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Minimum wage, affordable housing at top of legislative agenda this session

The new legislative session kicked off Wednesday with lawmakers pledging to take up issues aimed at improving the lives of residents hit hardest by the pandemic
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 4:59 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 9:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the 2022 legislation session got underway Wednesday, House Democrats laid out their game plan for helping working-class families.

“The House will advance legislation to increase the hourly minimum wage to $18, increase the food tax credit, and make the earned income tax credit refundable and permanent,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said, in his opening address.

One of the biggest funding commitments will be setting aside $600 million to help 20,000 Native Hawaiians on the Department of Hawaiian Homelands waiting list buy their own homes.

House Finance Committee chair Slyia Luke called it a history-making financial contribution to DHHL.

“If we don’t do something this year because we have revenues coming in, if we don’t do something to help the wait list, it would be a tragedy,” she said.

The state kicks off the year in a strong financial position. Tax revenue is forecast to top $8 billion. Senate leaders want to use it to increase affordable housing units and to help the homeless.

“We’ve seen some success with Ohana Zones, which have given flexibility to have different solutions. And in each of the different counties, I’m anticipating increasing funding there,” Senate President Ron Kouchi said.

But Gov. David Ige hopes to put $1 billion of the surplus into the state’s rainy day fund.

Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore said that signals a struggle.

“One of the big battles, and really it’s a good problem to have, is that compared to last year, the state is pretty flush with cash. There’s going to be battles between the governor and the legislative leadership about how to spend that money,” he said.

Republicans will focus on job creation, kupuna care, and improving the state’s infrastructure.

“From the beginning of the pandemic one of the main issues we had was addressing the unemployment system. We really saw how antiquated it was. As a state we really need to address that should something like this happen again,” said state Rep. Val Okimoto, House minority leader.

State leaders plan to also tackle public education issues including teacher recruitment, which could involve perks like teacher housing.

While lawmakers discuss and dispute the issues, the public will only be able to follow the proceedings online. Because of the rise in COVID cases, the Capitol building is closed to visitors until further notice.

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