LIHU‘E — The latest legislative season in Hawai‘i was wrought with changes as the state adjusted to COVID-19 emergency rules.
Much of the activity moved to an online platform, which provided some challenges — especially in areas like public engagement, according to the Kaua‘i legislative delegation.
The four legislators: state Senate President Ronald Kouchi and state Reps. Nadine Nakamura, James Tokioka and Dee Morikawa, recently addressed the Lihu‘e Business Association members in a virtual meeting, during which they covered topics like unemployment, public transparency and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
“What best describes our legislative work this year is: ‘finding a new normal,’” Morikawa said. She again served as the House Majority Floor Leader, and was on the committees of consumer protection, water, land, corrections, military and veterans, and the legislative management.
Morikawa said challenges at the state Capitol included the need for internet infrastructure that would ensure uninterrupted participation in hearings. And it turned out to be good for engagement in some ways, she said.
“What stood out for me was the ability for people to testify through a remote process, which showed me that those who never traveled to the Capitol were now able to get involved with face-to-face discussions,” Morikawa said.
“This is something we must continue even when the Capitol is open. Because it’s especially beneficial for neighbor-island residents.
Nakamura said one of the biggest accomplishments this past session was trying to balance the budget with a revenue shortfall.
Legislation was passed to enable the paying off of the $700 million debt that the state took on last year to pay for unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of workers. The state was able to avoid furloughs, restore some of the key safety-net programs, including general assistance for those for disabled, sex0assault treatment, hepatitis C treatment, and the Hawai‘i Promise program for Hawai‘i’s community colleges.
“I’m also really pleased that as chair of the Housing Committee, we were able to allocate over $100 million toward affordable housing, infrastructure and housing programs, including $20 million for public housing and improvements,” Nakamura said. “And, finally, we were able to allocate and keep in tact $14.3 million for various homeless programs, including housing, first Rapid Rehousing and family assessment centers.”
Kauai Chamber of Commerce President Mark Perriello said there were several questions about the bill on Gov. David Ige’s desk regarding the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. He voiced concerns about how the entity would maintain strategic plans, their four pillars of natural resources, culture, community and branding, with its budget slashed by $19 million.
Tokioka and Kouchi both said they were surprised tourism picked up as quickly as it did, and said they’re working with other legislators and HTA members to understand what’s needed from the organization going forward.
“One of the things that was brought up by HTA was, to market the business,” Tokioka said. “And what I do understand is that the number of people that are coming back right now, I don’t think anyone saw it happening that fast. So there are naysayers who feel like we don’t need HTA. I totally disagree.”
Kouchi added: “It is a work in progress as far as how the Legislature is going to collaborate with the visitor industry, and what is it that the community expects.”
This story was edited on June 1st at 11:27 a.m. for accuracy.
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.