserve the state’s shooting ranges as resources for the public, military and local law enforcement by introducing SB 955/HB473, to protect shooting range operators from burdensome regulations and frivolous lawsuits over noise pollution.
Of the 10 companion bills introduced, three got unanimous support from the House Minority: HB477 (exempting food from the GET), HB475 (court calendar priority for child victims) and HB471 (calling for audit of DOE).
Senator Slom said, “I am very pleased to see that Rep. Fukumoto Chang has taken a more proactive, pragmatic approach as House Minority leader than her predecessor, and has shown real commitment to working together with her House Minority colleagues and the Senate Minority on important issues for the betterment of Hawaii.”