Archive for January, 2013


January 31st, 2013

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has brought in more than $2.4 million for his re-election campaign next year, according to a state campaign-finance report filed Thursday.

Abercrombie, who raised more than $4.5 million for his successful campaign in 2010, will have the early fundraising advantage and the benefit of incumbency at his back as he seeks a second four-year term.

The governor raised $2.4 million through the end of last year — $297,300 in the past six months — and had $1.4 million in cash on hand, according to the report. The money includes more than $383,950 left over from 2010.

Stalled in committee

January 30th, 2013

Two proposals to have a greater portion of the fines and forfeitures collected from uncontested traffic infractions distributed to counties where the violations occur appear to have stalled in the Legislature.

The House Transportation Committee on Wednesday deferred House Bills 214 and 590.

Similar bills have been introduced in prior sessions by the Hawaii State Association of Counties, with little success. Counties have sought the funds to bolster law enforcement efforts, noting that county police forces are charged with enforcement of the laws, only to see the fines and forfeitures go to the state.

Transportation Chairman Ryan Yamane said he agrees with the intent of such proposals — to assist law enforcement — but there remains no mechanism at the county level to ensure that those funds would go toward the intended purpose. Funds would instead go to the counties’ general funds, with no guarantee that police departments would see a corresponding rise in their annual appropriations through the normal budgeting process.

Said Yamane (D, Mililani-Waipio-Waikele):

“Until some of those issues get worked out, I think there’s always going to be a concern about how the state gives any of the counties money.”

6 to 5

January 30th, 2013

For insiders interested in how the state House might function under new leadership, a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon offered a fascinating microcosm.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki had introduced a bill that would have repealed liability protection for National Rifle Association firearms instructors who conduct state-mandated firearms’ training courses for people seeking firearms permits. The protection was passed into law only last session.

“I never understood why we are implementing the NRA’s national agenda in Hawaii,” said Saiki, a personal injury attorney.

A lobbyist for trial attorneys was the only one to speak out in favor of the bill before the House Judiciary Committee. Dozens of gun enthusiasts filled the third-floor hearing room to oppose the bill, while hundreds more sent written testimony.

The Hawaii Rifle Association described the bill as a “back door gun ban,” because it could prompt NRA instructors to stop teaching the training courses for fear of liability, leading to fewer courses and less people meeting the requirement necessary for gun permits. Several lumped the bill with attempts nationally to restrict Second Amendment rights in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last year.

Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee’s chairman, wanted to advance the bill with amendments. But he first explained to lawmakers that he would not be upset if they voted against his recommendations on bills.

It has long been the practice in both the House and Senate for lawmakers to follow committee chairmen, so `no’ votes are relatively uncommon, particularly among majority Democrats. It is even more unusual for a committee to reject a bill recommended by a chairman.

But Rep. Ken Ito complained that House leadership — Saiki — had bypassed the House Public Safety Committee and referred the bill only to the House Judiciary Committee. He questioned why lawmakers would even hear the bill when the liability protection was just approved last year.

Rep. Sharon Har, the vice chairwoman of the committee, who has complained about the bill referral process under the new leadership, echoed Ito. She also noted that the testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican who is part of the new leadership coalition, asked Rhoads to delay action until lawmakers and NRA gun experts could see his proposed amendments in writing.

Rhoads declined and called for a vote.

The bill failed to advance 6 to 5. The majority not only went against the committee chairman, they went against the committee chairman on a bill sponsored by the majority leader.

Four of the `no’ votes came from Democrats who had been loyal to former House Speaker Calvin Say; two came from Thielen and another Republican who organized with House Speaker Joseph Souki and Saiki.

Both Saiki and Rhoads said afterward that they did not attempt to influence the vote, and did not seem particularly unhappy that the bill was rejected. “I lost,” Rhoads said simply.

Cracks in the shield

January 29th, 2013

The state House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday agreed to make permanent a state law protecting journalists and bloggers from disclosing confidential sources or other information, but expanded the exceptions to the law to include a broader range of serious crimes and civil actions.

Journalists and bloggers could have to disclose information if there is substantial evidence that it is material to the investigation, prosecution or defense of a felony, potential felony, serious crime involving unlawful injury to people or animals, or a civil action. The existing shield law, which expires in July, only includes exceptions for felonies or for civil actions involving defamation.

“I think the only way for reporters to do their jobs is to be able to keep their sources private for the most part. I also don’t want it to be an impediment to actual law enforcement,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Kalihi), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which sent House Bill 622 to the full House. “And I suppose it’s a fine line.”

Jeff Portnoy, an attorney working with the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, which represents news media interests, including the Star-Advertiser, said expanding the exceptions to include all civil actions is unacceptable. He said there was unanimity when the law was drafted in 2008 under the Lingle administration that the only exception for civil actions be for defamation cases.

