Governor signs 2 bills at Kaua‘i Chamber function

NAWILIWILI — Land is finite, said Gov. Linda Lingle during a visit to Kaua‘i yesterday.

Lingle added that development of such limited land is one of the primary reasons for dissent in the community.

Lingle made these points at a luncheon meeting hosted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club, which was attended by more than 100 business leaders and community members, including Mayor Bryan Baptiste.

She used the occasion to sign into law key pieces of legislation that she said she hopes will help shift the state economy’s focus from land development to human capital.

The first bill promotes science, technology, engineering and math education as part of the administration’s Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative. The second enacts unemployment insurance reform.

“Innovation is not just about technology,” Lingle said. “It’s a process for new ideas.”

Agriculture survives because of innovation, Lingle pointed out.

“A good foundation of people need to be innovative because we’re surrounded by the ocean, and we need to be better at anything we do,” she said.

Act 111 establishes career and technical programs in many different fields such as engineering, computing, robotics and environmental and spatial technology. The University of Hawai‘i, state community colleges, the Department of Education and private entities will work together to offer the new programs, the cost of which total $5 million over two fiscal years.

On Kaua‘i, the measure will fund a science and technology academies pilot program, which Kaua‘i Community College will help to create and then implement at two public schools on-island. The Department of Education will collaborate with the community college on the pilot.

At the University of Hawai‘i, the legislation establishes $2.8 million for a FIRST, or Fostering Inspiration and Relevance through Science and Technology, program to emphasize project-based learning for elementary and middle school students.

Other appropriations include:

• $350,000 for a professional development program to update elementary through high school science and math teachers on recent developments in these fields.

• $350,000 for stipends to college students pursuing a post-baccalaureate certificate in secondary education who will teach STEM classes.

• $200,000 to create a business/education internship and mentorship program within the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

• $700,000 to establish agricultural and culinary arts programs in the Department of Education in partnership with UH and the Hawai‘i Farm Bureau Federation.

Act 110 focuses on easing unemployment insurance payments for businesses. Lingle received enthusiastic applause as she penned the bill into law.

The measure lowers the taxable wage base for unemployment insurance payments, increases benefits for unemployed individuals and will result in a net savings of $151 million over the next three years.

The state’s unemployment insurance fund currently has a balance of $539.8 million, due in large part to low unemployment and strong job growth, Lingle said in a press release.

The state’s yearly unemployment costs have averaged $90 million for the past two years.

The law lowers the taxable wage base for unemployment insurance payments to $13,000 from $35,000 through 2010, provided the fund maintains adequate reserves. The measure increases unemployment benefits from 70 percent to 75 percent of an individual’s average weekly rate, also through 2010.

In a related announcement that was also met with strong applause from the audience, Lingle released $1,130,000 for projects at Kaua‘i Community College such as the next phase of design for the One-Stop Center near the campus entrance and construction of a second access road.

$700,000 will be used for the design of Phase II of the One-Stop Center Building.

Currently, KCC shares its only access from Kaumuali‘i Highway with Island School.

“Developing the One-Stop Center will help improve the services the college provides to the students by having a central location to register, pay tuition and purchase books,” Lingle said in a release. “Construction of the access road will provide traffic relief for KCC and the surrounding community.”

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