Fate of bills now in governor’s hands as legislative session comes to a close

Updated: May. 2, 2019 at 8:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 2019 legislature came to a close Thursday, and proposals that made it through the House and Senate now have one more hurdle before becoming law: Gov. David Ige.

House and Senate leaders say despite some disappointments, like failing to agree on a new minimum wage, they believe they made progress this session on some of the toughest issues.

“Everyone’s not too happy and not too sad,” said state Sen. Kalani English, Senate majority leader.

A proposal that would allow vacation rental platforms, such as Airbnb, to collect taxes for the state is now on the governor's desk.

Ige vetoed a similar bill in 2016.

While opponents worry the bill condones illegal rentals, lawmakers believe the state is doing its part to crack down.

"We're very confident that through taxation some of the illegal activity will cease, but then it still comes down to what are the counties going to do to enforce some of the illegal rentals," said State Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee.

"We have held off for five years, maybe more, on passing legislation to collect taxes, waiting for the counties to establish whether or not they're legal or illegal, and we simply could not wait any longer," English said.

It's also unclear if Ige will sign into law a measure that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana.

"People assume once it becomes recreational or decriminalized it becomes legal," said Ige. "And it's not legal by federal law, and I think that becomes the confusion and that's always been my concern."

Ige has until June 24 to announce plans to veto any bill.

He's already begun signing some, including one that regulates midwives.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns with legislation that didn't pass, like a higher minimum wage and the water rights bill.

The water proposal would have given public water users, including farmers, ranchers, and land owner Alexander & Baldwin, more time to obtain long-term water leases.

Temporary water permits expire on December 31.

“We have no legal authority to move ahead come January 1 to continue delivering water anywhere the state delivers water. So as it stands right now, water will stop on January 1, flowing everywhere,” said English.

After the bill died, Ige asked lawmakers to revive it, but that never happened.

"I'm just hopeful that the governor will spend this summer with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to see how that situation can be addressed once it happens in December," said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Ige says the state has never had to issue long-term water leases, so he believes it’s okay to issue temporary permits until the process is figured out.

“We need to get appraisal on water and we’ve never ever had an appraisal on what’s the value of water when we divert water. So these things are complex, you can’t rush it, and I refuse to rush to an answer that doesn’t serve our community,” Ige said.

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