Rep. Saiki 2018 Legislative Session Opening Day Remarks

The 2018 Hawai‘i Legislative Session started on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, with opening day remarks by House Speaker Scott Saiki:

These are tumultuous times.

This year, we must step up to the plate.

The State of Hawai‘i requires leadership now and the House of Representatives can and should provide that leadership.

Unfortunately, one need only look to the past weekend to see a glaring instance of the inability of government at various levels to manage major issues facing our state.

Saturday’s events reinforce the importance of the role of government. It also shines light on the role of the Legislature as the policymaker and as the check on the other branches of government. It is our duty to ensure that the three branches abide by their respective constitutional duties so that we all do our jobs well.

We rely on the executive branch to competently and efficiently implement our laws and to administer programs. This begins with basic functions. Some of these functions must be carried out without mistakes because, when mistakes happen, the public loses confidence in all of us.

We also rely on the Judiciary to fairly adjudicate and dispense justice. It is not the role of judges to make policy decisions from the bench. It is the Legislature’s duty to set policy, and we do this with the benefit of broader public input and context.

The legislative branch, and particularly we as the House of Representatives, begin this session with a renewed sense of purpose.

The House is in a unique position to provide leadership. Part of the reason is our composition. Our 51 members are diverse, experienced, and energetic. We represent some of the smallest units of government. Our members have a pulse on what real people actually think, what they do, and what they want.

This collective insight is very powerful and should not be taken lightly. We should use this insight to be bold and creative. We should always be thinking of how to make things better.

There are two painfully obvious challenges that confront our state – the lack of affordable housing and the increasing homeless population. They are full of complexity and competing interests that make them hard to solve. They will require commitment and courageous action, sustained over several years.

But the time to start is now.

HOUSING

There is a shortage of 65,000 housing units in Hawai‘i. The State has set a goal of building 22,500 affordable rental units by the year 2026, and encouraging the development of housing for all income levels.

There is a huge gap between what our working families are able to pay and the cost of building new housing in Hawai‘i. The state and counties must continue to partner with private and nonprofit developers to add to the affordable housing inventory and make these projects pencil out.

To address the financing gap, we should consider increases to programs such as the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund and the Rental Assistance Revolving Fund.

These programs will subsidize rents, infrastructure and construction costs.

For the very low income, elderly and disabled, we should upgrade our public housing inventory. We should also invest in infrastructure in areas that are conducive to such housing, including areas near the proposed rail stations.

HOMELESSNESS

There are now over 7,000 homeless persons throughout the state, including 667 families.

The approach to homelessness is multifaceted and requires short and long-term action. But there is a model that we can adopt. That model is Kahauiki Village.

Kahauiki Village is an example of a successful public-private partnership that included the combined work of the state, the city, nonprofits, and the private sector, some of whom had not interfaced before.

It is a self-contained community that is comprised of 153 transitional homes, a preschool, a market, and a police meeting room. It also operates from a PV-generated battery system and is off the electric grid.

This model can be extended to homeless populations with substance abuse and mental health conditions.

One important takeaway is that Kahauiki Village represents what is possible if people and agencies at different levels work towards a common goal.

And even as we develop more transitional housing, we must also increase law enforcement to avoid encroachment into public spaces. This encroachment affects the quality of life for all, and we must find ways to divert it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA

These are the kinds of issues that our residents are counting on us to solve. But leadership is more than solving issues.

A year ago, President Obama said something in his Farewell Address to the Nation that reminds me of Hawai‘i’s situation today.

He spoke of the youth, diversity, and drive of Americans, and the potential that these traits offered to our country.

But the President also offered this warning:

“[T]hat potential will be realized,” he said, “only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

The people of Hawai‘i are looking to us for more than problem solving.

They are also looking to us to articulate and demonstrate a sense of shared purpose that calls others, calls on everyone, to join in.

The House will play a critical role in calling people together in common purpose, but to do it, I believe that each of us must embrace three things.

First, let’s be open to reform and to challenge the status quo. We can still honor the past, but build upon the foundation that was left for us. It is okay to do things differently.

