Aloha mai kākou

Ten days ago, the Hawai‘i State legislative session opened. Within a week over 3000 pieces of draft legislation had been submitted. Just two days later, this past Friday, first hearings were held and already some excellent bills were effectively stopped with barely any input from ordinary citizens.

Yup, believe it or not, sometimes government can move at lightning speed! And it can be maddening and frustrating to folks who yearn to be more involved in shaping our community.

That's What Gave Birth To The Capitol Watch

The members of our hui find common cause in three beliefs:

1) People want more influence over their government
2) Knowledge is power - if the tools to influence government are more accessible, people will use them.
3) Our representatives respond when lobbied by voters.

Our job as Watchers is to keep tabs on what's happening in the Capitol of vital concern to the environment; to pass that information on to you and to show you how easily you can tell your representatives how you feel about proposed legislation.

We'll be sending you regular emails

And in future we promise they'll be much briefer. But, because this is the first of our newsletters, we think we have some 'splaining to do.

How This Works

We've divided the green universe into 7 categories: Agriculture, Energy, Opala, Resilient Habitats and Healthy Communities, Smart Growth and Transportation, Good Governance, and Marine and Coastal. This is so you can find issues that you are passionate about more quickly.

Each category has its own webpage that you can link to from the Capitol Watch website. The pages contain background information. We're just starting to build them, so feel free to contribute.

Each category has one or two Captains responsible for compiling the information. They would love to receive suggestions about what to include.

The Captains are also following proposed legislation and will have regular updates on individual bills. The first of their reports follows below.

The Tracker!

The Engine that drives the Capitol Watch is our Bill Tracker. We're in the process of combing over every bill submitted to the Legislature this session and listing each one that relates to the environment. We're also inviting other organizations to submit their contact information so it can be listed next to the bills they're supporting. That way this tracker becomes a resource for all environmentalists.

The Tracker contains 8 pieces of information for each bill:

1) The bill number as a hyperlink - if you click on it, it will take you directly to the full text, notices of hearings, testimony submitted, proposed amendments
2) The title of the bill
3) A brief description of the bill's intent
4) The names of the bill's introducers - the legislators who wrote or support the bill
5) The committee(s) which must hear the bill for it to advance
6) The status of the bill. This status is linked directly by RSS feed to the legislature, so when a committee acts on a bill you care about, that action will be instantly reported on our Tracker.
7) The name of the Section Captain in charge of reporting the progress of your bills and the names of other people or organizations who are tracking the bill who may have more expert knowledge. Click on their name and you can send them an email requesting or sharing information.
8) A brief note indicating the Sierra Club's opinion of the bill

We’re All Volunteers

This is a new venture. We're learning as we go.

So please be patient. Make suggestions. Feel free to get involved.

With aloha,

Gary Hooser
Anthony Aalto
Co-Chairs

Scott Glenn
Communications Director
 


Buzzing Bills

The following bills have important hearings that greatly need your support:
  • HB566 - This bill seeks to drastically limit the renewable energy state tax credits available to the burgeoning solar and wind industries, which could cripple our transition to a clean energy future. One example is a cap on solar PV system tax credits of $5,000 for a single-family residential property. Bill is scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, Feb 1 at 8:00 AM in House conference room 325. Please submit testimony here.
  • SB762 - On Monday, the Senate is hearing SB762, which would automatically approve any application in 30 days if an agency fails to establish maximum time periods for application processing. It would also automatically approve any application before the State Historic Preservation Division (a notoriously underfunded and understaffed office) in 60 days. Let's make sure bad projects don't become automatically permitted in your community. Please submit email testimony to the Committee for Economic Development and Technology

OK! We KNOW this is a lot of material!!! Don't get disconcerted!
As the legislative session moves forward, bills will quickly be winnowed down and we’ll have less to report.  In our next email we will edit ourselves a bit, so that, at the least, the most pressing bills will stand out better. For now, scroll down to the subject area that interests you. We hope that this email will motivate you to send in at least one piece of testimony on one bill that you feel strongly about. If the link is not in the bill description below, you can submit testimony for any bill at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/emailtestimony/

