LIHUE — Walking onto the legislative floor for the first time was overwhelming for Rep. Nadine Nakamura.
“You’re one of 51 people who are representing 1.4 million people in Hawaii,” said the Kapaa resident. “So that’s 51 people you need to get to know and develop relationships with.”
The former Kauai County Councilmember and managing director was elected in November to represent District 14. The 2017 session was her first term as a state representative. Her rookie season went well.
“It was a great learning experience,” Nakamura said. “I felt really fortunate to be supported by the Kauai delegation and the other members of the House; people were really willing to give advice and tell you how things were, and that really helps. Because in the end, it’s all about relationships — building trust and open communication so you can rely on people to help you through the process.”
The expertise and experience of her colleagues were instrumental when 3,000 bills were introduced to the state Legislature, she said. By the end of the session, about 300 were passed.
“You cannot possibly be an expert on the 300 bills, so you have to work with others and say ‘this person is knowledgeable’ and ‘this person knows her stuff — she gives me advice, and I’m going to follow it because I respect her,’” she said.
As vice chair of the housing committee, Nakamura is proud of the strides the Legislature made to address affordable housing and homelessness.
“That’s where I spent a lot of my focus on: affordable housing bills,” she said.
Highlights for housing include approving $25 million for the dwelling unit revolving fund that helps developers building homes for sale and $25 million for a rental housing revolving fund.
“Both help build affordable rental housing throughout the state,” the 54-year-old said.
Another highlight includes a private/public partnership with labor unions to construct affordable housing options for people who make 8o to 140 percent of the median income.
“These are people who have jobs, but they make too much money to qualify for subsidies. But they don’t make enough money to cover the costs of purchasing a home,” she said.
Under this agreement, construction companies agreed to work below the prevailing wage rate, which makes the cost of projects more affordable.
Nakamura, who also serves on the finance and transportation committees, is also proud of legislation that appropriates funds to the Department of Land and Natural Resources to develop a plan to reduce the negative impacts of the rose-ringed parakeet, an invasive species on Kauai.
“My first bill passed. That was a real highlight for me,” she said.
Under the bill, $75,000 will be used to determine the current population of the birds and potential diseases they carry, find ways to reduce or deter the population and develop a control plan.
“We’ll be on the cutting edge of the problem,” Nakamura said.
Collaborating with Reps. Jimmy Tokioka and Dee Morikawa to make sure the bill didn’t get lost in translation helped, she said.
“Bills can get killed at any point in the process,” she said. “I feel really fortunate my bill is one of the 300 that passed.”
When it comes to traffic and transpiration, the Legislature secured $17,000 to add a roundabout at the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Mailihuna Road in Kapaa.
Nakamura was disappointed the Legislature did not extend lifeguard liability this session.
“There’s a lot of different interests represented at the capitol, and our interests don’t always align with others,” she said. The Kauai delegation was “together, advocating for lifeguards on Kauai, but unfortunately, you win some and you lose some.”
Under Act 170, lifeguards are protected from being sued if something happens while on the job. That protection ends on June 30.
Looking ahead to the 2018 legislative session, Nakamura has a list of bills she wants to propose, and plans on researching the issues during the break. Chief among them is the Kalalau Valley.
“We really have to focus on the management of the Kalalau Valley,” she said. “I want to see how we can structure funding and make a strong case for some full-time staff assigned to Kalalau. This is what makes Kauai such a special place, and is one of our gems of the island, so we have to make sure that we have strong stewardship in the area.”
Other bills she wants to focus on are getting funding for an additional family court judge on Kauai and ensuring adequate funding for road improvements on the Eastside.
Nakamura will be hosting a town hall meeting with the Kauai Women’s Caucus at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center from 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 9.