“To try to carve out the civil case exception is totally unacceptable and really going back to a position that was rejected five years ago and should remain rejected,” Portnoy said.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have shield laws to protect journalists, according to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, but many include exceptions that require the disclosure of information under certain circumstances. Hawaii’s law is considered a model by some because it extends the shield law protection to bloggers and other non-traditional journalists.

The state Attorney General’s office under the Abercrombie administration has argued that the protection for bloggers is far too broad and should be removed from the law. The administration also wants to add an exception stating that defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to information necessary for a fair trial. The administration would also remove the protection for all unpublished information.

State Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, said the Senate would consider the attorney general’s arguments and the House amendments when senators hear the bill. He said senators have some concern about anonymous sources, as well as the definition of who qualifies as non-traditional journalists.

Some advocates for the news media believe it is important that the shield law cover bloggers and others who produce news and information on the Internet that is similar to the work of traditional journalists.

“I think what we’re trying to protect here is journalism, not journalists,” said Gerald Kato, a communications professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and a former Honolulu Advertiser reporter. “And journalism involves dissemination of information in the public interest, and that’s a lot broader scope than just journalists who work for a newspaper or a television station.”


January 29th, 2013

House lawmakers plan to take up the issue of the Public Land Development Corp. next week.

The House Committee on Water and Land has scheduled a public hearing on Saturday, Feb. 9, to hear various bills that would either repeal the PLDC altogether, make amendments to the law, or start from scratch and create a new agency with greater community input.

The PLDC, set up as the development arm of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, was given broad exemptions from land use, planning and zoning laws as incentives to attract private developers for projects on state land. But the new corporation has not developed a single project — and has yet to adopt administrative rules — after vehement protests from environmental, labor and some Native Hawaiian interests.

Prior to the 2013 session, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he would consider a repeal of the PLDC if the Legislature is unable to adjust the law to satisfy public objections.

In a news release Tuesday, Water and Land Chairwoman Cindy Evans (Kaupulehu-Waimea-Halaula) said:

“As the Chair of Water and Land I am approaching the issue from the standpoint of repeal. The PLDC cannot exist as is, something has to change; however, I am open to options and the most compelling argument will move forward.”

`The time has come’

January 28th, 2013

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, has joined other prominent Democrats in urging state lawmakers to approve same-sex marriage.

From the senator:

The time has come to make marriage equality a reality for Americans around the country, so that all people can exercise that right in freedom and without restriction. I am pleased that President Obama supports marriage equality, and that the State of Hawai’i has a proud history of leadership in civil rights. I encourage State lawmakers to pass legislation that will ensure equal rights for all Hawaii residents.


January 27th, 2013

Gay Democrats are again pressuring state Sen. Mike Gabbard over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

In a statement on Sunday, the party’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus said it was “extremely disappointed in the vigorous way in which Senator Gabbard is working at cross-purposes with the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the governor and the president regarding marriage equality.”

Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) has introduced a bill that would put the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment in 2014.

While there are many Democrats at the Legislature who oppose same-sex marriage, activists have sought to hold Gabbard accountable for his opinion. Gabbard was one of the leaders of the movement against gay marriage in the 1990s.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii’s state central committee upheld a reprimand against Gabbard in 2009 for actively opposing a civil unions bill, undermining the party’s platform in favor of equality and civil rights.

“We hoped that the reprimand Senator Gabbard received from both the Oahu County Committee and the Democratic Party of Hawaii would have made Senator Gabbard realize that he cannot work against the party platform,” Eileen McKee, caucus representative to the state central committee, said in a statement.


January 24th, 2013

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has been granted permission to serve on a fifth House subcommittee.

In a news release Thursday, Hanabusa’s office says House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  approved a waiver allowing the exception to the Democratic caucus rule limiting members to four subcommittees.

Her latest assignment is to the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which oversees U.S. energy production and development on federal lands, including measures affecting geothermal and natural gas resources.

Hanabusa is the ranking member of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, and serves on the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. She also serves on the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness, and Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.

Said Hanabusa, in a statement:

“I want to thank Leader Pelosi for allowing me to do more for Hawaii and our nation. This is an opportunity to bring an additional dimension to how we view natural resources issues facing our state. It gives us a voice in areas critical to our future. …

“The Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will have an impact on renewable and alternative energy development; job creation and economic development; and environmental protection, all areas that are vital for Hawaii. The subcommittee’s work will have an impact far into the future and calls on us to take the long view today. I am proud that I will be able to represent our state’s interests in those conversations.”

Women in combat

January 23rd, 2013

According to news reports out of Washington, D.C. (see here and here, among others) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce Thursday the Pentagon’s lifting of its ban on women serving in combat roles in some of the most dangerous units in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Per NBC News:

The Pentagon chief will announce on Thursday that he is eliminating the direct ground combat exclusion — the Department of Defense policy that excluded women from assignment to units below the brigade level if the unit would be engaged in direct combat.

