By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Key lawmakers in the Hawaii Legislature say the 2013 session provided a smoother, more transparent legislative process than previous years, ensuring the success of key progressive legislation.
Thursday was the last day of this year’s session for the body made up of mostly Democrats. Lawmakers pushed through a few remaining bills on campaign finance and public safety, having passed most key legislation earlier this week.
The mood at the state Capitol was jovial as lawmakers donned lei, celebrated their accomplishments and thanked staff for their hard work.
Leaders from both the Senate and the House say they are proud of the fiscal commitment the Legislature made to lower unfunded liabilities for state employee health benefits.
The state budget passed on Tuesday sets aside $217 million over the next two years for the benefits. The Legislature also approved a bill that puts the state on a schedule to pay down the commitment completely.
Hawaii is the first state to pass such a law, Senate President Donna Kim said.
Legislative leaders also said the 2013 session marked improved communication and collaboration between the chambers. They said they avoided late nights and last-minute scrambling of previous years by passing a budget early and focusing on issues, rather than politics.
But lawmakers also aired lingering disagreement and dissatisfaction with the bills that did not pass.
Sen. Clayton Hee and Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria spent several minutes before the Senate discussing a failed bill to extend the state’s shield law, which protects journalists’ sources and notes from being used in most court cases.
Hee and Galuteria criticized the House for its lack of transparency in introducing an amendment to the bill with little notice on Tuesday.
A coalition of Hawaii news media said Wednesday that the Senate was responsible for killing the bill because they rejected the House amendment, and wanted to impose unacceptable limits on the law by removing protections for free publications and online newspapers.
“It was better to have no law at all than one that was half-baked,” House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said Wednesday in response to Senate criticism. The House sent its version back to a committee to be reconsidered next session.
Saiki said this year’s new House leadership was able to push through progressive legislation requiring hospitals to offer sexual assault women emergency contraception and getting rid of the state land agency that permitted broad development.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has already signed both bills into law.
But Saiki noted the House’s move to require labels for genetically engineered food failed in the Senate, and says lawmakers will pick it up again next year.
Souki said he regrets the failure of legislation to raise the minimum wage. Both chambers supported the idea but couldn’t agree on the details.