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SENATE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE ADVANCES BILLS RELATING TO WILDFIRE EMERGENCIES AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – Today, the Hawaiʻi State Senate Committee on Ways and Means passed out several bills aimed at addressing key priorities for the Senate. These bills cover areas of wildfire preparedness and workforce development.

 

Wildfire Preparedness

 

In addition to spending time this week asking State and County officials for clarification of financial and housing plans for Maui recovery, the Committee on Ways and Means committed to moving bills that focus on wildfire preparation. Senate Bill 2143 Senate Draft 1 would address current wildfire prevention needs by providing additional funding to the Department of Land and Natural Resources for grants to local nonprofits for effective and efficient wildfire mitigation and pre-suppression work. Senate Bill 2842 Senate Draft 1 would establish a dedicated Wildfire Safety Advisory Board to make recommendations to State agencies on wildfire safety and prevention. Both bills were supported by the County of Maui Fire and Public Safety Department and the Honolulu Fire Department.

 

Senate Bill 2284 Senate Draft 2 and Senate Bill 2502 Senate Draft 2 would utilize the University of Hawaiʻi as a wildfire prevention resource. Specifically, these bills would have the University develop a wildfire forecasting system utilizing artificial intelligence and create wildfire vulnerability maps for the State. This would provide better information and understanding for the public on areas of potential risk and what areas of critical infrastructure may need to be hardened to withstand future fire risks. The University of Hawaiʻi submitted testimony in favor of each bill.

 

"The State needs to be better prepared for wildfires," said Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means. "Our Committee believes these forward thinking bills make sure we are not as susceptible to another catastrophic wildfire, and that we stand ready to efficiently and strategically respond if we find ourselves facing fire again."

 

Workforce Development

 

The Committee on Ways and Means remains committed to expanding workforce development opportunities within the state, as means of keeping citizens in Hawaiʻi with good paying jobs and diversifying our economy, and today the Committee passed two bills that deliver on these priorities. The State faces several specific workforce shortages. One that is increasingly difficult to recruit for are drivers with a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Most prominently, this has affected how many school bus routes can be managed as the companies contracted to drive these routes have reported a severe lack of drivers available to manage all the routes needed. Senate Bill 2943 Senate Draft 2 would require the Department of Transportation to look at ways to address this workforce shortage. The Department of Transportation and the Hawaii Food Industry Association offered testimony in support of this measure.

 

Another field in which there currently are significant workforce shortages is in State jobs. During Informational Briefings held by the Committee this January, State departments reported job vacancy rates of up to thirty percent, which is in part due to qualified applicants removing themselves from consideration during a required, time-consuming, multiple-level applicant review process.  To reduce the number of vacancies in State jobs, Senate Bill 3007 Senate Draft 2 would allow State departments to conduct minimum qualification reviews to cut down on the time-consuming multiple-level process. The Committee received testimony in support of this bill from various State departments, including the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, the Department of Transportation, the Hawaiʻi Housing and Finance Development Corporation, and the Hawaiʻi State Public Library System.

 

"Too many of our neighbors are moving away from Hawaiʻi because of a lack of stable good-paying employment, but we are failing to recruit qualified applicants for good-paying jobs that are needed here at home," said Senator Dela Cruz. "These two bills, SB2943 and SB3007, demonstrate the State's commitment to keeping citizens in Hawaiʻi with good jobs and delivering important services to the community."

 

Each of these bills will be voted on by the entire Senate no later than March 5 to approve and send to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

 

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