By: J. S.
Hawaii’s 2021 legislative session has come to a close, and many important bills now sit on Governor Ige’s desk awaiting final approval or veto. With the 31st Hawaii State legislative session ended; the Governor will have until June 21 to make final decisions on several bills. This year, much of lawmakers’ focus was on the state’s dismal budget projection and steering the state away from further damage caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic and government responses. At the beginning of the session in January, lawmakers faced a huge state budget shortfall along with the highest unemployment rate in the United States of America at 10.2%.
The Senate and House are largely Democratic, with just one Republican senator and four Republican House Representatives. We need policy changes by all sides that work for our communities. Unfortunately, we should not expect to see much change from this session.
The Hawaii State Capitol building was closed to Hawaii’s citizens throughout the duration of the 2021 session, and involved constituents were relegated to logging into live streaming sessions on the State’s YouTube channel. Submission of testimony was available through writing on video chat. Face to face interactions between Hawaii’s people and elected officials was cut off, a point that Republican House Representative Gene Ward brought up strongly in an article for the Honolulu Civil Beat. Normally, citizens can gather at the building, interact with lawmakers, and hold them accountable for their decisions and transparency. With the session ended and the state currently in Tier Three of the Governor’s reopening plan, the Capitol building remains closed without a date set to reopen.
Bills aimed at moving forward with green initiatives, addressing climate changes such as rising sea levels, and infrastructure updates were plentiful in 2021. The legislature also brought forth a progressive gun bill, Senate Bill 301, that would have made legal gun ownership for law-abiding citizens even more difficult than at present. The proposed bill that would have made it illegal to own guns with removable magazines of 10 or more rounds received huge backlash from community members. The bill was put on 48-hour notice but was then sent back to legislative committees.
Legalizing marijuana for recreational use was among the bills that made it quite a way through the legislature but was turned down before reaching the governor.
A bill passed that legalizes abortion by advanced practice registered nurses. House Bill 576 allows for such nurses to perform medication or aspiration abortions on ‘non-viable fetuses. The bill states that its intent is to improve “equitable access to healthcare within the state.”
Other high impact bills that made it through the legislature included House Bill 862 which will take hotel taxes from counties and add them to the state’s general fund. The current hotel tax rate of 10.25% for transient accommodations on hotels and houses for visitors. Hawaii’s counties will lose an estimated 103 million dollars with the change. To remedy this, counties have the option of adding their own tax to accommodations, on top of the transient accommodation tax. Tourists visiting Hawaii will therefore pay more to visit, regardless of the island. Hawaii’s mayors are currently looking at ways to respond to the change in taxes and their prospective county’s income.
The next legislative session will commence on January 19, 2022. As Hawaii continues to face challenges and opportunities, we all have the chance now to get to know our local representatives and prepare to be involved in upcoming local government events and elections.
What we do on a local level as citizens can amount to impactful changes on a larger scale. It all starts right here with us. To learn about your District and State representatives, visit capitol.hawaii.gov. There are other ways to get involved, including attending town hall meetings, writing letters, and calling your representatives on important issues in your neighborhood, and staying up to date on what lawmakers are doing in your community, and more. Let us all get involved, educate ourselves on important issues and hold our elected officials to a high standard to help ensure a brighter future.