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House, Senate Republicans join forces on legislation

MEDIA RELEASE

The Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives Minority Caucuses have joined forces this year and introduced several pieces of companion legislation, in an effort to relieve the burdens on Hawaii citizens.

A top priority for the Minority Caucus is reducing the rising cost of living in Hawaii, where expenses like rent, home prices, taxes, groceries, fuel, child care and education carry a steep price tag compared to the rest of the country.

Sen. Sam Slom said, “People in Hawaii are struggling, and I have yet to see the legislature or the executive really address the needs of those people who are holding multiple jobs, sacrificing time with their families, and just barely making ends meet. Those are the people we lawmakers have to think of when we are asked to extend this tax or increase that tax. So far there has not been any real action to reduce taxes or to bring the cost of living down. So, early in this session my colleagues in the House and I met and discussed our goals for 2015, and what we could do to make a real impact. We realized early in our discussion that we had several common objectives that were important to us. It just made sense for both the House and Senate Minorities to work together.”

Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang said, “The Minority Caucuses in both chambers have always been in favor of lowering the cost-of-living and creating job opportunities for the people of Hawaii. We know that the economy is always an important issue for our constituents and the Legislature doesn’t always do enough to help. These ideas are meant to help alleviate financial burdens and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Other important initiatives the Minority Caucuses introduced this year are bills promoting citizen empowerment, protection of our keiki, and education reform. The Minority Caucus’s companion bills include:

Cost of Living

· SB956/HB469 amends the Historic Preservation Act to alleviate some of the costs associated with maintenance and renovation of historic property and encourage collaboration between the state and private owners.

· SB957/HB477 exempts food purchased for home consumption from the state general excise tax (GET). According to the US Department of Agriculture, Hawaii families spend significantly more on groceries for the home than families on the mainland. An exemption could save Hawaii families hundreds of dollars off their grocery expenses every year.

· SB958/HB470 repeals the corporate income tax. With this bill, the Minority Caucuses hope to alleviate Hawaii businesses of some of their tax burden, improve Hawaii’s business climate and promote job growth.

· SB959/HB476 does away with estate and inheritance taxes, deemed by the Minority Caucuses as a form of double taxation on individuals.

Citizen Empowerment

· SB 951/HB474 amends the Hawaii Constitution by providing for recall, empowering citizens of Hawaii with the ability to remove a public official from office.

· Similarly, SB952/HB472 would provide for referendum, enabling Hawaii voters to invalidate an act of the legislature, as long as the act is not related to levying taxes.

Child Protection

· SB953/HB475 has to do with criminal court calendars and protection of child victims, and allows judges to prioritize criminal cases involving minor victims upon written request by the minor’s parent, guardian or other advocate. The measure is an effort to minimize the trauma inherent in having to prepare a child victim for trial only to be delayed.

Education Reform

· SB954/HB468 allows homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities at the public school the child would otherwise be required to attend.

· SB960/HB471 calls for the State Office of the Auditor to conduct a managerial, financial and program audit of the Department of Education. The bill also prompts the DOE to present findings and recommendations to the legislature before the start of the 2016 legislative session.

Finally, the Minority Caucuses will seek to preserve the state’s shooting ranges as resources for the public, military and local law enforcement by introducing SB 955/HB473, to protect shooting range operators from burdensome regulations and frivolous lawsuits over noise pollution.

Of the 10 companion bills introduced, three got unanimous support from the House Minority: HB477 (exempting food from the GET), HB475 (court calendar priority for child victims) and HB471 (calling for audit of DOE).

Slom said, “I am very pleased to see that Rep. Fukumoto Chang has taken a more proactive, pragmatic approach as House Minority leader than her predecessor, and has shown real commitment to working together with her House Minority colleagues and the Senate Minority on important issues for the betterment of Hawaii.”

The House Minority Caucus is comprised of Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, Minority Floor Leader Andria P.L. Tupola, Minority Leader Emeritus Rep. Gene Ward, Minority Whip Rep. Lauren Cheape Matsumoto, Minority Whip Rep. Feki Pouha, Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Bob McDermott, and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Rep. Cynthia Thielen. Senator Sam Slom represents the Senate Minority.