Agriculture - Captains: Amy Brinker & Juanita Kawamoto

  • SB 1156 and companion bill HB 1496: These bills relate to the establishment of an agribusiness cooperative that promotes a local feed mill, which will support farmers and ranchers reduce the overwhelmingly high cost of importing livestock feed to Hawaii. Supporting the use of local, natural resources such as invasive limu, taro leavings, fish meal and other ingredients will create a healthier, live feed that is both nutritional and supportive of our local economy.  In addition, local feed mills are a source of job creation in the agriculture industry and will allow small family farms to maintain their own economic destiny as well as encourage more people to maintain or begin new small family farms. This bill proposes the development of a task force to take the first steps to establish local feed mills, a solution to our depleted agricultural and livestock community.
  • SB101 and companion bill HB 1344: Did you know that traditionally pounded poi is prohibited from sale by Department of Health?  These bills aim to amend laws prohibiting this traditional food preparation. Community groups of all kinds have come together to “Legalize Paʻi ʻai.”  Paʻi ʻai is pounded, undiluted poi.  Milled poi is a wonderful food that continues to provide the people of Hawaiʻi with a healthy alternative to many of the foods on the shelf today. However, paʻi ʻai cannot be made in a mill.  Consumers who prefer this culinary treat made using traditional implements should have the choice to do so.  To find out more about this issue, check out indigenizethelaw.com. SB101 was heard by the Senate Health Committee on Friday. Many members of the community sent in testimony supporting the bill.  Taro farmers, poi millers, students, cultural practitioners and many more gave over an hour of testimony at the hearing, as well. HB 1344 must go through three committees.  The first committee, the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Hanohano, is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:30AM.  Please send your letters supporting HB 1344 to: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
  • SB 249: Roughly 90% of Hawaiʻi's food is shipped in, so why would we ship the majority of local beef out? This bill appropriates funds for Department of Agriculture to purchase a slaughterhouse in Campbell Industrial Park so that ranchers do not have to send locally-raised cattle to slaughterhouses on the mainland where the beef is eventually sold. The Agriculture Committee deferred the bill, so if you are interested head down to the capitol this TUESDAY at 2:55PM in Room 225.
  • HB 9: Every barrel of oil that comes into Hawaiʻi is taxed at $1.05. Where does that money go? This bill will ensure that more of that $1.05 goes to funds for energy and food security. Remember the precarious position Hawaiʻi is in? Rep. Thielen's bill will ensure tax money is spent on making Hawaiʻi more self-sufficient.
  • HB 107: This bill will allow more roadside stands for agriculture products because the current law requires that roadside stands may only be set-up on lands where the food is actually grown. In this bill, as long as the food is grown within the county, with at least 10% of the products being grown on the land, the roadside stand can, well, stand! This bill is being heard on MONDAY the 31st at 9AM in Room 325.
  • HB 288: This bill will require Board of Agriculture to make sure that any plants imported to Hawaiʻi are not harmful to our beautiful state. Hawai'i is known as the endangered species capitol of the world. Many of those species are endangered because we have failed to restrict the introduction of harmful plants into this special place, our Hawaiʻi. The Agriculture Committee will be hearing this bill on WEDNESDAY the 2nd at 9:40AM in Room 312.
  • HB 284 and HB 286: These bills will lower the taxes that farmers have to pay. Certainly, we have a budget shortfall, but these measures would allow farmers to keep more of their money and put it back into the land, which is an investment for all of us! Farmers are on a tight budget as it is. Let's support them any way we can! The Agriculture Committee will be hearing both of these bills on WEDNESDAY the 2nd at 9:40AM in Room 312.
  • HB 866: Are you a beekeeper? Do you know any beekeepers? This bill will require beekeepers to register with Department of Agriculture, submitting information about their hives and number of queen bees. The information will be kept confidential and is apparently going to be used to determine the number of bees impacted by weather, mites, and other factors that have not been kind to the hardworking bees. The Agriculture Committee will be hearing both of these bills on WEDNESDAY the 2nd at 9:40AM in Room 312.
  • HB 1248: This bill helps farmers by reducing the loan interest rate and number of credit denials required to qualify for the farmer loan program, as well as increasing loan limits. Let's literally put our money where our mouth is and do what we can to help farmers get started! The Agriculture Committee will be hearing both of these bills on WEDNESDAY the 2nd at 9:40AM in Room 312.
  • SB 712 and SB 713: It's GMO time, folks! These bill require Department of Agriculture to notify the public when fields have been used to produce GMO crops, and also requires GMO crops to be labeled as such. Wouldn't you like to know where these crops are grown? Or when you are eating them? GMO products have been marketed as better, healthier and pest resistant; if the producers of GMO crops think they are so great, then labeling should help them sell, right? The Agriculture Committee will be hearing both of these bills on TUESDAY the 1st at 2:55PM in Room 225.

