Legislators share session happenings

Legislative efforts to require the state to conduct an environmental impact statement for the Hawaii Superferry have failed, but other efforts to protect the environment, ease traffic congestion in Kapa‘a and to put a full-time lifeguard at Ke‘e Beach could result in funding.

That was the message Kaua‘i legislators told residents Wednesday night in Lihu‘e.

“None of these projects are completed as we sit here tonight,” said 16th House District Rep. Roland Sagum III, as he addressed more than 40 residents at a meeting the Kaua‘i Democratic Party held at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall.

Yet, he and his colleagues — Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser, 14th District House Rep. Hermina Morita and 15th District House Rep. James Tokioka — remain optimistic, because they feel their collective lobbying power has pull.

The legislative session will end the third week of April.

The meeting on Kaua‘i gave residents their first chance to meet all four state legislators in one place and to grill them on issues of high interest.

Those included bills to help the poor, the state of agricultural subdivisions and ways to improve the protection of historical sites.

Hooser said bills that seem headed for oblivion are sometimes resurrected. It was the case when Morita, a veteran legislator, revived a bill that clarifies when a utility uses “naptha,” a derivative of oil, to generate power, the utility would be taxed at 1 cent per gallon.

Had the matter not been clarified, a utility would be subjected to other transportation fuel tax, she said.

The legislation means less air pollution and provides cost savings to electrical consumers across the state, Morita said.

Morita said the strong alliances Kaua‘i’s delegation has with other powerful legislators bodes well for the island.

“We are headed into the final strides of the legislation,” she said.

For her efforts to help Hawai‘i become more energy self-sufficient and to protect the environment, “The energy committee has had bills heard and hearings are pretty much over, except for resolution,” Morita said.

If Kaua‘i residents are holding their breath that an environmental impact statement will be completed before the Superferry begins service in July, they should exhale, she said.

State Rep. Joseph Souki, D-8th (Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Waiehu) and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, led the charge to kill a bill requiring a state EIS. Souki said it was not fair to single out the ferry company for the study.

Hooser said Neighbor Island senators had pushed for the bill because they were responding to community concerns and because they felt the ferry operation raised too many questions as to impacts on Hawai‘i.

But Superferry officials said questions about traffic, drugs, invasive species and other environmental concerns have been answered.

Hooser, a Senate majority leader, said the bill is “controversial, and it has died for all intents and purposes.”

At the same time, “It won’t be dead until the session ends,” he said.

He gave assurances Kaua‘i will get funds for major improvements on Kaumuali‘i Highway between Lihu‘e and Puhi, and that work should start in 12 months.

And money to add lanes and make improvements on Kuhio Highway between the Wailua Bridge to the southern entry point of the temporary Kapa‘a Bypass Road has been approved, he said.

Kilauea Elementary School also will get money for a new cafeteria to accommodate more students, he added. Kalaheo School will get money for improvements as well, he said.

He has also pushed for $1 million in state funds for major repairs to the Hanakapiai Trail on the Na Pali Coast.

“I am confident that it is going to make it all the way through,” he said.

Morita said she has focused her energy toward helping the state become more energy self-sufficient and “enhancing energy security,” because Hawai‘i has to import oil for most generation of electricity.

She said she has passed “far-reaching bills,” including one that would enable the state Public Utilities Commission and the Consumer Advocacy to do its jobs to the fullest.

She also worked on a supplemental bill that would require updating of environmental impact statements to determine the impact of proposed projects today.

The bill would affect the Turtle Bay Resort, which is proposing improvements based on a 20-year-old environmental impact statement.

Tokioka said he has been working on a bill that would put Kaua‘i County and other counties on equal footing with the state when a county uses a state facility.

“If a state agency used the convention hall, the state is limited from liability,” he said. “But if the county uses the state building, the county has a higher liability. It doesn’t make sense.”

The bill, if approved, would lessen the need for counties to keep large amounts of funds to cover liability issues. Those funds, in turn, can be used for other county programs or projects, he said.

Tokioka, a longtime member of the Kaua‘i County Council before he was elected to the Legislature last November, said he has focused his energy on this endeavor because “I still care very much about what happens to the county.”

He also has worked on legislation to help prevent identity theft, improve security at the parking lot at the Lihu‘e Airport, and find emergency funding to replace a portable building that recently burned down on the campus of Elsie Wilcox Elementary School.

“I met with the finance chairman (House Rep. Marcus Oshiro) and asked him how he could do the emergency appropriation,” he said.

Sagum said he has worked diligently to ensure the stability of the Hawaii Health System Corporation, which operates 12 rural hospitals statewide, including the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waimea, which is in his legislative district, and Mahelona Hospital, which is in Tokioka’s legislative district.

The hospitals serve the rural areas of Hawai‘i and are the last safety net for those seeking medical care.

The system seems to be in somewhat of a state of flux, as Kahuku Hospital on O‘ahu looks to be merging with HHSC while a hospital in Maui “seems to be breaking away,” Sagum said.

What frustrates and saddens him, he said, was the recent case of a child who was left in a car on a sunny day on O‘ahu resulting in death due to overheating.

He indicated he would prefer not fashioning legislation mandating people act responsibly.

“It is frustrating,” he said. “As legislators, we have to legislate common sense,” he said. “I am for fewer laws, not more laws.”

Sagum also said he has been working with Morita in pushing through a bill to promote dam safety in response to the Ka Loko Dam breach on March 14, 2006, that took seven lives.

Meeting in small groups, Sagum said he feels legislators pass too many laws before fully weighing their merit or consequences.

In addressing Sagum, Sharry Glass of Wailua Homesteads railed against agricultural subdivisions because she feels they don’t promote farming in the truest sense.

Sagum said a safeguard does exist: A law that ensures the best agricultural lands are used for agriculture.

The meeting employed breakout sessions where legislators would meet with smaller groups of residents and rotate. In one small group setting, Morita recommended to Fred Dente to investigate further the benefits of state legislation establishing an earned income tax credit program geared to helping the “working poor.” A similar federal program also exists, she said.

Sagum also said he and Tokioka have been effective freshmen legislators because of the strong and smooth working relationship with veteran legislators Hooser and Morita.

“We have a fabulous team here,” Sagum said. “A lot of history, a lot of respect, and as I mentioned earlier, relationships.”

Both Hooser and Morita repaid the compliment, saying the freshmen legislators have served Kaua‘i well so far.

Hooser also thanked Linda Estes, the acting chairwoman of the Kaua‘i Democratic Party, for pulling together the meeting and rallying party members.

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