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2008 Session Roundups: Hawaii

This session, the Hawaii state legislature made some substantial gains in labor rights, election reform, promoting renewable energy, health care, and a number of other areas, overriding four of the governor's 13 vetoes in the process.

Labor Rights:  An important bill passed by the legislature, HB 2974, would enable a union to become the bargaining representative of agricultural workers when it obtains authorization cards from a majority of unit employees without a secret ballot election.
The legislature also overrode a governor's veto, enacting SB 2779, which restricts when the governor may suspend prevailing wage and hour laws during an emergency.

Health Care: The legislature enacted HB 7, which expands the state's prescription drug program, over the Governor's veto. 

Clean energy and environment: Many advocates lauded energy policy gains but denounced the land-use bills that passed, including a controversial bill that creates incentives to preserve important agricultural land.  The legislature passed:

  • SB 644 - a solar roofs bill that would require home builders to include solar water heaters in new single-family dwellings beginning in 2010.
  • SB 2646 - provides tax credits for agricultural costs and creates a loan guarantee program for projects on land designated important agricultural land.  The bill would also allow landowners to seek the designation of agricultural land as "important" in combination with the reclassification of a smaller, proportionate area as rural, urban or conservation.  Some environmental advocates opposing the bill say it will create an opening for more development will little public input.
  • SB 2423 -  authorizes the purchase of Turtle Bay resort to prevent further development and maintain the rural nature of the community.
  • HB 2527 - requires office of planning to develop a plan to establish a statewide system of greenways and trails, coordinate smart growth planning, and establish sustainable communities.
  • HB 3179 - amends the definition of "renewable energy producer" so that  biofuel production would be eligible for direct leases of public lands
  • SB 2953 - establish electronic waste recycling program
  • SB 3227 - this "Harbors Modernization" bill spends more than $862 million to renew infrastructure of Hawaii's harbors.

Election Reform:  The state also passed a few bills on voting reform:

  • The legislature overrode the Governor's veto of the National Popular Vote bill, HB 3013.  In total, four states, including Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland, have adopted the compact.
  • HB 661 - establishes a pilot project for comprehensive public funding of county council elections.
  • SB 156 - authorizes permanent absentee voting.

Teleheath:  The legislature also passed HCR 138, which requests the University of Hawaii's Telehealth Research Institute to form a task force to review the potential expansion of current practices and equipment of Hawaii's telemedicine system.

Government Accountability:  SB 868, again enacted with an override of a veto, allows the Legislature to question boards and commissions without getting permission from governor.

There were a few important bills that failed to pass, including:

  • HB 2044 and HB 2504 would have phased out incandescent light bulbs and established a CFL recycling program.
  • HB 1375/SB 1461 would have required big-box operators to operate redemption centers for $0.05 beverage containers.
  • HB 2449 would have banned phthalates and bisphenol-A from children's toys and products.