Economic development bills thriving at Legislature


HONOLULU (AP) Job creation and economic development remain key priorities as lawmakers near the midway point of the 2012 legislative session.

Earlier this session, lawmakers addressed urgent issues, such as providing funding for an organ transplant center in Hawaii and postponing an unemployment tax rate hike that would have cost employers about $500 more per employee.

Now, as the House and Senate prepare to trade bills by the Thursday crossover deadline, members are focused on long-term strategies to stimulate the economy.

House Majority Leader Pono Chong said some of the most promising bills are those that would attract more business.

“We’ve talked about the film tax credit. We’ve talked about some high-tech development. We’ve talked about broadband and trying to encourage more investment in Hawaii,” said Chong, D-Maunawili-Kaneohe.

In the Senate, the bipartisan “Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012” bill has already been approved by members and sent over for consideration in the House. That bill would address the repair and maintenance backlog at state facilities through a $500 million package that carries the added benefit of creating new construction jobs.

Notable bills up for vote in the Senate on Tuesday include a measure that would impose a fee on single-use paper and plastic shopping bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable totes.

Another bill would adjust the tobacco tax so that “roll-your-own” tobacco, “little cigars” and smokeless tobacco products are taxed at 70 percent of the wholesale price equivalent to the tax on regular cigarettes.

A $200 million real estate deal that would settle back payments owed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is still alive.

“We hope that by the end of tomorrow, the House will embrace all of the initiatives we send over,” said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

By the end of Thursday, the House and Senate will have voted on all the bills they want to send to the other chamber for consideration.

“That’s only half the battle. Everything starts all over again,” said Galuteria, D-Downtown-Waikiki.

That’s because bills have to be passed by both chambers before they can be sent to the governor for approval or veto.

While priority measures have remained intact, several bills have fallen to the wayside.

Controversial proposals to drug test welfare recipients and public housing residents were discussed and ultimately deferred.

A measure that would have allowed dogs to dine with their owners at restaurants stalled in committee.

After a bill to allow bar owners to allow smoking in their establishments passed a key committee, it wasn’t given a floor vote in the House and the companion Senate bill never had a hearing.

As for gambling, the only legislation still alive is a Senate proposal to create a gambling commission to study the potential impacts of legalized gambling in Hawaii.