Hawaii Legislature begins, leadership chosen


By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER

Associated Press

HONOLULU — Senators and representatives were sworn-in and new leadership was chosen in both houses Wednesday as the 2013 Hawaii legislative session got under way.

Rep. Joseph Souki, D-Waihee, Wailuku, was elected House speaker, a post he previously held in the 1990s. He replaces Rep. Calvin Say, who announced last month that he wouldn’t run again for the leadership post.

Several representatives voted against Souki, including Rep. Sharon Har, who said that a vote for the Souki would be a vote for the principles of “vengeance and vindictiveness” given his past leadership style.

In the Democratic-led state Senate, Donna Mercado Kim was elected president. Kim told fellow senators that she wouldn’t support any tax increases.

Souki also spoke about taxes, telling members that he wants to rethink tax credits and decrease taxes.

Earlier, State Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria said voters can expect sweeping legislation to help Hawaii rely less on imports and more on local foods.

That shift won’t be easy, Galuteria told The Associated Press.

“Farming is not sexy,” he said.

More than 85 percent of food in Hawaii comes from out-of-state, according to a state report published in October.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism found Hawaii consumers spent about $3.1 billion every two years on imported food. Replacing 10 percent of imported food with local food would add more than $300 million to Hawaii’s economy every two years, the report said.

Education and state information technology systems are also top priorities for the Senate majority, Galuteria said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie wants more funding for both of these areas. He is also asking for more money to fund retiree health care and state employee pensions.

Abercrombie, a Democrat, is requesting $11.7 billion in total funds for fiscal year 2014 and $12.1 billion for fiscal year 2015.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said the House majority wants a balanced budget this session. The governor likely won’t get all the funding for education he proposes, Saiki said.

Abercrombie is requesting about $32 million over the next two years for a new preschool initiative. Hawaii is one of 11 states that do not have an early learning program.

Saiki, a Democrat, said the House also will address the management of public lands and various social issues. “We will be taking a hard look at the (Public Land Development Corp.),” Saiki said.

The state agency was established in 2011 to develop state lands through public-private partnerships. Environmental groups and Native Hawaiian advocates have criticized the agency for its power to ignore county zoning rules.

Saiki said he expects marijuana legalization to be one of several contentious bills about social issues introduced this session.

Rep. Karl Rhoads, a Democrat, said he plans to introduce gun control legislation. He said he may also put forth a bill to legalize assisted suicide, modeled after an Oregon law.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii has control of both the state House and Senate. The party has dominated Hawaii politics since statehood.

 

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