Building bridges: the 2007 Legislative Session

Several groundbreaking accomplishments marked the 2007 Legislative Session. We can all be proud of Hawai‘i’s Keiki Care Bill, which assures a future in which no child of this land needs to be without health care. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Bill puts our state in the national forefront of efforts to halt global warming.

Yet, rather than pursue a positive strategy of bridge-building for the common good of all, the senior policy advisor for the governor has chosen to bemoan, belittle, demean and denigrate.

It is truly unfortunate that the tone for public policy discussions between the governor’s office and the Legislature continues to be tainted by negative and personal attacks, more suited to morning talk radio than the halls of the State Capitol.

We should endeavor to raise the level and quality of public policy dialogue to a place of respect in our community rather than lower it to the gutter, and ultimately demean the institution, the public and the policy as has recently been the case. We need to use language that is positive and productive and not negative and destructive.

Words matter.

As the Majority Leader of the Senate, I see first-hand the hard work, dedication and sincere commitment to public service put forth by our members and their staff. I interact on a daily basis with individual senators and can say without hesitation that the majority takes their work, their responsibility and their individual votes very seriously.

The Keiki Care and Greenhouse Gas Emission bills were not the only strong legislative initiatives passed during this session. We approved nearly $500 million to support education. Schools all over our state will benefit from an increase in funding for repair and maintenance and much needed electrical upgrades.

On the business side, another major accomplishment was changes to the unemployment insurance law that benefit both employees and employers. The Hawai’i Chamber of Commerce said “businesses will receive immediate and meaningful relief across the state.”

Targeted tax relief for low and middle income residents combined with a reduction in the tax on gasoline were also significant measures that will have a positive impact on our community.

Affordable housing, elderly care, renewable energy, technology, health care, prisons, all received support by legislation passed during the 2007 session.

Could we have done more? Absolutely.

Did we make everyone happy? Of course not.

We propose legislation, we review the materials that come before us, and we study the issues. We conduct hearings, we listen to the views of those concerned, and we ask hard questions. We make amendments and then we vote. There are people and special interests on every side of every issue, and there is always someone who wishes the result went a different way. But that is the process and that is how laws are made.

We considered over 380 nominations for boards, commissions, judgeships and directors. We disapproved only three.

We reviewed over 2,000 individual pieces of legislation and ultimately approved and passed over to the governor 325 bills. To date she has vetoed 15 and the legislature has over-ridden on eight of those measures.

Perhaps it is the natural and expected position of the minority party and the governor’s office to throw stones. After all, it is easy to criticize and even easier to point out what was not passed, what was not funded and what appointments were not approved. It is far more difficult to engage the process, grapple with the hard choices, and make the tough and sometimes controversial decisions.

Effective leadership calls on us to take action where we can, restrain ourselves when we should, and foster a continuing focus on what is best for our community, our people, and our shared future. While some in the minority are quick to take cheap shots at the Democratic majority, they would be better off, the public would be better off, and the process would be better off, if they would simply build a bridge and get over it.

• 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.

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