This will allow women to be assigned to select positions in ground combat units at the battalion level.

Hawaii’s U.S. House delegation includes freshman Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard and fellow freshman U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, are the first female combat veterans elected to Congress.

In 2004, Gabbard deployed to Iraq with the 29th Brigade Combat Team and eventually served two tours of combat duty in the Middle East. She issued a statement in support of the Pentagon’s move, which read in part:

“Female service members have contributed on the battlefield as far back as the Civil War, when some disguised themselves as men just to have the opportunity to serve their nation. This decision by the Department of Defense is an overdue, yet welcome change, which I strongly support. I look forward to hearing the details of how this will be executed, and will support full and equal access for our highly capable female service members to serve our country in all roles, which will only stand to strengthen our Armed Forces, and our national defense.”

Hawaii U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, also supported the move.

In a statement, Hanabusa said:

“Throughout our history, women have played an integral role in our military. I applaud the Department of Defense for eliminating this outdated policy and recognizing the important, evolving role of women in the Armed Forces. I believe that all qualified Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should be given the same opportunity to serve their country.”

Update (Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.):

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, also supported the announcement. Her statement on the matter:

“Today’s news is a great step toward equality. These restrictions that block women from serving in active combat roles make no sense in today’s modern military. All Americans deserve the opportunity to defend our nation regardless of gender, and I know that the women who currently serve in the military think they should be treated the same as any other servicemember. Women serving in combat roles will strengthen our national security, and as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I will work closely with military and administration officials to see this change through.”


January 22nd, 2013

Gov. Neil Abercrombie gave his third State of the State address to the Legislature on Tuesday.

Here is the prepared text of his remarks:

Mister Speaker, Madame President, former Governors, distinguished justices of the courts, representatives of our Congressional Delegation, members of the Hawaii State Legislature, other elected officials, honored guests, family and friends. Aloha.

My friends, politics isn’t a hobby or a past time. At its center, politics is community, and we as office holders are obliged to address our efforts to the greater good of the larger community. At its heart, politics is about doing good and relieving suffering. If politics is done right, it is all about making life better for people.

In Mahayana Buddhism, we are admonished to renounce all evil, practice all good, and save the many beings.

But when politics gets reduced to slogans and bumper stickers – what is right; what is good? What is wisdom and virtue to one, is grounds for accusation and denunciation to another. Observation can quickly become doctrine, and demands for fidelity to the true faith come even more rapidly. In secular political terms, the Party Line is established and with today’s cyber-technology, internet-hysteria often takes on a life of its own. Perspective gives way to prosecution or even persecution. We can do better than what we have lately witnessed. The level of discourse in our public policy discussion stands in need of elevation.

Today it seems everyone’s motivation is suspect. An opposing view is likely to be judged that of a fool or a tool of special interests. One’s position is not merely faulty or misguided, it is characterized as the work of someone consciously plotting to destroy the environment, or stealing public benefit for private gain, or willfully corrupting the good and welfare of the community. This is not the model of dialogue and exchange that we want or need in Hawaii.

The virus of absolutism now infecting the Congress of the United States appears to be seeping into Hawaii – whether it is the use of public lands, dealing with gun violence, determining who may marry, or decreeing how we are to be born or die. Even caring for the sick or preparing young children for life are opportunities for mocking dismissal or patronizing skepticism.

This absolutist attitude eliminates the human dimension from political discourse. The absolutist has answers for everything and questions about little or nothing.

I think perhaps it may be time to step back a bit and take a few deep breaths. In the wake of Senator Akaka’s request that we let a sense of Aloha enter our lives more deeply, could we not try a little harder to practice Aloha with each other. Could we not express some generosity of spirit for each other – both in our deliberation and in our decision making?

As I set about organizing my thoughts for today and reflected on the political atmosphere,
I concluded what we confront today is a situation of political Jeopardy. In the game of Jeopardy, everyone already has the answers; the challenge is to figure out and frame the right questions.
We are so busy telling each other what the answer is, so certain we already know what needs to be done, that we can ignore the questions behind our pronouncements.

My thought is irrespective of what we are for or against, we cannot allow ourselves to pre-empt the raising of pressing questions we need to comprehend and address lest we lose our way before we even begin to understand where we need to go or what path to take.

We need look no further than the question of unfunded liabilities. How do we address recurring needs like paying for healthcare benefits and exploding pension deficits and the means to finance them on a recurring basis?

How do we make use of our resources and assets, both public and private, with continuing investment security in the future?

The Public Land Development Corporation is but one example of an attempt to answer the struggle to come out of the worst recession in memory. What we cannot do is allow controversy over the answer to this or any other challenge to pre-empt asking or facing up to the questions before us.

