2013 Legislative Session: State Senate Invests in Hawaii’s Future

FISCAL BIENNIUM 2013-2015 STATE BUDGET: Discussions between the Senate and House on the budget started ahead of schedule this year, marking a paradigm shift in the approach taken to complete the work of the legislative session. Over the upcoming fiscal biennium, the Legislature’s final draft of the executive budget is $23.8 billion, more than $250 million under the Governor’s budget proposal. The above chart depicts all means of financing allocated to each department.

The Hawaii State Senate adjourned on its final day of the 2013 Legislative Session on May 2, passing many bills in support of its priorities set forth at the beginning of the session. With a spirit of cooperativeness, civility, and compromise exercised by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Finance, the Hawaii State Budget, House Bill (HB) 200, was passed more than one week before the final day of the 2013 session.  The budget’s early passage allowed the Senate to carefully assess the needs of Hawaii residents and the direction of Hawaii’s government through bills pending in conference committees.

This Session, the Legislature fulfilled its commitment to start prefunding unfunded liabilities pertaining to other post employment benefits.  The Legislature made appropriations through House Bill (HB) 200, the State Budget, with $100M for fiscal year (FY)14 and $117.4M for FY15. Currently, the unfunded liabilities for the employer-union health benefits trust fund is $13.6 billion.  Paying down these liabilities will have a positive impact on the state’s bond rating and ensure that Hawaii’s future is not handicapped by increasingly burdensome debt.  Additionally, HB 546 will make Hawaii the first state in the nation to statutorily require payment of the annual required contribution for future public worker health benefits.

The State Budget also funded several capital improvement projects, which include the renovation of our airports and harbors and repairing our roads and bridges.  Additionally, funding was allocated in the capital improvement program for projects such as a new building at the Honolulu Community College, Ewa Makai Middle School to reduce overcrowding, and a new high school in Kihei. These projects will contribute to stimulating the economy and job growth.

Among many other legislative accomplishments, here are highlights of bills that have passed this session:

Food and Energy Resiliency

With the Senate Majority exploring the concept of food self-reliance and agricultural resiliency within the State, the Caucus took steps toward developing a strong foundation that will enhance food and agricultural self-sufficiency by passing several bills to support this mission. To support Hawaii’s livestock production, Senate Bill (SB) 593 expands livestock feed subsidies to include goat milk, sheep, lamb, fish, and crustaceans.  Increasing livestock production is vitally necessary to meet the State’s goals of ensuring food security and self-sufficiency. Through HB 200, funds were allocated towards a biodigester, which produces a clean, healthy and economic alternative fuel and fertilizer that can be used in farming. Additionally, to protect Hawaii’s unique environment and crops, ten positions were funded for plant and pest, and bio control personnel, and programs.

The Senate Majority continues to advance the Hawai’i Clean Energy Initiative and align government regulations and policies with clean energy goals. To support the State’s clean energy objectives, SB 19 was passed to exempt landlords who install renewable energy systems from the onerous requirements imposed on public utilities and serves as an incentive for landlords to adopt renewable energy systems.  SB 120 (signed into law in April as Act 37) authorizes the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to establish a policy to incentivize Hawaii’s electric utility companies to make needed reforms that attain lower electricity rates. SB 1087 provides a lower cost financing alternative for Hawaii businesses and residents to utilize green infrastructure equipment and technology to reduce electricity consumption by leveraging clean energy technology. The innovative financing method created in this measure will provide a secure financing structure to allow the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism to issue revenue bonds at very competitive rates, which these savings can be passed on to the consumers in the form of lower borrowing costs.

Government Efficiency and Accountability

The Senate Majority encourages long-term planning and efficiency efforts to fundamentally change the character and delivery of government services. The Senate continues to promote the enhancement of the State’s information technology services and support the Governor’s Chief Information Officer as he works on modernizing the technology infrastructure. HB 200 has provided positions and $18.8 in fiscal year 2013-2014 and $14.4 in fiscal year 2014-2015 in general funds to the Office of Information Management & Technology so it can continue its work. Additionally, $130M went to informational systems in various departments to streamline tax collections, maintain and share critical health information, as well provide for a secure communication network for the islands. To protect the State’s information and data, SB 1003 authorizes the Chief Information Officer to conduct security audits, preventing intrusions and theft of the public’s personal information.

Seeking to encourage economic diversity, the Senate passed SB 1349 that reestablishes the income tax credit for qualified research activities to encourage job growth in research and development.  This measure contributes to the diversification of the State’s economy by creating and maintaining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs in the State.  The Senate also passed HB 726 for the film, television, entertainment, digital media, and music production industry in Hawaii by increasing the amount of the Motion Picture, Digital Media, and Film Production income tax credit for qualified production costs incurred by an authorize production company.  The Legislature also passed SB 237, which establishes a program to optimize the use of public school lands for public purposes, generate revenue to build and retrofit twenty-first century schools and create more school-centered communities.

Drawing upon the recommendations of the Senate Special Committee on Accountability for the improvement of the operational and financial management of the University of Hawaii, the Senate Majority passed several bills addressing issues unveiled during the committee’s hearings. SB 1388 reduces the membership of the Board of Directors of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii. HB 114 requires all University of Hawaii procurements for construction, including consultant services necessary for construction, to be subject to the supervision of the Department of Accounting and General Services on behalf of the Board of Regents. It also establishes an independent audit committee within the board of regents of the University of Hawaii. SB 563 amends the form and function of the Candidate Advisory Council for the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii.

Supporting People, Strengthening Communities

From keiki to kupuna to ohana, the Senate Majority continues to support the State’s core functions, including programs for those most in need. To encourage positive outcomes for our young keiki and to prepare them to thrive in an educational environment, Senate Bills 1093 and 1084 were passed to build the foundation for a future state-funded early childhood education program. SB 1093 establishes a school readiness program as a major component of the early learning system, while SB 1084 would allow voters to choose whether to allow for a publicly funded private early childhood education.  For the Charter Schools, $1.2M for FY14 and FY15 was appropriated in the State Budget for the Charter School Commission, creating 15 positions that support its work in providing quality educational services to students who attend a charter school. To help students become successful in this modern digital age, $8.2M was appropriated in the State Budget for a “one-to-one” laptop program pilot project.

Homelessness in Hawaii is a significant problem in the State and the Senate Majority is working to find ways to help people and families who are homeless. SB 515 appropriates funding for services and programs that target issues such as substance abuse, mental health, housing assistance, health care, and employment to help reduce the number of homeless in Hawaii. SB 1340 establishes the Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care Program to care for and supervise eligible foster youth until their twenty-first birthdays as long as they pursue higher education. To protect our kupuna, SB 102 requires financial institutions to report suspected financial abuse against an elder to the appropriate county police department immediately.

The bills now go to the Governor for consideration.

 

For more information on the bills:  http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/.