This year's legislative agenda: Affordable housing, homelessness and ... the missile alert system

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 2018 legislative season kicked off Wednesday, and officials say tackling the issues surrounding this weekend's false missile alert will be at the top of the agenda.

Both the state House and Senate convened at 10 a.m. and, as always, there were big crowds in attendance.

Speaker of the House Scott Saiki told members that it's time to "step up to the plate" and provide leadership in "tumultuous times."

"The state of Hawaii requires leadership now and the House of Representatives can and should provide that leadership," he said. "Unfortunately, one need only look to the past weekend to see a glaring instance of the inability of government at various levels to manage major issues facing out state."

On Friday, lawmakers are set to grill officials with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency over Saturday's false alert about a ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. The false alarm spurred panic and fear among visitors and residents.

Gov. David Ige says his administration has already made corrections.

"We're not waiting for them. As I've said, we've implemented changes already to correct what happened and prevent it from happening again. We will continue to make improvements in the system," Ige said.

Improving education was the main focus of Senate President Ron Kouchi's opening day remarks.

He says the Senate is looking to expand the Early College program so students can earn college credits at their high schools. He also wants to expand the Hawaii Promise program, which is currently only available at community colleges, to offer more scholarships to those in need.

"It is only through education in creating opportunities for each and every child in this state that we give them the opportunity to close that income gap," said Kouchi.

House lawmakers say they are looking to tackle homelessness and affordable housing.

Saiki says they must subsidize rent and construction costs for affordable housing project, and he points to the new Kahauiki Village as way to help get people off the streets.

"Kahauiki Village represents what is possible if people and agencies at different levels work towards a common goal. This model can be extended to homeless populations with substance abuse and mental health condition," Saiki said.

House Republicans say they will be introducing a package of bills on Friday to make Hawaii a more affordable place to live, as well as making government more accessible to all communities across the state.

"We still don't have here at the Capitol a way for people to testify from other locations. We really should have remote centers at all the city halls for people to go to. It's something that's actually pretty cheap for us to do and we can do it now," said House Minority Leader Rep. Andria Tupola.

There are currently no Republicans in the Senate.

Opening day coincided with commemoration ceremonies for the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Thousands are expected to attend those events, which include a march.

After the opening remarks at the state Legislature, lawmakers got right to work.

One of the first items on the calendar was a hearing for the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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