Reasons to be optimistic about the 2024 Legislature

The start of Hawaii’s annual legislative session is always marked by hope and trepidation.

Will this be the year that we finally start to see positive big changes — or are we going to see more taxes, more spending, more regulations? In short, the same old same old?

Overall, I am optimistic that the 2024 Legislature will lead us toward a better Hawaii.

One reason I am optimistic is that my colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii have been especially focused on working with legislators to introduce bills that would make it easier to build housing and improve healthcare access.

And we haven’t been doing it alone. In the spirit of “E hana kākou” (“Let’s work together”), we have been working with other individuals and organizations to find common ground and advance new policies.

On the matter of housing, we are supporting a wide range of bills that together could make a big difference in easing Hawaii’s housing crisis. Many of these bills reflect proposals we presented in Grassroot’s most recent policy brief, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii.” They include:

>> HB1630 and SB3202, which would allow construction of smaller, less-expensive houses known as “starter homes” that more people could afford.

>> HB2212 and SB3227, known as “Yes in God’s Backyard” bills, which would allow churches, educational institutions and other certain nonprofits to build affordable homes on their own lands.

>> HB2090 and SB2948, which would promote adaptive reuse of commercial buildings.

>> HB1632, which would authorize self-certification of building plans.

To address Hawaii’s healthcare shortages, we would like the Legislature to build on the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact it passed last year, which will soon make it easier for out-of-state physicians to practice in Hawaii.

It could do that by allowing Hawaii to join the national Nurse Licensure Compact, which, like the compact for doctors, would make it easier for out-of-state nurses to practice here. Bills we support that would accomplish that include HB2158 and SB2492, and HB2415 and SB3104.

We are also hopeful this will be the year that the Legislature finally exempts medical services from the general excise tax. The bills that would make that happen are HB2627 and SB2169.

And also related to healthcare, we are supporting bills that would either liberalize or repeal the state’s medical certificate-of-need laws — HB1963 and SB2123, respectively. As the Senate bill says, CON laws “stifle competition by protecting incumbent providers and creating a burdensome approval process for establishing new facilities and services.”

Of course, housing and healthcare are not the only issues we have set our sights on. We also will be working to promote government transparency and accountability; protect our rights to property; reform the state’s asset-forfeiture program; create a more liberal environment for cryptocurrencies; and support the speedy recovery of Lahaina and other parts of Maui that were affected by the August 2023 wildfires.

As usual, we will fight to save Hawaii taxpayers millions of dollars, prevent government boondoggles and foster a more diversified economy by challenging the many attempts to increase our taxes, state spending and regulations.

The quest for a better Hawaii might seem daunting, but we are not without hope — because we know we are not alone.

In the coming weeks and months, we will share with you ways you can get involved with these efforts. If you feel called, please join us. With your help, the victories we can achieve will surely be sweeter and more abundant.

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for Jan. 27, 2024. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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