Straight Schatz: best and worst of 2007 legislative session

The Best

• Regulating carbon and getting serious about global warming

Hawai‘i will be the second state to regulate carbon emissions, following California’s lead. While there are all kinds of economic, logistical and environmental questions about treating CO2 like a pollutant, this bill finally recognizes that global warming is a planetary emergency and caution won’t cut it. It’s likely that other states and then Congress will follow suit, and we will finally begin to control global warming. Kudos to Representative Mina Morita from Hanalei for putting together a workable plan.

• Prescription drugs

The Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that requires the state to negotiate directly with the drug companies to get cheaper prices for Hawai‘i’s citizens without drug coverage. This straightforward bill was supported by most state House Republicans and all Democrats. It’s the kind of bread-and-butter stuff that the Legislature should be focusing on all of the time. And as usual, Representative Roy Takumi is the guy making it all happen.

The Worst

• The double-dip special

There was a bill in the Legislature that was specifically written to help a small number of legislators and former legislators take their generous pension early. Normally, an elected official is allowed to take their pension once they retire and after they’ve reached the age of 65. The new bill would have allowed sitting legislators age 65 and older to simultaneously receive both their salary and their pension from the state. That means that many legislators 65 and older would nearly double their salaries. This bill was pilau, and it’s embarrassing that it got as far as it did. Fortunately, it died on the last day of the session.

• No earned income tax credit

The $700 million surplus is almost gone. It was spent on critical things such as Medicaid payments, the environment and education infrastructure, but I was surprised to see that the earned income tax credit didn’t make the cut. The EITC is by far the most effective way to help the working poor, and it encourages people to get off of welfare and start working again. It’s also relatively inexpensive at $25 million, but lawmakers apparently couldn’t find anything in the budget that was less important than this.

• I couldn’t make this up — you wouldn’t believe me

House Resolution 65. Here is the title: “Respectfully calling upon the United Nations General Assembly to request by resolution that the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs proactively advance the cause of world peace and cooperation between nations.” Outer space?

• Brian Schatz was a state representative for eight years and ran for the U.S. House in 2006. He is currently CEO of Helping Hands Hawai’i, one of O’ahu’s largest social service agencies.

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