LAWMAKERS FILE RESOLUTIONS SEEKING JONES ACT EXEMPTION

In a bipartisan effort to positively impact the cost of living for Hawaii residents, several members of the Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives have filed concurrent resolutions seeking an exemption for Hawaii from a provision in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) requiring that all vessels be built in the United States.

The resolutions also ask that Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico be exempt.

To comply with the Jones Act and engage in coastwise trade between the ports of the United States, a ship must:

1) fly the U.S. flag;

2) be built in a U.S. shipyard;

3) be 75% owned by U.S. citizens; and

4) be crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Proponents of exempting the non-contiguous trades from the second hurdle (the “domestic build requirement”) say it would create a larger market and foster greater competition in ocean shipping for the noncontiguous trades (in addition to having no negative effect on jobs).

Sen. Sam Slom filed concurrent resolutions SR10 and SCR34, co-sponsored by Sens. Will Espero, Brickwood Galuteria, Breene Harimoto, Clarence Nishihara, Gilbert Keith-Agaran, Lorraine Inouye, Russell Ruderman and Gil Riviere.

The companion resolutions in the House were filed by primary introducers Reps. Sam Kong, Cindy Evans, Lauren Cheape-Matsumoto, Andria Tupola and Gene Ward (HR21 and HCR46).

The resolutions urge Congress to exempt Hawaii and other non-contiguous trades from the domestic build requirement because of its restrictive impact on the market for shipping goods to Hawaii.

Slom said, “The Jones Act was originally meant to protect the shipping industry and maritime trade, but almost a century has gone by and it’s easy to see that the law does not serve its original purpose. Today, the effect of the Jones Act is that people in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam pay significantly more than the rest of the country for everyday necessities. Don’t get fooled though, it is not just these more remote locations as the Jones Act also adds to the cost of goods and oil for lower 48 states. It is time for our U.S. Congress to address the role that the antiquated Jones Act plays in the high cost of living. I am grateful that so many of my colleagues in both the Senate and the House see that an exemption to the U.S. build requirement can make a huge difference in what we here in Hawaii pay for goods,.”

Hawaii Shippers Council President Mike Hansen says, “A U.S.-build exemption would allow U.S. ship owners to acquire foreign built ships, register them under the U.S.-flag and operate them in the domestic noncontiguous trades. The advantage of this reform is new ships built in South Korea and Japan are a fifth the cost of comparable ships built in the U.S., and that dramatically lower capital cost will lead to greater competition and moderate freight costs by lowering barriers to entry and increasing contestability in the shipping market place.”

Dr. Kim Kepner-Sybounmy, Chief of Staff for Senator Slom, is another proponent of Jones Act reform. She has produced a short documentary film to educate the public about the Jones Act, which will be shown this Friday, February 27, 2015 at 12pm in the Capitol Auditorium. Members of the media as well as the general public are invited to attend. The program will begin with an introduction by Senator Slom and Dr. Kepner-Sybounmy, followed by presentation of the film. The presentation will conclude with a question and answer session.

Kepner-Sybounmy says, “I was first introduced to the Jones Act about a year ago when I attended the Jones Act Video Conference while working for Senator Slom. During the video conference I listened to the legislative spokespeople from Alaska and Puerto Rico discuss Jones Act reform, and I began to see the economic struggles Hawaii has in common with these locations. This movie is the result of my desire to make this complex issue understandable. On a personal level, like many people in Hawaii, my family is constantly looking long term to decide whether we can afford to retire here. My concern is that Hawaii, along with the other noncontiguous locations, makes up only 2% of the population of the U.S. yet we shoulder most of the cost burden of the expensive Jones Act ships. This unnecessary cost is frustrating, and it makes you wonder how many new businesses are never started and how many existing businesses are prevented from expanding due to the high costs for shipping as a result of the Jones Act.”

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