Energy  - Captain: Brian Bell

  • HB1639 - This bill would set aside 10% of general funds allocated to repair and maintenance of schools to upgrade them to a green building standard such as LEED. Bill scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, Feb 1 at 8:00 AM in House conference room 325. Please submit testimony here.
  • HB981 - Creates an energy resources coordinator position to help facilitate and negotiate a community benefits package for proposed renewable energy developments on neighboring islands. Probably a good thing for our friends on Molokai and Lanai. Bill scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, Feb 1 at 8:00 AM in House conference room 325. You can submit testimony here.
  • HB444 - This bill exempts electric vehicles from the rental car surcharge tax. Makes them a more affordable option! Bill scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, 02-01-11 8:00AM in House conference room 325. Please submit testimony here.
  • HB1517 - This bill would require the PUC (Public Utilities Commission, which regulates our electric utility) to take the qualitative and quantitative consequences of importing fossil fuels into Hawaii in their decision making. Would encourage them to consider alternative sources of energy. Bill scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, Feb 1 at 8:00 in House conference room 325. Please submit testimony here.
  • HB1518 - Establishes the Hawaii Electricity Reliability Council to develop and implement grid reliability and interconnection standards. This will help us get more renewable energy on the grid. Bill scheduled to be heard by EEP on Tuesday, Feb 1 at 8:00 AM in House conference room 325. You can submit testimony here.
  • SB188 - This bill basically bans the construction of new fossil fuels plants with certain exceptions - awesome! It is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 1 at 3:30 pm in room 225. You can testify by emailing the Energy and Environment Committee and referencing the bill number, your name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.
  • SB199 - Net metering allows homeowners and businesses to sell back their electricity they generate until their bill reaches zero. Currently this is capped at 50 kilowatts per user (the Oahu grid is 1500 megawatts). This bill would increase that limit to 2 megawatts and ensure that it could not be canceled with new programs that might be rolled out. This bill is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 1 at 3:30 pm in room 225. You can testify by emailing Energy and Environment Committee and referencing the bill number, your name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.
  • SB722 - This bill reallocates the funding from the historic barrel tax passed last year. It requires 45 cents of such tax to be deposited into the energy security special fund and 45 cents of such tax to be deposited into the agricultural development and food security special fund. In other words, it puts more of the money into food and energy programs instead of the general fund. What's not to like? This bill is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 1 at 2:55 pm in room 225. You can testify by emailing Energy and Environment Committee and referencing the bill number, your name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.
  • SB1197 - This bill requires new and major renovations of government buildings to have at least 10% of its energy generated from alternative forms like solar or wind. 10% is probably an easy target to hit. This bill is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 1 at 2:45 pm in room 225. You can testify by emailing Energy and Environment Committee and referencing the bill number, your name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.

Opala (Waste) - Captains: Joy Leilei Shih & Stuart Coleman

  • SB1059 - This bill is a plastic bag ban that allows stores to still distribute paper or biodegradable plastic bags.  It currently states that beginning on July 1,  2012,  businesses with annual gross sales of over $300,000 are prohibited from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags to their customers at the point of sale.
  • SB1363 – This is a fee bill stating that beginning on July 1, 2012, any business having a gross annual income of $500,000 or more shall charge and collect an offset fee of 25 cents for each non-reusable checkout bag provided to a customer.
  • SB1370 – This ban bill would require businesses with annual gross sales of over $250,000 to switch to biodegradable plastic bags beginning on January 1, 2012.
  • HB891 - This bill would ban non-compostable plastic bags beginning January 1, 2013 for all business operators of businesses with annual gross sales of $500,000 or more.
  • HB998 – This bill would require businesses to collect a 10 cent fee on disposable plastic checkout bags beginning January 1, 2012.  The business would keep half of the fee, and the other half would go towards the Energy sustainability special fund.
  • HB1601 - This bill states that beginning on July 1, 2012, all business operators are prohibited from providing plastic carryout bags to consumers at the point of sale, including compostable plastic bags, but still allowing paper bags.

Note: Most bills still allow plastic bags necessary for produce, grains, newspapers, dry-cleaning, prescriptions and the like.   As currently stated in the bills, a statewide fee would not overturn the bans already in place in Maui and Kauai counties.

Resilient Habitats & Healthy Communities – Captains: Nina Bermudez & Diana Kucmeroski

An update on bills moving in this section will be emailed to you in the next couple of days. Thanks for your patience!

Smart Growth & Transportation – Captain: Nicole Lowen

An update on bills moving in this section will be emailed to you in the next couple of days. Thanks for your patience!

Good Governance – Captain: Nikki Love

The 2011 legislature is starting off with some promising bills in the area of good governance.  On Tuesday February 1 at 2:00 p.m., the House Judiciary committee will consider a long list of bills in the areas of money-in-politics and elections.
  • HB872: an important bill which will improve disclosure of "independent expenditures" -- money spent by outside groups to influence political campaigns. This bill is a response to last year’s shocking U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which allowed unlimited corporate money in the political process.
  • HB48: one of several good ideas in the hopper related to encouraging citizens to vote. This would establish a system to automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew their drivers’ licenses or state identification cards.
  • HB 545 would allow for online voter registration. Hawaii has the lowest voter turnout in the nation, and these bills are a step in the right direction.

Marine & Coastal - Captain: Dave Raney

  • SB 711, RELATING TO GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FISH, scheduled for a hearing at 3:00 PM Tuesday, February 1 before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Room 229. This bill "Prohibits the sale of genetically engineered fish or genetically engineered fish products unless for consumption in the State of Hawaii and appropriately labeled as genetically engineered fish or genetically engineered fish products." You can testify by emailing the Energy and Environment Committee and referencing the bill number, your name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.
Other bills introduced so far include those which would:
  • increase the number of Marine Life Conservation Districts statewide
  • raise thresholds for exempting projects from Special Management Area permits
  • ban expansion of existing open ocean finfish aquaculture (mariculture) operations
  • establish an ocean zoning pilot project for Maunaula Bay on Oahu
  • place additional controls on taking and sale of aquarium fish, and increase penalties for collecting without an aquarium fish permit
  • revise water quality standards legislatively
  • ban shark feeding
  • impose a two-year construction moratorium along Kailua beach on Oahu
  • set bag and size limits for uhu (parrotfish) and goatfish in Maui County
  • increase funding for environmental enforcement by a gross excise tax on commercial uses of ocean resources.