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Hawaii Legislative Roundup

 

With a similar partisan divide between a Democratic legislature and Republican governor, Hawaii achieved solid progressive achievements with less rancor and friction.

With a constitutional mandate to distribute a budget surplus, Hawaii enacted a remarkably progressive rebate to its taxpayers, delivering the largest dollar amounts to its poorest citizens and restricting all rebates to those families making less than $60,000 per year.

Hawaiian businesses enjoyed a $151 million cut in unemployment insurance taxes over three years in exchange for raising unemployment benefits from 70 percent of wages to 75 percent, with additional benefits for part-time workers-- a package supported by both business and labor groups.

Hawaii, a long-time leader in health care reform, expanded its Keiki Care program to provide free health care to all uninsured children up to 300 percent of the poverty line, including eliminating monthly premium payments for immigrants. This was combined with a restoration of rate regulation for health insurers and adding $80 million to the state Medicaid system.

To fight Global Warming, Hawaiian legislators created a task force to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2020-- a way to bring the state in line with the goals of the Kyoto treaty.  To encourage cleaner gas and ease the burden on consumers at the pump, the state also restored an 11-cent-a-gallon ethanol tax credit.

On labor rights,  Hawaii expanded the rights of public employees to bargain over transfers from one job to another.

Despite these successes, a number of promising bills failed, including easing roadblocks to environmentally smarter development, passing a state version of the EITC, and allocating real funding for affordable housing, a chronic need in Hawaii. 

The Hawaii legislature also endorsed allocating Hawaii's electoral college votes for President according to the National Popular Vote, only to see the bill vetoed, although the bill may be saved in a subsequent special legislative session.

It was a solid performance by legislative leaders, less ambitious than many would hope but delivering real gains for the families of the state.

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