And then there is the greatest unfunded liability question of all – the failure to address early childhood development and education in Hawaii. Leaving our keiki unprepared for elementary school puts them at  a crippling disadvantage in terms of being able to meet the demands the future will make on them.
These questions and the questions which follow require us to embrace our island values and steward our precious island home to become more self-sufficient, more self-resilient, more self-sustaining. We must move from the status quo and provide for future generations of Hawaii.

Therefore, our primary and priority initiatives need to be aimed at preparing ourselves as we assess the demands of the 21st century. We need to look at state government and the budget; our energy goals, our economy, and our kupuna and our keiki.

First, the question of the state budget. Unlike some of the fiscal uncertainties and core fundamental economic issues facing our federal government, our state stands on a solid financial footing
and has a stable financial outlook.

Two years ago, our administration had just taken office amidst an extremely difficult fiscal and economic outlook. As a state, we faced a daunting $1.3 billion potential budget shortfall for Fiscal Biennium 2011-13. But, as a result of our collaborative efforts, shared sacrifice and judicious administrative action, the year-end general fund balances for FY 2011 was $126 million, and for FY 2012 $275 million. For this year, which ends in approximately 5 months, we are again looking at a healthy positive balance.

I want to thank the Legislature for your collaboration. Thank you to the public, our taxpayers, and businesses for weathering these difficult times. Thank you to those state employees, who agreed to labor savings and additional payments for health benefits. There was no way we could have balanced our budget and achieved today’s fiscally favorable outlook without the commitment of all those public workers.

Because of that sacrifice, we were able to support our workforce and avoid massive public worker layoffs. We have maintained our pension benefits for our retirees. The question is will we be able to secure these benefits for todays and future workers.

For the record: This is not Wisconsin. This is not Michigan. This Administration is not going to abandon collective bargaining, but neither will it bankrupt the future for all by buying some temporary solution that does not address the fundamental fiscal issues we cannot escape.

Because we did what needed to be done, we were able to restore critical public services such as agriculture, elevator inspections, vector control, and restaurant inspectors.

We achieved unprecedented success in earning a high bond rating and being able to finance state construction at impressively low interest rates. That means our tax dollars stretch farther in improving the state’s infrastructure and in creating the jobs that come with capital improvements.

It is for these reasons that we have now turned a fiscal corner.  As of July 1, 2013, the 5 percent pay reductions will end for state workers, and full pay will be restored.
Good faith collective bargaining negotiations are essential if we are move toward a resolution that is fair to everyone. Fair to our employees who create public value every day, fair to our taxpayers,
and fair to future generations.

Tourism numbers and profits are on a steady rise, construction is vigorous and growing and unemployment is back down to the low rates that we enjoyed before the recession.

The recent bond sale of more than $800 million, along with historic low interest rates at 2.6 percent, is a positive indicator that the bond raters, the marketplace and its investors, consider Hawaii’s fiscal condition to be sound.

The question is, will we continue to invest in the economy via construction and repair/maintenance projects and public private ventures. Not only is this important to ensure that communities, schools and our residents continue to have much needed infrastructure, buildings and improvements, but we can do so at historic low interests rates, saving the state millions of dollars in debt service. More importantly, these projects could mean that the state not only will be investing back into our economy, but through partnerships generate needed revenue not otherwise available.  I have asked Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui to take a lead role in working to expedite addressing this opportunity.

I welcome the new Lieutenant Governor here today as my partner. Formerly President of the Hawaii State Senate, he is a valued addition to this Administration. He is exactly the sort of young and able public servant/leader that Hawaii needs. He is taking the place of another young and capable leader, Brian Schatz, our new Senior United States Senator. Senator Schatz joins a congressional team with our vigorous senior Representative Colleen Hanabusa in the House of Representatives and Senator Akaka’s dedicated and committed successor, Senator Maize Hirono. A team that for the first time in the fifty-three year history of the State of Hawaii, will not have Senator Daniel Inouye at its helm. For many of us, we have never known a time when Senator Inouye was not the center of our political life. But while his physical presence may no longer be with us, the spirit of his example of public service sets an unmatched standard we can only aspire toward.  Senator Schatz joins another young leader in Congress -Tulsi Gabbard, like Senator Inouye a war veteran – but of this generation. With these bright and energetic young people, Hawaii looks to its future.

They understand we can only continue to get good bond ratings and sell them at record low rates by continuing to practice sound fiscal management. As such, a primary budgetary priority is to recapitalize the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund and the Rainy Day Fund. When my administration began, we were forced to borrow from both the Hurricane Relief Fund and the Rainy Day Fund. Now that our fiscal house is in order, it’s time to pay back those debts. Bond raters look to these reserves, and the levels to which they have been restored. Therefore, to keep our favorable ratings and attract investors, we must recapitalize these funds.

