LIHUE — With the legislative session starting Wednesday, several lawmakers shared some of their priorities for this session.
Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi opened the session with remarks on issues where he hopes the Senate will continue to provide leadership and pass meaningful legislation.
Kouchi encouraged senators to continue to find ways to address the challenges of homelessness and follow through on the commitment to build affordable housing. With the state facing possible cuts of $12 million in federal aid, he asked senators to remember to protect our kupuna and to ensure they are providing adequate health services for each and every resident of the state. He also encouraged senators to continue to grow the economy to maintain funding for much needed services.
“Creating opportunities for each and every child in this state to close the income gap and to be able to reach for the stars and realize their dreams,” he said as he emphasized education as a priority for the Senate, starting with providing funding to allow better training for teachers to give students the best education available.
Kouchi called for support to expand the Promise Program, which provides tuition assistance for community college “so that financial need is not an obstacle to higher education and make college a reality for each and every student in Hawaii.”
Rep. Dee Morikawa said her role has changed this session. She is now the floor leader for the House majority, meaning she’s in charge of everything that happens on the floor.
“One of the top priorities for the House is addressing the housing and homelessness issue, putting people in shelters and finding them permanent housing,” she said.
Other issues she said are coming up are the death with dignity bill and cesspools.
“Cesspools is going to be a big discussion,” Morikawa said, “because there’s a lot of money involved (with them), but we have to help residents.”
Fishing is another issue lawmakers will be discussing.
“Before the Department of Natural Resources bans any fishing, we want to make sure there’s science backing it (the ban) up,” she said.
There’s already a bill regarding death with dignity legislation, but Morikawa said there are issues with the current bill, so it’s expected to come up again.
As vice chair of the Housing Committee, Rep. Nadine Nakamura said her top priority for this session will be to increase funding for affordable housing.
“We cannot solve the homeless problems without building more affordable rental housing,” she said. “I’m introducing bills to provide more funding to the rental housing revolving fund and rental assistance revolving fund.”
A worker shortage is another issue Nakamura plans on tackling, with a focus on nursing, education and engineering.
“I would like to extend the Hawaii Promise Program, free tuition for needy students, to the University of Hawaii, for students who major in these areas,” she said.
Nakamura also said she will be introducing bills to give counties additional resources to address impacts of the increasing number of visitors to Hawaii.
Kouch said he wants to see an expansion of the Early College program, which brings university instructors to local high schools. Students are able to earn college credits while in high school, giving them the confidence to pursue higher learning and helping defray the cost of college, which is “a critical stepping stone to allow our children to find that pathway to success,” he said.
With the success of the Farm-to-School program that started in Kohala and is expanding to other schools, Kouchi was encouraged to see a possible partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education to grow the program that sources local fruits and vegetables, and most recently, locally grown beef. The Department of Education serves more than 100,000 meals a day making it essentially the largest restaurant in the state.
“If we have a commitment from the largest restaurant in the State of Hawai‘i to purchase locally grown food, this is the way I see a path forward to put active production on agricultural land the state has purchased and we will be able to bring back farming and address the issue of food security,” he said.
Reflecting on the events of Saturday’s false ballistic missile threat, Kouchi told senators “we found out how connected we are.”
Just as in the moments when there was fear and the foremost thought was expressing love and appreciation for those closest to us, he encouraged senators “to express love and hope and always be conscious of what you say.”
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka could not be reached for comment.