Kaua’i legislators ready for start of 2003 session

“Education” is just one of the many “E’s” that Kaua’i legislators are anticipating to be hot topics when the state Legislature convenes tomorrow in Honolulu.

On the eve of the opening, state Sen. Gary Hooser, a Democrat representing all of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, said public education should get even more fiscal attention from the Legislature.

“I think they (the schools) need to be more aggressively funded,” said Hooser, adding that he’s not sure where the funds will come from in what is expected to be a very tight-fisted session.

“I know money’s not everything, but the schools need more support,” he added.

“Education is the top priority,” and various issues are being worked on now, he said. “Probably the most important one is to support funding, and resist cutting the Department of Education’s budget.”

State Rep. Mina Morita (D, Ha’ena to Wailua) said she looks forward to “getting back in touch” with education issues, as she is a member of the House Education Committee in addition to chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

First of all, Morita does not feel that establishment of seven separate regional school boards will be the answer to the state DOE’s governance problems, she said.

“There are a lot of significant problems (in public education), and that’s what we have to deal with,” she said.

Hooser said a new classroom building for Waimea High School, as well as pool improvements there, and a new cafeteria for Kilauea School, are among Kaua’i school physical priorities. A rubberized track surface at Vidinha Stadium is another priority that will benefit the island’s school-aged athletes, he said.

State Rep. Ezra Kanoho (D, Wailua to Koloa) said balancing the state budget will be a priority, as well as funding educational initiatives.

Kanoho warned earlier that funds are expected to be so tight this session that even the state DOE budget might have to be pared.

The alternatives might be to cut each departmental budget equally, or keep the DOE budget intact and then be forced to make deeper cuts in other areas, he said.

State Rep. Bertha Kawakami (D, Po’ipu to Mana, Ni’ihau) was in meetings all day yesterday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

The other “E’s” include the economy, ethics in government, energy and the environment, the lawmakers agreed.

Good-government initiatives Hooser is working on would limit amounts of gifts elected and appointed officials could accept, and place tighter disclosure regulations on the books, he continued.

The pro-democracy initiative will push for a series of bills designed to open up government to greater public participation, he added.

Some of the “E’s” Hooser mentioned are near and dear to Morita and her Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, including initiatives to increase the use of solar hot-water-heating systems and other renewable energies like ethanol.

“I’m also working on some legislation from a state perspective that would increase penalties for people who pollute reefs along the coastline,” Hooser continued.

“Being the chair of a committee, naturally (I’ll be) focusing again on energy issues, especially since it’s such an economic driver,” said Morita.

Energy sustainability will be the focus in her committee, with four bills addressing that issue, she said.

Another bill will seek to bolster existing clean-water laws, and she will introduce in the House legislation similar to Hooser’s proposal, in an effort to deal with environmental problems similar to those encountered at Pila’a on Kaua’i’s North Shore, with property owned by retired O’ahu car dealer Jimmy Pflueger, she said.

Morita will also introduce legislation for state monitoring of discharges from cruise ships docked at Hawai’i ports, and sailing Hawaiian waters.

Currently, a memorandum of agreement exists between cruise-ship companies and the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division. But that document has “no teeth for enforcement,” and calls for the cruise lines to police themselves, she said.

Hooser said he welcomes input on legislation or other matters from people in the business community and other citizens. He can be reached toll-free at 274-3141, then dialing 6-6030# after the recorded message.

Kanoho said priorities for the committee he chairs, Water, Land Use and Hawaiian Affairs, include a bill to retroactively reinstate payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for revenues due OHA from use of ceded lands, or lands of the former Hawaiian monarchy.

Where land use is concerned, Kanoho said in some cases development should be allowed if it makes good planning sense, like expansion of Lihu’e, even if that development happens on lands considered important for agriculture.

That would require some sidestepping of the state Constitution, which mandates protection of important agricultural lands for perpetual agricultural uses, he said.

Other agricultural initiatives he’ll propose or support include allowing successful farmers to stay on lands leased from the state, instead of making those successful farmers bid at state auctions to stay on the lands when existing leases expire.

To protect existing agricultural irrigation systems abandoned by the failed sugar industry on the Eastside, he favors appropriations that would not only help deteriorating systems, but encourage current and future farmers on both sides of the island.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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