Photo by Charley Myers
A lot of people know that I am president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, whose mission is to help lower our cost of living, expand opportunity and foster prosperity for all Hawaii residents.
Recently I’ve been asked a few times to explain what specifically we have been doing to influence the future of our state. One thing I can point to is our recent work at the state Legislature, which just entered the critical second half of its 2022 legislative session.
Every year, the Grassroot Institute tracks and analyzes hundreds of bills being considered at the Capitol. This year, it has been more active than ever. We have met with individual legislators, submitted scores of testimonies, provided comprehensive analyses of many measures, offered alternative language in the form of amendments, and suggested different approaches that might better help our legislators obtain the results they are trying to achieve.
The good news is we no longer are just playing defense. There are bills we want to push across the line as well as bills we’d like to see stopped.
As you probably know, one of our biggest priorities this year is reforming Hawaii’s emergency-management law, to restore and ensure our state’s constitutional balance of powers during emergencies.
I’m glad to say that there are still two bills alive, HB1585 and SB3089, that would put a check on the governor’s emergency powers by allowing the Legislature to terminate an emergency through a two-thirds vote.
It would be an important step, but the bills could be made even stronger by requiring the governor to obtain legislative approval before extending an emergency. Toward that end, we have proposed amendments that would add that approval.
We also have been working to limit the governor’s ability to suspend the state’s open-records law during emergencies, and add stronger protections for individual rights.
I’m also glad to say that, partly due to our efforts, the ALOHA homes bill, SB3261, is no longer the threat it once was. The well-intended measure originally sought to launch a major government construction program to build and sell leasehold housing, to help ease Hawaii’s housing shortage.
We produced in-depth testimony explaining why the proposal would more likely be a financial boondoggle and largely fail to achieve its goal. Now the measure is simply a request for a study of leasehold housing.
At the same time, a housing measure we have supported — the “Yes in my Backyard Act,” HB1837 — succeeded in the House and now is making its way through the Senate. The bill would require Hawaii’s four counties to study and reduce zoning barriers to housing development.
Taxes are always a big issue for us, and this year has been no different. Since this is an election year, in which every single legislative seat is up for grabs, we thought the Legislature might go easy on taxes. Instead, we found ourselves submitting testimony on a wealth tax, multiple capital gains tax hikes, a drink tax, an income tax hike and a carbon tax.
Thanks again partly to our efforts, it appears most of these bills are dead. While the carbon tax, HB2278, with its drastic increase in fuel taxes, is technically still alive, we will be reminding legislators that Hawaii residents cannot afford more taxes and fees that drive up the cost of living in our state.
We also have been heavily involved in trying to expand Hawaii’s access to the booming worldwide cryptocurrency market.
Earlier during the session, there were several bills that would have legitimized digital currency in Hawaii outright by simply removing cryptocurrency companies from the state’s money-transmitters law. But those fell by the wayside and we have had to spend most of our time since explaining why a very complicated licensing and regulatory being proposed by the state would likely do more harm than good.
We also have offered comments on SB2695, which would create a task force to further study the issue. But this bill would not be a perfect substitute for the licensing bill. As we wrote in our testimony: “We are concerned that this bill will further delay a resolution to an issue that has already been studied at length.” Also, “Without further action, cryptocurrency will once again become inaccessible for Hawaii residents.”
Another issue that is not turning out quite how we would have liked is the state’s minimum wage. There are still two bills, HB2510 and SB2018, that would increase it to $18 an hour, which many small businesses are in dread of seeing pass.
However, just this past week, one of our research associates, Jensen Ahokovi, produced an excellent article outlining “Five myths about the minimum wage,” which I hope all of our legislators will read before casting their final votes on the issue.
One more issue I’d like to mention:
Before the 2022 legislative session began, I had hoped that this would be the year that Hawaii begins to roll back the state’s certificate-of-need laws, which require health investors to prove there is a “need” for their services before they can proceed, thus limiting capacity, driving up costs and reducing healthcare access.
There was, in fact, a good bill that would have begun the rollback, but it stalled. As a result, our best hope now is a resolution we helped craft, HCR123/HR123, which calls for a state study of CON regulations to determine their true effect on Hawaii’s healthcare system.
The next few weeks will be critical to Hawaii’s future. As you can see, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has been doing its part to make a difference at the Capitol, and I encourage you to get involved as well.
One way to do that, of course, is to donate to the institute. Other ways include writing or calling your legislators, submitting testimony on bills or using the institute’s new Voter Voice forms, available at the institute’s website.
The main thing is that we work together to achieve the better Hawaii that we all wish to see.
As I like to say, “E hana kākou” (“Let’s work together”).
This commentary was Keli’i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for March 19, 2022. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email email@example.com.