But, we must also deal with the question of the looming cloud of current liability obligations that have not been paid for and that will wreak havoc upon our state’s future fiscal stability. During the last few years of the recession while staring in the face of obligations to retirees, other states and cities nationwide have blinked and have either slashed retirement benefits that were previously earned or declared bankruptcy. That is why I am asking the Legislature to start paying toward our Other Post-Employment Benefits. This is the “OPEB” debt.

To pay down this liability would require the state to put up more than $500 million every year for 30 years. This is a number impossible to meet all at once.  I am therefore proposing to address this liability by budgeting $100 million starting this next fiscal year, with plans to continue to pursue payment in coming years.

Next, the question of energy. When we consider long-term financial stability and talk about controlling our own destiny, energy is at the top of the list.

Two weeks ago today, Tesoro Corporation announced it would be closing its refinery here in Hawaii.
That means about 200 people will soon be out of work. Our Department of Labor and Industrial Relations stands ready to assist with job assistance for those who need it.

It also means that Hawaii only has one refinery to process oil for our state’s energy needs, and that we will be importing the rest of our fuel. We face greater exposure to the events occurring elsewhere in the world that affect our fuel pipeline – whether in the Middle East, Asia, on the seas, or at Mainland refineries and ports.

Therefore, I am establishing the Hawaii Refinery Task Force, a collaboration of government, energy industries and utilities – 27 interested stakeholders from various levels of government and private sector – to immediately work on short-term and long-term findings and recommendations prompted by Tesoro’s closure.

Reducing our dependence on imported oil will take an equal commitment from all of us.

Our new energy future, one that allows Hawaii to utilize and rely upon its fortunate circumstances and geography for renewable energy, is a long but necessary journey. We have already taken several proactive and affirmative steps down that road.

But along the way, we are facing financing hurdles and policy obstacles that require us to look not only at renewable energies, but current alternative energy sources that are available now. One of those is Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG. This is a resource that would allow us to purchase fuel from American sources, and not be reliant upon foreign sources, friendly or otherwise.

LNG will reduce energy costs, and reduce our carbon footprint because the resource is abundant, available, and the technology exists for us to use it now.

Our state, our residents, our constituents, our businesses and communities need relief. To do nothing puts everyone in the state at risk. Empty rhetoric and magical thinking avoids the question.

The data is clear; embarking on a path to LNG will result in long-term avoided costs – whether those costs are mandated improvements to utility facilities or imported low-sulfur fossil fuels at exponentially growing prices. The energy storm is on Hawaii’s horizon. Will we take the necessary steps to weather it?

I ask the Legislature to move forward with us. There is no time to lose.

Likewise, there is a false controversy over renewable energy tax credits, and the interim administrative rules that were adopted. Reasonable limitations and controls upon expenditures, including any tax credits, have been critical to financial/fiscal management and our stable financial outlook. But more importantly, the lack of clarity and confusion by some gaming the system, created an uneven playing field for the renewable energy companies. It placed taxpayers, and even their expert accountants, in uncomfortable situations of not knowing whether they were following the tax law correctly.
This resulted in the unsustainable growth of the tax credit.

Therefore, I have asked my Department of Taxation to work with the Legislature to find the appropriate balance, and the proper amendments to the tax credit so that we can make the law fair for everyone, and maintain a sustainable incentive for the long-term.

Still, the problem with our reliance on a tax credit incentive is that it principally helps those with the capital means to pay upfront for a system, a cost typically in the thousands of dollars. We need to find an approach that allows all responsible residents to take advantage of Hawaii’s renewable energy options, save money, and contribute to moving us off of fossil fuels.

To that end, the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism will propose a sensible and fiscally sound financing mechanism that will allow residents, businesses and organizations,
to take advantage of renewable energy options.

By utilizing moneys deposited in a special fund to provide capitalization, we will provide a periodic payment system that can be assessed through a customer’s electric utility bill that will amortize the costs of the system over a sustained period, allowing more of us to take advantage of renewable energy in our homes, our businesses, our churches and our communities.  No longer will a photovoltaic system be only available to those who can afford the significant initial investment. Instead, this program will allow users to take advantage now, and pay for it over the long run while deriving the immediate benefits.

If we are going to move forward on energy security and self-sufficiency, then we must also have the ability and resources to invest in these initiatives. It is for this reason that I will be proposing that we redistribute the funding from the barrel tax, as well as making this law permanent, so that the monies no longer go into the general fund, but go to the initially intended purposes of energy diversification and food safety and security.

As we strive to be more self-sufficient and decrease our dependence on imported foods, we must give local farmers the tools that they need to overcome the challenges that face their industry. To this end, we will aggressively promote state agency purchases of local agricultural products so that farmers know that there is a consistent and regular market for their goods. We will also increase access to capital for farmers and ranchers by expanding the state Department of Agriculture’s loan programs.  We are supporting the goals of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council and, I note, efforts by Kamehameha Schools to expand cattle ranching on Oahu’s North Shore.

