Lawmakers make final push in last week of 2013 legislative session

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last minute pushes and tweaks are taking place in both the House and Senate as lawmakers race against the clock to pass every bill they want this year in the final days of this legislative session.

Perhaps one of the most important items on the order of the day was House Bill 200, the $24 billion, two-year state budget, which was passed by both the House and the Senate.  Lawmakers approved $11.8 billion for FY14 and $11.9B in FY15.

Public testimony has come and gone, but that didn't keep opponents of Senate Bill 1171 from filling the Senate gallery today in hopes their presence would influence legislators.

SB 1171 would allow developers to complete archaeological surveys in phases, rather than for the entirety of a project, prior to beginning construction.

Senator Clayton Hee opposed the bill and challenged claims passing it would make state law consistent with federal law, arguing that "phasing does not exist in federal law."

"This is nothing more than a taking by the State Executive in response to a Supreme Court decision entitled Kaleikini [v. Yoshioka] that's all it is," said Senator Hee during his address from the Senate floor.  "You can fluff it up any which way you want.  If it quacks, it's a duck --and this is a duck," said Hee, as the gallery applauded.

Senator Wakai, who supports the measure, says state construction projects could be delayed if the bill did not pass.

"Opponents would like you to believe that this bill will give the state a license to bulldoze important historical or cultural sites – but really, nothing could be further from the truth," said Senator Wakai. "If the state had a sketchy track rate of desecrating historical sites there may be reason for us to pause, but the opposite is true-- the state has been an excellent stewart of the land and has a record of preserving important cultural sites."

In the end, 9 Senators voted against the measure – 16 for it.

"The Hawaiians see it as the beginning of the dismantling of many of the laws that protect our iwi kupuna, our cultural sites, and the Hawaiian people," explained disappointed Moloka'i resident Walter, who opposed the bill.  "This is a very, very bad beginning of something that we cannot accept as Hawaiians when they start dismantling laws that protect us."

Discussion was much more agreeable on the issue of green infrastructure financing. Both the Senate and the House passed SB 1087 to create a loan program that will allow residents to finance solar energy through their electricity bills.

"This is not just a step forward, it's a leap forward for renewable energy in Hawai'i. It's going to make renewable energy available for middle income, low income and renters, which have never been a market that's been able to take advantage of this before," said Representative Chris Lee, who helped author the language in the bill.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 69, which will require the Honolulu Police Department to fingerprint, photo and conduct background checks on individuals who register guns purchased out-of-state.

Senator Sam Slom voted against the proposal, calling it "feel-good legislation" that doesn't address the real issues of illegal gun sales and criminal activity.

"I think it gives people a false sense of security.  They think that with these background checks – additional background checks, we have them already – that they'll be safer. They won't be, because the criminals are not going to go through this process," explained Senator Slom.

One of the most controversial proposals, Senate Bill 1084, called for a Constitutional amendment. It passed through the Senate 21-4, meeting the necessary two-thirds' threshold required. It also passed the House 37-14 by supermajority.    SB 1084  approves a Constitutional amendment to ask voters on the 2014 ballot whether public money should be spent on funding private preschool.  Governor Neil Abercrombie, a major proponent of early childhood development and education, was present during both the Senate and House vote.

Another bill that passed through both the House and Senate was House Bill 1214 that would prevent "any person, entity or police from applying wheel boots to cars".

Several bills did not make it through the day.  Among them, a media shield law that protects journalists from revealing their confidential sources.

An amendment to House Bill 622 to extend the current media shield law that was set to expire on July 1, 2013 by two years was proposed and passed by the House early Tuesday.

"The Shield Law protects the freedom of the press and it gives journalists the security of knowing that their sources will not be disclosed, and it allows journalists and the media to report the truth," explained Representative Scott Saiki, who introduced the extension amendment.

However, The Senate passed a version of the bill they had agreed to in conference committee -- essentially killing the measure this legislative session. The current media shield law will expire at the end of June.

Despite initially passing a bill which would have raised the minimum wage to $8.75/hour next January, the Senate reconsidered their vote and chose to send it back to committee, even though it had already passed through the House.

Only an estimated 10% of all bills that are introduced make it to the Governor's desk.  Representative Kaniela Ing says he will not be deterred from pursuing his same-day voter registration bill, which did not survive conference committee last week.  Rep. Ing says he'll definitely try again next year.

"This bill is expected to increase overall voter turnout by 6%, youth voter turnout – which is very important to me, of 18 to 25-year-olds – by a whole 9%. There's no other single measure that could give those kinds of results, and Hawai'i right now has the lowest voting turnout out of any state in the Nation-- so I think we need to do all we can to try to increase those dismal numbers," said Ing.

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