HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Opening Day of the 2014 Legislative Session was a stark difference from the last time state lawmakers gathered at the Capitol a little more than two months ago to pass the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act.
Instead of crowds protesting in the Rotunda chanting "Let the people vote!", Hawaiian Charter school students gathered by the hundreds to pound kalo and share it with the public.
After a divisive and contentious special session, leadership in both the House and Senate say they're committed to moving forward and working together to tackle the important issues facing all of Hawai'i.
Majority Leader Scott Saiki says House Democrats and Republicans are ready to put their differences aside.
"The coalition has been very positive and I think we've agreed to disagree on the substantive issues, but for the most part there's been a cordial working relationship and I think everyone's looking forward to having a productive session," Saiki said, (D – Downtown, Kaka'ako, McCully).
House business started off with the swearing-in of the newest state lawmaker, Dr. Richard Creagan, who was appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie after Representative Denny Coffman resigned.
In welcoming the Senate to order, President Donna Mercado Kim prioritized the challenges they hope to resolve this year – from housing for the homeless to the progress of the Hawai'i Health Connector. She said Senators will also be picking up on proposals they weren't able to finish last session.
"One of the things, of course, is the minimum wage. That certainly will be discussed and hopefully we'll be able to have a minimum wage law. Early education still will be on our agenda and we'll be debating that. GMO's also, along with energy and energy efficiency and looking at the grid and why people are having such a hard time hooking up to the grid," detailed Mercado Kim (D – Kalihi Valley, Moanalua, Halawa).
House Speaker Joesph Souki also laid out his legislative focus touching on everything from the possibility of an internet and pension tax to the necessity of establishing medical marijuana dispensaries before lawmakers could ever take up the issue of legalization. Souki also suggested removing the cap on counties' share of the Transient Accommodations Tax.
"It was a temporary measure, because years back we had financial problems as you well know and now it's getting better so it's about time," explained Souki (D – Waihee, Waiehu, Wailuku).
Both chambers are also working on a joint majority package to address combating invasive species and adapting to climate change – two major issues leadership says rose to the level of special attention.
"Invasive species – fire ants and coqui frogs – not only quality of life, but you're talking about economic devastation if they ever get to places like Waikiki. Then adaptability to the climate change – we need a long-term timeline plan. We are an island state and with sea level rise we got to determine how we're going to address that," said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (D – Kaka'ako, McCully, Waikiki).
Political experts say the reality is only 10% of all bills introduced each session are signed into law. They say only the strongest proposals survive the 60 legislative days.
Several dozen former Senators and Representatives also gathered at the Capitol today to celebrate the 55th Anniversary of statehood, among them former Governor John Waihe'e.
"It was obviously nostalgic and it was good to see a lot of the colleagues that you worked with. It brought back some kind of sense of a foundation to the Legislature that may have been disappating in recent years -- the idea that it's all a part of history and so forth. So yeah, it was feel good but I think it also served an institutional purpose," Waihe'e said.