An integral component to nurturing Hawaii’s agriculture industry is the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, or CTAHR. Under the vigorous leadership of its new dean, Dr. Maria Gallo,
CTAHR is poised to meet critical research and extension needs if given the support.

If we are going to nurture and expand our local agriculture – if we are going to be talking about how we meet the challenges of the 21st century and ensure that we perpetuate “our” Hawaii, its natural beauty and environment – the question is what must we do keep our watershed areas protected. The Department of Land and Natural Resources Watershed Initiative remains a top priority.

Our forests can capture and collect up to 50 percent more water than through rainfall alone.
When forests disappear, Hawaii shrinks its source of water. In the last 200 years, more than half of Hawaii’s forests have been lost. The longer we wait to take significant action, the higher the cost will be to reverse the damage, thereby threatening water supplies for future generations.

I thank the Legislature for providing funding last session. But what we need is a sustainable and ongoing source of funding. I will be asking the Legislature to look at alternative methods of funding this critical initiative. One is an increase in the conveyance tax, but limited to high-end property transactions – properties valued at more than $2 million. The bill would generate an estimated $10 million for watershed protection. The other approach is to look at a 10-cent fee for single-use checkout bags to go into the natural area reserve fund. This could generate an estimated $15 million.

Just as we need clean water to drink, our coral reefs depend on water free of silt, chemicals and debris to survive. The Department of Health – Environmental Health Administration will be proposing new measures to control polluted runoff, protect our streams, keep our reef environment from harm.

What about innovation? While the hospitality industry is fortunate to have Hawaii to rely upon; while the US Military derives clear advantages from our location, and while construction is rebounding, we must look to diversify our economy in order to grow our economic base.

To this end, I will be proposing the HI Growth Initiative, a state investment program focused on building an innovation ecosystem that supports entrepreneurial high growth businesses and creates high wage jobs for our people. We intend to provide $20 million of state investment capital that will focus on the critical building blocks of research commercialization, entrepreneur mentoring and the mobilization of startup investment capital.

This comprehensive investment program represents a commitment to reinvigorate state efforts to fuel an innovation economy. The HI Growth Initiative will engage with the private sector to startup and grow creative and innovative companies. This initiative will help keep our established industries competitive and create new areas of opportunities to allow our young people to pursue their dreams here in Hawaii.

We have examples of that entrepreneurial talent with us today.

Dr. Jeffrey Yu is CEO of Kineticor. His company is commercializing research done at the Queens Medical Center and the University of Hawaii. Kineticor has developed an innovative system that compensates for patient movement during an MRI. This will increase the efficiency of performing MRIs, reducing health care costs considerably.

Tina Fitch, from Maui, created a company that became a leading provider of software to the travel industry. She’s now leading a new software startup, umicam.  Importantly, she also mentors other Hawaii startups to inspire and motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Skai Ventures, a company established by kamaaina, including Ellary Kim and Mark Mugi-ishi, has created 5 companies that employ more than 200 people. For example, TruTag Technologies has successfully developed a way to easily authenticate real prescription drugs from counterfeits, and is now looking to expand the manufacturing of its products in Hawaii.

There are also grassroots and farming entrepreneurs who want to work the land, improve their communities, and put their neighbors to work. They will be crucial contributors to our economy and to our food-sustainability.

An outstanding example of the synergy of communities and agricultural food self-sufficiency can be seen in the Veterans to Farmers program in Waimea. It is designed to combine classroom and on-farm education by creating operating farms. The program teaches lessees to build and manage greenhouses that grow produce ready for market while still working another full-time job.

The Department of Agriculture, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Department of Hawaiian Homelands, University of Hawaii Hilo, and the County of Hawaii are all working together to bolster this new agricultural venture and keep Hawaii dollars and workers in the state.

Here with us today are the local leaders responsible for this vision and for helping their neighbors to put their hands in Waimea’s healing soil. Mike and Tricia Hodson are the owners of Wow Farm. Mike, Tricia, and their partner David Ruf have spent endless hours creating this innovative program to help their community, their neighbors and veterans to build a future in farming. I am committing $3.5 million in my fiscal year 2013 budget to building the community agriculture park that is central to the program. This program is already changing lives, we are fortunate today to have Ramona Noa here with us.
Ramona is one of the 14 new farmers, and has expressed a desire to build a legacy for her family with her new farm. I had the great honor of handing her the first diploma she has ever received, though she has long since earned one in our hearts.

Our veterans not only deserve these opportunities, but they deserve our respect and our support for their sacrifices. Just look around you, one out of every ten people in Hawaii is a veteran. It is vitally important for us to take care of them.

