The Legislature is approximately a third of the way through its 2007 session.
Today is the last day of a “mandatory five-day recess,” which means only that no full sessions are conducted, however committee meetings are going full tilt as the nearly 4,000 bills introduced this year in the Senate and House move through the process, or die.
I am listed as a “primary introducer” on 112 bills, approximately half of which are still alive. Some of my priority items that are specific to Kaua‘i include:
SB848: Funding for the operation and maintenance of the East Kauai Irrigation System. This system is the only one in the state run by the community and essential to maintaining rural life in the Wailua/Kapa‘a region.
SB725: Funding to repair and maintain the Kauai Veterans Cemetery. As a nation we have made a commitment to honor those who have put their lives on the line for America. Improvements to this cemetery, requested by Kaua‘i veterans, will ensure that this memorial is kept in a condition of honor and respect.
SB732: Funding for lifeguards on Kaua‘i and Maui. If you’ve read in The Garden Island about heroic rescues on Ke‘e Beach, you’ve also read about the far-too-many tragedies that have also occurred there.
We must do more to protect unwary oceangoers and this measure provides the financial support needed for that purpose.
Two general, agriculture-related bills I’ve introduced that have the potential to make positive changes on Kaua‘i and throughout our state are:
SB639: Speaks directly to our position as the “endangered species capital of the world.” This measure would prohibit the sale of plants that have been designated as noxious weeds.
Believe it or not, many of our major “house and garden” retailers currently sell to the public, legally, what are essentially invasive and noxious species of plants.
SB715: establishes a “price preference” providing a financial incentive to state hospitals and prisons supporting the purchase of locally grown agricultural products.
Thinking about “pork”
In addition to considering bills that have been introduced, legislators also review requests by organizations around the state for special project funds. This is the type of funding often joked about as “pork.” We all know that the government occasionally wastes money on silly projects, but I am also convinced that there are always more worthwhile Capital Improvement Projects and Grant in Aid funding requests than the Legislature could possibly fulfill. To name just a few of my priorities this year: a replacement for the Kalaheo School administration and classroom buildings that burned down two years ago; continued funding for a new Kilauea School cafeteria, an expanded and refurbished Waimea School physical education locker/shower facility; and repair and restoration projects at Koke‘e’s historic Civilian Conservation Corps Camp and along the Na Pali trail.
And then there’s traffic
If you were crawling into Lihu‘e this morning along the Waipouli or the Puhi corridors, you may be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned one of the most pressing quality-of-life issues on Kauai: traffic.
In fact, the Legislature in a recent legislative session has appropriated tens-of-millions of dollars for Kaua‘i road improvements. Specifically, the Department of Transportation received funds to expand to four lanes the bridge over the Wailua River and Kuhio Highway North to the existing bypass turnoff. Funds were also made available to expand Kaumuali‘i Highway from two lanes to a four-lane divided roadway from Lihu‘e west to Puhi and ultimately to Kipu. Construction work should begin on the Eastside in a few months and west of Lihu‘e next year.
How to stay informed
Bills that are approved in one house will soon “cross over” to the other house for hearings and discussion on March 8. Late in April, all bills that are still alive but have been changed in some way will be reviewed and ironed out in “conference committees” comprised of both House and Senate members.
You can stay informed about specific bills and the status of other documents at www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Or call my office toll free at 274-3141 ext. 66030.
• Gary Hooser is Senate Majority Leader, representing the 7th Senatorial District, covering Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. He is a resident of Wailua and writes a biweekly column exclusive to The Garden Island.