Lawmakers listen to island concerns

LIHU‘E — In what was called a rare event on Kaua‘i, members of the House leadership in the state Legislature were at the Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday to listen to what island residents had on their minds. More than 100 people attended the two-hour meeting in Lihu‘e with House Majority Leader Pono Chang, Majority Floor Leader Cindy Evans, and Vice Speaker Joey Manahan.

State Reps. James Tokioka, Dee Morikawa and Derek Kawakami of Kaua‘i were joined by State Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

Chong represents the 49th District on O‘ahu and said Kaua‘i has a good delegation that serves the island well.

“A good example was the recent storm,” Chang said. “They came to us to start talking about getting resources for $12 million to fix state roads.”

“Your Kaua‘i leadership works very hard to educate us on the issues of Kaua‘i,” said Manahan, the District 29 representative on O‘ahu. “That is why we are here tonight to listen to you.”

Cindy Evans, who represents West Hawai‘i, said the neighbor islands need a strong presence to educate others as a minority group to the O‘ahu representation.

“The neighborhood boards keep us connected,” she said. “Emails, phone, faxes and meetings are extremely effective.”

The younger representatives said they were mentored by House Finance Committee Chair Marcus Oshiro, who was present to talk about the many issues brought up at the meeting.

“In the true fashion of leadership, the House has come out to Kaua‘i,” said Tokioka. “This is the worst time for a finance chair to come here and share insight on bills going through.”

Several state department heads were present to listen to testimony.

Around four residents brought up food issues. Three of them addressed self-sufficiency and sustainability issues of small farmers and felt laws failed to make them competitive with the corporate farms.

There were concerns about genetically modified organisms, and some said laws discourage small and natural farming. One resident said the legislature is not responsive to overwhelming support for GMO labeling, which did not get support this session, and called it lack of equity in food laws.

Kouchi addressed questions regarding requirements on large purchasers to buy food from certified growers. He said the state Senate is looking at ways to help the small farms survive and that several sustainability bills are being considered.

Morikawa, who serves on the Health committee, responded to concerns about some 28 pesticides used by seed growers. She said this is a problem that will be looked at closely to see who has oversight over pesticide inspection.

“We are not pushing this to the side,” she said.

A taro farmer said farmers on the North Shore of Kaua‘i want to protect endangered birds, but that they are now threatening up to 400,000 pounds of taro and threaten the industry.

Tokioka said it is a challenge with 25 percent of the House changing every year to focus on priorities that also change. When things are bad, the p

ublic worries about unemployment and tourism, he said. When times are good, they worry about education and social programs.

“We have to find a balance,” he said.

Kawakami listened to residents complain that Senate Bill 755 effectively guts environmental laws for  economic development. He said the initiative met DLNR approval and expires in 2015.

The bill allows repair projects on existing infrastructure from funds that come from removing redundancies in government, he said.

 It will put some of the 3,687 construction workers that make up 28 percent of the state’s unemployed back to work.

“If it did wipe out environmental laws, I would have a problem with it,” he said.

Morikawa said she voted for it with reservations and waited to make sure Kaua‘i issues were addressed.

It will do much to help repair aging harbors, airports and bridges, she said.

“We take the environment very seriously,” she said.

“In the long run, this will be good for our people.”

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