Updated: September 30, 2022
House of Representatives Speaker Scott K. Saiki discussed legislative priorities during opening day of the 2022 Legislative session on Wednesday.
“I know that the past seven months have not been easy for you and your constituents. Just when we thought the pandemic was over, the surge overcame all of us. I know that you have worked in your communities to vaccinate and test thousands and thousands of people, Saiki said in his opening day remarks.
When outlining his priorities, Speaker Saiki focused on economic, cultural and environmental justice.
“In January 2020, we were prepared to enact a proposal that would have increased the minimum wage and provided more tax relief to working families. This proposal followed a report conducted by the Aloha United Way that found that 47% of Hawaiʻi’s families were financially distressed and simply could not make it here,” Speaker Saiki said.
He noted that just six weeks later, the legislative session was suspended when the state was shut down, and lawmakers were forced to defer action on their agenda.
“Since that time, I stated publicly that the House would re-visit a wage proposal when conditions improved. Well, conditions have improved and it is now time for us to act,” he said.
Through the work of Representatives Onishi and Sayama, Speaker Saiki reports that “the House will advance legislation to increase the hourly minimum wage to $18, increase the food tax credit, and make the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable and permanent.”
He notes that this package will give a family an additional $33,600 in income.
He said the demographic that has been hardest hit and most “priced out” of housing is Native Hawaiians.
“We will appropriate $600 million to enable beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homelands trust to acquire their own homes,” he said, noting the funds would provide DHHL with the resources it needs to “fulfill its fiduciary duty.”
Saiki said that through Representative Holt and Representative Eli, who is the only Hawaiian Homelands beneficiary in the House, the Hawaiian Affairs Caucus will play a leading role on this historic piece of legislation.
Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair William J. Ailā, Jr. issued a statement following Speaker Scott Saiki’s opening remarks saying:
“An investment of $600 million toward the implementation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act would be a historic infusion of resources to address the needs of potentially thousands of beneficiaries on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Waiting List. DHHL continues to be open to all measures that would return native Hawaiians to the land, as intended by Prince Kūhiō. We appreciate this legislature for hearing our calls for funding and their commitment to fulfilling the state’s obligation to our community.”
In an effort to address cultural justice, Saiki said the House will expand community-based efforts to restore fish ponds and loʻi; repatriate cultural artifacts; teach financial literacy; and provide cultural training to the military.
He said, related to this is the issue of tourism management. “We need to take action now before our visitor count again reaches 10 million. We need to better incorporate culture into tourism because by doing so, this will also protect our natural resources. We will do this by relying on initiatives and organizations that can assist the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.”
“While HTA and the Hawai‘i Convention Center is currently being federally funded through American Rescue Plan funds, there is no funding allocation earmarked for FY 2023,” said John De Fries,President and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority in an organization message, reflecting upon the legislative session. “As such, we are requesting FY 2022-2023 funding from the State’s General Fund to allow us to carry out our mission of Mālama Ku‘u Home (caring for our beloved home) and our Strategic Plan.”
That includes implementing the HTAʻs Destination Management Action Plans “to reset tourism’s direction and mitigate negative impacts on each island.” Click on the following links to view the latest Progress Reports for Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.
The House will also advance a proposal that will create a management structure that Speaker Saiki said, “will care for Mauna Kea above the 6,500 foot elevation line, through an integrated culturally and environmentally-conscious approach.”
When addressing the issue of environmental justice, Speaker Saiki turned his attention to Red Hill.
In December, the House called for the defueling and decommissioning of Red Hill.
“We will reiterate that call for action,” he said.
The house will also form a Special Committee to focus on containment, remediation and prevention of contamination.
“And we will continue to insist that the federal government must be responsible for Red Hill costs. State taxpayers should not be asked to pay for this clean up,” he said.
*Maui Nowʻs Wendy Osher contributed to this report.