LIHUE — Kauai legislators are all voicing support for the concepts in the Hawaii Saves Retirement Savings bill that’s awaiting conference committee.
But, they do differ on their level of support for SB 1374, which would take the first steps to create an easy way to help 216,000 private-sector workers save for retirement at work. The House and Senate both passed versions of the bill unanimously and now it needs to go to conference committee.
As of Wednesday, the Senate has appointed conference committee members but the House has not and that could ultimately kill the bill for this year.
“Unless House conferees are named, the bill automatically dies for this year and the public will never know why the Hawaii Saves bill died or who killed it,” said Barbara Kim Stanton, state director of AARP Hawaii. “When the public process is arbitrarily cut short, the public is shortchanged of its right to a full open discussion. It’s a disservice to all the people who spent countless hours testifying throughout the session to advance the bill.”
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka said Wednesday that he supports the idea, but the details of how the measure would impact small businesses in Hawaii is unclear.
“I’m not in that committee bracket, but for me personally, I support the concept,” Tokioka said. “But, if anything in the bill impacts the business community in a negative way, I’d have grave concerns.”
He says it’s a “no-brainer” of a bill if it doesn’t punish small business, though.
Rep. Dee Morikawa declined to offer comment on the bill because she hasn’t followed the details of it closely enough to understand the concerns, but says she does support the concept as well.
Rep. Nadine Nakamura, on the other hand, said she strongly supports the retirement savings bill, pointing out the state of Oregon established the program and in more than a year, about 3,000 people signed up.
“We simply cannot rely on Social Security income and have to look at innovative ways to encourage people to save. I believe that Hawaii Saves, using automatic enrollment and access to payroll deduction, helps to make it easier for Hawaii residents to save for retirement. people can opt out, so no one is being forced into a savings program,” Nakamura said.
Stanton said there is “widespread support” for the bill from small businesses and also notes this is the fourth year that a Hawaii Saves bill has advanced. A similar bill died last year when the House abruptly discharged its conferees at the last minute without explanation.
The bill would authorize a public/private partnership to create a Hawaii Saves program so businesses that don’t offer retirement savings programs to their workers can provide the benefit at no cost to the business. A private company would run the program and hold worker’s money in individual accounts.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org