‘First Steps’ for Hawaii

As our state economy continues to improve, several new pieces of legislation, recently enacted with my signature, represent long-term investments for the people of Hawaii.

After reviewing 291 bills and two constitutional amendments passed by the 2013 Hawaii State Legislature, I signed a total of 269 bills into law and vetoed just three. Lt. Gov. Shan S. Tsutsui signed seven more as acting governor, and 12 other measures became law without signature.

Highlights from this legislative session follow:

Sound fiscal management

Acts 266 (SB 1092) and 267 (SB 1094) set our state on a responsible fiscal course by fulfilling the promise to pay back funds borrowed from our fiscal reserves. Act 268 (HB 546, “Relating to the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund”) creates a new statutory requirement to address long-term unfunded liabilities that have been deferred for decades.

With the signing of these bills, we are officially no longer a pay-as-you-go state. As state Finance Director Kalbert Young said: “This is a clear message to financial institutions that the state of Hawaii takes very seriously building its financial capabilities to meet all of its financial obligations.”

Early education

In my 2013 State of the State address, I said that one of our state’s greatest unfunded liabilities is any failure to address early learning development. Act 169 (SB 1093) establishes a statewide school readiness program that will help pay for about 1,000 children to attend preschool in 2014.

This bill breaks from the status quo and provides our first down payment on ensuring Hawaii’s keiki are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn. For the first time, the state of Hawaii will be codifying into law a commitment to preparing young children for success in school and life by ensuring that all island keiki have access to preschool.

No other piece of legislation this year was more important. I firmly believe that giving keiki a strong early childhood education foundation is the best, most effective way to empower their success in life.

Democratizing clean energy

Act 211 (SB 1087) establishes the Green Energy Market Securitization program, or “GEMS.” The program is an innovative financing model that allows us to bring clean energy improvements within reach to a broader segment of the community. More of Hawaii’s residents, nonprofits and small businesses will be able to take advantage of green devices that will ultimately lower electricity bills and contribute to the state’s clean energy growth. Implementation is targeted for 2014.

Advancing healthcare transformation

We are in a pioneer phase and need the flexibility as we tread new ground toward implementation. Act 224 (HB 656) establishes the Health Care Transformation Program within the executive office to advance the ongoing transformation. The program sets specific responsibilities in developing a strategy and timeline for statewide healthcare transformation. The rising cost of healthcare affects every resident and business in Hawaii, and this bill will help us rethink how we deliver and pay for healthcare.  

Technology

As technology is ever-changing, state government needs to change with it. An open government helps citizens on all islands be engaged in their government and further promotes government accountability and transparency.

Act 263 (HB 632) requires state departments to make electronic data sets available to the public. The bill also requires the chief information officer (CIO) to develop policies and procedures to implement the Open Data Initiative, and it appropriates $100,000 each fiscal year of the biennium to Office of Information Practices (OIP).

Furthermore, Act 264 (HB 635) requires the state and counties to advance the Hawaii Broadband Initiative within 60 days (for conservation districts, the state must take action within 145 days). The initiative’s goal is to provide ultra high-speed Internet access by 2018, and this clear and decisive timeline will reduce uncertainty for broadband companies and serve as an incentive to invest in increased bandwidth.

I wish to congratulate legislators for working together in a productive session that resulted in several significant first steps for our state. We will look back at 2013 as the year that launched truly transformative measures that will have lasting positive impacts on the future of our state.

For more information on these recently enacted bills and more, I invite you to visit the governor’s website at governor.hawaii.gov.

• Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s guest column runs monthly.

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