Wide range of bills before Hawaii Legislature aim at issues broad, specific

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Jan. 21—New bills introduced this legislative session would allow for a nuclear power plant in Hawaii, guarantee everyone the right to a clean environment and place a cap on ticket prices sold on the open market under the "Bruno Mars Act," named after the Hawaii-raised superstar.

Friday was the deadline for the introduction of bills, except for bills from the administration of Gov. Josh Green introduced by lawmakers on Green's behalf.

As of Friday's deadline, lawmakers introduced 1,580 new bills in 2024 that will be up for consideration along with 2,858 bills that were introduced in 2023 but didn't pass and have carried over to the second half of the 32nd Legislature's biennium.

On average, only about 250 bills annually have become law over the past decade or so.

High priorities this year include Maui wildfire relief, statewide wildfire risk mitigation and producing more affordable housing.

A few new bills related to wildfire issues include:

>> Senate Bill 2085 and SB 2144 that would reestablish the position of a state fire marshal as a government official whose duties would include coordinating fire prevention between local agencies. Both bills note that Hawaii is the only state without a fire marshal's office.

>> SB 2086 would create a Hawaii wildfire relief fund.

>> Establishing a statewide firefighting helicopter program to be administered by the state fire marshal under House Bill 1564.

Other notable and intriguing bills:

>> Under HB 1516, a Nuclear Energy Commission would be created to study the feasibility, risks and benefits of developing nuclear energy power in Hawaii. HB 1741 also proposes an amendment to Hawaii's Constitution repealing a ban on nuclear power plants unless approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

>> HB 1528 proposes a different Constitutional Amendment "that guarantees individuals the right to a clean and healthy environment; the control of pollution; and the conservation, protection, and enhancement of the natural, native, cultural, scenic, and healthful qualities of the environment," according to the bill.

>> The so-called Bruno Mars Act, or HB 1573, would cap ticket service charges "that may be added on to event ticket prices" after thousands of tickets for a 2018 Mars' concert "ended up on third party websites at inflated prices," according to the bill. HB 1573 was introduced in the House after a similar bill introduced last year in the Senate failed to receive a hearing.

Website operators would have "to guarantee refunds in certain circumstances and disclose that the website is not the primary ticket seller," and prohibit the use of bots, according to the new bill.

>> Employers would be given tax credits for hiring state residents who have been living, working or studying on the mainland for three or more years through a new "Kamaaina Come Home Income Tax Credit" under HB 1732.

>> Striking workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits under HB 1785.

>> Pets would have further protections by prohibiting "intentionally leaving or confining pet animals in a vehicle under conditions that endanger their health, safety, or well-being," under HB 1671.

Law enforcement officers, animal control officers and firefighters would be allowed "to enter an unattended vehicle to protect the health, safety, or well- being of a pet animal that is endangered by being left or confined in an unattended vehicle. Allows private citizens to rescue a pet animal that has been left in an unattended vehicle under certain circumstances."

>> HB 1794 would require that every public school student earn two credits in Hawaiian language as a graduation requirement.

>> Under HB 1562, vehicles could be confiscated as a maximum penalty on a third conviction for operating a motor vehicle without a license within a five-year period. If the defendant is not the registered owner, then the owner would be responsible for costs and fines.

>> HB 1876 and and HB 1855 would establish a paid family leave program of 12 weeks for state and county employees "for the birth or placement of a child or to care for a family member who has a serious health condition."

>> Each fire department company would need to staff at least four on-duty firefighters under HB 1530.

>> A new death penalty, or the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole, would be imposed for a conviction for sex trafficking of a minor under HB 1737. And "enhanced sentencing" would be allowed for defendants convicted of sex trafficking of minors, Native Hawaiians, or those transported between islands or across state lines under HB 1574.

New bills this year would establish new state holidays:

>> SB 2131 and HB 1780 would have "World Peace Day" replace Good Friday as a state holiday, while SB 2037 and HB 1555 would establish the Lunar New Year as a state holiday on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice every year.

The Lunar New Year holiday bill notes that 37% of Hawaii's population, or over 500,000 residents, are of Asian descent and that the Lunar New Year is celebrated by more than two-thirds of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese Americans in general.

SB 2037 states that California made the Lunar New Year a state holiday in 2022, and that New York made it a public school holiday in 2023.

"The Lunar New Year provides a time to renew one's family ties, reflect upon the past year, and wish for good fortune, health, and prosperity in the year ahead," according to the bill.

Problem solvers

Many bills that get introduced are intended to address chronic or troubling problems in the islands.

A few such bills introduced this year are:

>> SB 2005, which would have the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation build a mental health facility for inmates or detainees with mental health needs. Hawaii prisons and jails are housing many such people without the capacity to provide appropriate serv­ices or environment.

>> SB 2061 and HB 1656 seek to address a chronic shortage of public school bus drivers by creating a one-year school bus driver certification subsidy pilot program.

>> SB 2114 would pro-hibit and establish fines for feeding feral animals within a to-be-determined distance from public school campuses.

Numerous new bills propose to amend state rules, penalties and programs.

>> Under SB 2017, defendants convicted of causing the death of a parent or legal guardian of a minor child by operating a vehicle in a negligent manner while under the influence of drugs or alcohol must make restitution in the form of financial support to each surviving child of the victim.

>> A separate bill, SB 2137, would also require defendants convicted of causing the death or disability of a parent or legal guardian of a minor child by operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant to make restitution in the form of financial support to each child of the victim.

>> Inmates at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua would be allowed to foster pets while incarcerated through a two-year pilot program under SB 2094.

>> Tinted vehicle windows would have to be lighter under HB 1579, dropping to 20% from 35%.

>> Defendants convicted of marijuana possession would have their criminal records expunged under HB 1595.

>> A cost cap would be imposed to reproduce "certain government records" under HB 1610, and no costs would be charged to produce the first 100 pages "if disclosure serves the public interest."

>> Okina would be required on license plates under HB 1861.

>> Teachers who maintain a national board certification would see an increase in bonuses from $5,000 to $15,000 under HB 1614.

>> "Resource officers" would be placed in West Oahu schools in a two-year pilot project under HB 1617.

>> Pedestrians would be allowed to "act contrary to the statewide traffic code when a reasonably careful pedestrian would determine that there is no immediate danger of a collision with a moving vehicle" under HB 1623.

GOP measures

House Republicans have introduced a minority caucus package of bills including:

>> Term limits on state legislators after 12 years in office through a Constitutional Amendment under HB 1703.

>> Creating local school boards through another Constitutional Amendment under HB 1714.

>> Establishing the "Ohana Bill of Rights for parents and legal guardians of minor children to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their minor child" under HB 1715.

>> Allowing for recalls of "elected officials and appointed justices and judges" by passing a Constitutional Amendment under HB 1723.

No minority caucus bill package was introduced in the Senate, where Sens. Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach-Ocean Pointe-Iroquois Point) and Brenton Awa (R, Kaneohe- Laie-Mokuleia) have differences over leadership.

Fevella and Awa have individually introduced a handful of new bills, including:

>> SB 2624, which Awa introduced to ban certain foreign entities from owning, purchasing or acquiring an interest in Hawaii agricultural lands.

>> SB 2877, which Fevella introduced to abolish the tip credit that can affect the minimum wage for workers who earn tips.