Second, let’s view challenges through the lens of those who are impacted by them. Some of the most contentious issues in Hawai‘i arise when people believe that government does not consider their perspective or history. We need to do better at reconciling these differences – by drawing on the knowledge of all our people – including those impacted by the policies we create – to shape the path forward.

Third, let’s take a global approach to decision-making. Sometimes government is too focused on jurisdiction and turf. We need to move beyond that.

CONCLUSION

Members, we are at a moment in history where we cannot just be stewards. This legislative session is a call to broader involvement and decisive action. We must be courageous activists because the issues facing our state are too urgent to wait. I know that we are up to the challenge.

This year, we will rebuild a foundation that will help many residents throughout our state. And by doing so, we will advance Hawai‘i’s tradition of pioneering justice, fairness, and opportunity for all.

Thank you and best wishes for a productive session.

Hawai‘i State Senate Convenes

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, the Hawai‘i State Senate convened the second year of the 29th Legislative Biennium Session with a renewed commitment to protect and sustain the people of Hawai‘i and its natural resources and to strengthen communities through effective legislation.

The opening session commenced with an invocation by Pastor Matt Higa from New Hope Kaua‘i. The National Anthem and Hawai‘i Pono‘i was performed by Ms. Nalani Brun.

Photo courtesy Hawai‘i Senate Majority

Among the honored guests in the Senate Chamber were members of the Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly, Governor David Ige, mayors and council members from the neighbor islands.

Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi opened the session with remarks on issues where he hopes the Senate will continue to provide leadership and pass meaningful legislation.

Senate President Kouchi encouraged Senators to continue to find ways to address the challenges of homelessness and follow through on the commitment to build affordable housing. With the state facing possible cuts of $12 million in federal aid, he asked Senators to remember to protect our kūpuna and to ensure they are providing adequate health services for each and every resident of the state. He also encouraged Senators to continue to grow the economy to maintain funding for much needed services.

Photo courtesy Hawai‘i Senate Majority

“Creating opportunities for each and every child in this state to close the income gap and to be able to reach for the stars and realize their dreams,” is the reason Senate President Kouchi emphasized education as a priority for the Senate, starting with providing funding to allow better training for teachers to give students the best education available.

President Kouchi called for support to expand the Promise Program, which provides tuition assistance for community college “so that financial need is not an obstacle to higher education and make college a reality for each and every student in Hawai‘i.”

He also wants to see an expansion of the Early College program, which brings university instructors to local high schools. Students are able to earn college credits while in high school, giving them the confidence to pursue higher learning and helping defray the cost of college, which is “a critical stepping stone to allow our children to find that pathway to success,” said Senate President Kouchi.

Photo courtesy Hawai‘i Senate Majority.

With the success of the Farm-to-School program that started in Kohala and is expanding to other schools, President Kouchi was encouraged to see a possible partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education to grow the program that sources local fruits and vegetables, and most recently, locally grown beef. The Department of Education serves more than 100,000 meals a day making it essentially the largest restaurant in the state. “If we have a commitment from the largest restaurant in the State of Hawai‘i to purchase locally grown food, this is the way I see a path forward to put active production on agricultural land the state has purchased and we will be able to bring back farming and address the issue of food security.”

Reflecting on the events of Saturday’s false ballistic missile threat, President Kouchi told Senators “we found out how connected we are.” Just as in the moments when there was fear and the foremost thought was expressing love and appreciation for those closest to us, he encouraged Senators “to express love and hope and always be conscious of what you say.” He also vowed to work with the administration to determine the best practices and what is needed to ensure it does not happen again and how, as legislators, they can carry out their responsibilities to guarantee that each citizen and guest of the state will be safe.

Kouchi also assured the Governor that all 25 State Senators are committed to working on legislation that provide the best results for the people of Hawai‘i.

Photo courtesy Hawai‘i Senate Majority.

The Senate has committed to continue to fortify the state’s position as a leader in sustainability and climate change mitigation by working to implement the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the state level. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals is a voluntary international call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2018 Senate Legislative Program are posted on the Hawai‘i Senate Majority website.

“Hawai‘i was the first state in the nation to enact legislation that support the commitments and goals of the Paris climate accord,” said Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English. “The Sustainable Development Goals will continue the efforts of the Senate to build a more resilient state and improve the quality of life for future generations.”