Hawaii Legislature opens its new session with a return of pageantry ― and big crowds

This was the day pageantry and a lot of people came to the capitol.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 5:43 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 9:53 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tax reform and early education were at the top of the agenda Thursday as the Hawaii legislature opened the doors for the 2023 session.

The opening was much more upbeat than recent years, as both pageantry and a lot of people came to the capitol. Spirits were high because of that ― and because the biggest issue was how to spend a big surplus of money.

The music was back in both Houses and so were residents bringing their hopes and even their grievances, including one Native Hawaiian activist who tried to disrupt the house session and was dragged out by sheriff’s deputies.

Affordable housing, preschool among top priorities as new legislative session begins

House Speaker Scott Saiki congratulated members and the audience for getting through the pandemic.

“Every crisis if met together with resilience and resolve brings new lessons and a chance to improve,” he said.

There were big spending promises in both houses ― such as targeted tax breaks for middle class and low-income residents, more money for affordable housing and support for free public preschools.

Senate President Ronald Kouchi made a point of congratulating Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke on her preschool plan, which will need funding added to the already $200 million appropriated. He said families now paying for preschool or child care will save money, and there will be a huge benefit for families who can’t afford private preschool.

“The price should not be an obstacle to giving your child a fair start and ability to compete on equal ground,” Kouchi said.

But Kouchi also shot down the governor’s plan to tax tourists on arrival, saying the fees should be collected at popular parks, which he said could raise $20 to $40 million. The governor was willing to discuss that option.

“Whether you do it as a fee when you come into the state, which we’ll talk about, or as fees when you’re at these locations, the money still goes in there, it still will do the same thing,” Green said.

Republicans, although still a small minority in each house, called for doing more to address the cost of living and for broader tax reform ― like eliminating the income tax.

“I think what people in Hawaii are looking for is almost everybody is living paycheck to paycheck,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Lauren Cheape. “People are looking for widespread reform.”

Cheape said her caucus expects to plan an important role.

“So one of our main goals is really introducing different ways to combat problems like cost of living, and housing and all those different issues,” she said. “It’s also important to have, it’s really healthy to have some opposition and some discussion. That’s how the best legislation is produced. And that’s something that we can bring.”