In August 2012, we launched the Hawaii Network of Care website, a state of the art way to make it easy for our veterans to find all services and support. We created the Hawaii Military Veterans Women’s Task Force to address the fastest growing group affecting almost 12,000 women veterans here in Hawaii.

And we also formed a Veterans Treatment Court, partnering with our State Judiciary and Veteran Affairs counterparts to help tie in critical treatment, counseling, and follow-up, while helping promote low recidivism rates for repeat offenders.

In the future we will partner with the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation to explore an additional veterans’ home on Oahu, and develop multi-service Veterans Centers in Kahului, Maui; Lihue, Kauai; and in Kona, Hawaii.

These veterans deserve our full support to recognize and appreciate all that they have done for our communities, our state and our country.

Another group, just as important and affecting every one of our families, is our kupuna. As we look to the future, we must never forget where we came from, and to whom we owe our gratitude. Those that came before us, sacrificed to help build our state, and create the foundation upon which we stand today.

To those that have long contributed to our society, we owe much, and we should not ignore their needs.

I will be asking the Legislature to increase the Kupuna Care budget by $4.2 million and make it permanent. Senior advocates should not have to come back year after year to secure their funding.
By being part of the permanent base for the Department of Health and the Executive Office on Aging, we can allow programs to properly plan and rely upon a steady stream of funding. This should be seen as an investment that will pay immediate dividends as the aging population of Hawaii both grows in numbers and lives longer.

Many of Hawaii’s residents are the products of plantation-era workers – people who worked and toiled in the fields, earning the bare minimum in order to afford a better opportunity for their families.

Today, there still exists a hard-working sector of our society that deserves continued recognition. These are the working-class residents who earn the minimum wage. The minimum wage, currently at $7.25 per hour, has not increased for over 6 years. Nineteen other states plus the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates than Hawaii, with less to confront in terms of cost of living.

Therefore, I will be proposing a bill to increase the minimum wage by $1.50, to $8.75 starting in January 2014. Minimum wage earners provide immediate infusion of dollars into the economy. Everyone is worthy of their labor. Industry and corporations do not lack for support in these halls. Neither should those who work the hardest for the least return.

The vision of Kakaako is about more than buildings, it is about creating a community – a place where its residents can live, work and play. It is for this reason that I will be proposing a bill that requires the HCDA to develop guidelines to implement the complete streets concept. This will be a comprehensive plan that involves all aspects of transportation, including walking and biking, and how these uses integrate themselves into street level use for commercial, residential and entertainment and retail places.

We will re-open the Kulani Correctional Facility by July 1, 2014. We will restore needed jobs on the Big Island and return more than $5 million a year to Hawaii currently spent on Arizona correctional facilities.

This will be a substantial addition to the more than 400 inmates already brought back from incarceration on the Mainland.

This renewed operational capacity at Kulani will not require new funds. The new Kulani will work with the University of Hawaii at Hilo to provide inmates who are two to four years from finishing their sentences, with the tools to prepare them to re-enter our communities as functioning and participatory members of our society.

Last session, the Legislature granted my request to fund the Office of Information Management and Technology. It has completed and presented to you a comprehensive plan to improve business processes, and to update and consolidate all of our state technology including Healthcare Transformation.

This will allow us to bring our three-decades-old information technology infrastructure into the 21st century digital age.

To that end, we are requesting a significant, but much needed, investment of general funds and general obligation bonds. Any less in our funding commitments will adversely affect our ability to make this long overdue information transformation journey.

This is more than buying technology and hardware. We will be instituting an Enterprise Resource Planning initiative (ERP), a collaborative and cooperative inter-agency plan to integrate and provide consistency within our state’s finances, budget, payroll, human resources, acquisition, assets and grants. The ERP will also provide better accounting of our taxpayer dollars and allow state government to operate more transparently and efficiently.

These IT improvements and our ERP initiative, will allow our employees to work smarter and not have to work with outdated or inefficient technology and paper-based processes. Modernized technology will also provide the tools we need to attract new talent to the state workforce.

We will modernize our tax collection process to empower our Department of Taxation to aggressively and effectively improve its collection of delinquent and overdue accounts. Those that fail to pay their share only unfairly burden the rest of us who pay what is owed.

It’s vitally important to invest in and update our IT systems, infrastructure and internal processes – especially when it comes to our schools.

Our public schools are on average 65 years old, and many facilities have been ignored due to limited budgets. That means students learning in structures that do not reflect our modern information and technology age.

The 21st Century Schools initiative is a public-private partnership that allows the Department of Education to lease underutilized lands for the purpose of generating income to be used to upgrade existing schools or construct new schools.

A 21st century school provides learning spaces that are flexible and support innovative learning approaches, such as individual, project-based learning.

The program, based on successful models elsewhere, builds long-term value for local school communities, which benefit from better school facilities, multi-purpose community centers, workforce housing, or other needs as determined by a cross-section of the community.

Success will require a community-based policy and planning approach.  Any use of public lands must be compatible with and provide benefits to the surrounding community. Teachers, administrators, students, parents, community residents and other stakeholders will play a meaningful role in the planning, design and partnership between the school and its surrounding community. Over the next several months we will be convening community meetings to solicit public input and feedback for this groundbreaking initiative.

In addition to a new approach to school facilities to meet the needs and opportunities of the 21st century, we are transforming our teaching and learning in our public schools.

I am pleased to report significant progress in the DOE and Board of Education’s strategic plan.
Last year, our students demonstrated unprecedented gains in student achievement. Hawaii was the only state to show gains across the board in every subject and grade level.

Supported by the federal investment of $75 million in the state’s Race to the Top grant, which is now in its third year, Hawaii has become a leader in moving curriculum and instruction in our schools to meet expectations for student learning. Similar to the goals of 45 other states, we want our students to graduate prepared for success in college and careers, and able to compete globally.

Accordingly, I am advocating for a significant investment and commitment to support the DOE and BOE’s Digital Materials Initiative to provide students with learning opportunities for the 21st century.
Within the next three years, we aim to provide each of our public school students with current curricular materials on a digital device, such as a tablet or laptop.

This initiative takes advantage of new technology for learning and the state’s broadband infrastructure.
Having students with curriculum materials on a digital device solves the problem of not having enough textbooks or obsolete textbooks. Common curriculum statewide is no easy task, which is why we are seeking dedicated funds for teacher training to empower them with current instructional innovations. Our students will be engaged in learning, and graduate with the knowledge and preparation for using these technological tools in college and the workplace.

When it comes to how our students learn or how we treat our keiki, we need serious affirmative action in order to nurture and promote their well-being and preparation. This is the area of early childhood, focusing on best preparing our keiki before they enter our public schools at kindergarten.

An alarming number of our children are entering school without the basics needed to succeed in school including reading, math, and socio-emotional skills.

Only 57 percent of the students who entered kindergarten this year had attended preschool. We know that the early years of a child’s development are crucial to set the groundwork for a child’s behavior and lifelong learning.

From birth to five years old is when more than 85 percent of a person’s brain development takes place.
Our keiki deserve to have a strong foundation. This is for them and Hawaii’s future economic and community development and growth.

Investing now in our children’s early years of life will pay off dividends down the road in the form of healthy and contributing adults, reduced crime and incarceration, crime costs, and less dependency on social services.

These programs must be accessible, affordable, and voluntary for families. The goal is to ensure all Hawaii’s four-year-olds are healthy, socially developed, and cognitively prepared to learn and succeed on day one of kindergarten.

Our keiki need to be immersed in a stimulating learning environment and have positive relationships with their families and teachers so they can thrive. Our teachers and children’s caregivers need to be supported to help our keiki succeed.

Our approach is ambitious but pragmatic. It allows for all children to be equally prepared to learn.  School readiness is the key to efficient and effective learning.

By investing in our children, we are investing in our future as well as theirs. A school readiness program is the best possible start you can have in life.

Hawaii News Now is presenting the whole story thanks to a special TV program put on by the Good Beginnings Alliance. It’s called, the “Power of Preschool,” and you can check your listings for the dates and times.

You can also read about the “Power of Preschool” in a special insert featured in the Hawaii Business magazine.

So we return to the Jeopardy challenge. Answers abound! Our task is to formulate and frame the right questions and the changes we need to make. The hallmark of this election was that some members had no opposition either in the primary or general election. Some members were sent here with 60 percent plus of the vote. Some were sent with 70 percent plus of the vote. This strong electoral foundation enables this Legislature to set a new tone in its deliberations.

Set strident voices aside. You have the faith and trust of an overwhelming majority of your voters. You have the opportunity to authenticate the role of government by acting in bold affirmations of that faith and trust.

For more than half a century, Hawaii legislators have played a leading role on progressive issues from civil rights to labor law to education and healthcare. You are the inheritors of a proud legislative tradition in Hawaii. I have been privileged to be a part of that tradition. I love legislating – it represents the very core of democratic freedom. I speak to you today as a former colleague, as much as I do a Governor.

Our people want us to act now. They have charged us with the responsibility and obligation to move forward – now.

If it was easy to solve these questions, we wouldn’t be dealing with them. But we wanted to meet these challenges. We asked the voters to allow us to do so. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I said, at its heart, politics is about doing good and relieving suffering. That’s why I said if politics is done right, it’s about making life better for people.

Let us resolve then not to get lost in the noise of the moment. Rather let us seize the moment to act with confidence in ourselves, confidence in the people of Hawaii and confidence in a future we determine. The clock is ticking; the time is now.