Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Putting clams on the dinner menu is imperative to enjoying the warm summer evenings. In the second installment of our recipe series, Rep. John Mizuno shares with us a simple, quick and tasty dish made with Manila clams that you can incorporate into your family gatherings this summer!
Clams with Black Bean Sauce
2 Tablespoons fermented black beans
2 tablespoons peanut oil
36 fresh manila clams
2 teaspoons crushed ginger
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
4 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons real butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons red chili pepper
Clean shells of clams. Soak the black beans in water, then mash half of the beans into paste. Put peanut oil in a large pan or wok on medium-high. Add the remaining half of beans, bean paste, clams, ginger, garlic, chili, wine, and butter. Heat for 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until clams open. Place cooked clams in large bowl and then pour remaining sauce over clams. This goes great with steamed rice.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Legislature passes bills to help crack down on prostitution
Honolulu, Hawaii. The Hawaii State Legislature passed two significant bills in the 2011 session related to prostitution crimes. If the bills become law, both will be in effect when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference convenes in Honolulu in November 2011, at which time government, tourism, and law enforcement officials expect a surge in prostitution activity and sex trafficking; security will be heightened.
HB44, introduced by Rep. Karl Rhoads, makes it a misdemeanor to offer or agree to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of sexual conduct within 750 feet of a school or public park. If enacted, the law takes effect on July 1, 2011.
HB240 makes various amendments to the prostitution offenses currently on the books. The bill amends section 28-101 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes authorizing the attorney general to include prostitution cases as one of those considered "greatest priority" when determining the funding for and the provision of witness security and protection. It increases the offense of promoting prostitution in the first and second degree to a class A and B felony respectively. It expands the offense of prostitution and solicitation of prostitution to cover patrons. The measure makes the offense of habitual prostitution a class C felony, and applies the law and raises the penalty for those who habitually patronize prostitutes. The current law sunsets on June 30, 2012. If enacted, the new law takes effect on July 1, 2011 and makes the law permanent.
"Together, HB 44 and HB 240 raise the stakes for pimps, sex traffickers and customers of prostitutes while adding protections for the prostitutes themselves who wish to testify against those who coerced them into the sex trade," said Rep. Rhoads. "HB 44 raises the penalty for johns soliciting prostitutes close to schools and parks. Our keiki should not have to run a gauntlet of pimps and johns when they go to school or to the park.”
The bills provide law enforcement with stronger laws behind them to fight prostitution.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
By Rep. Chris Lee
This following op-ed appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday, May 17, 2011
There is nothing more difficult than writing about women's issues — as a man.
It is often hard to understand the perspective of the opposite sex and the unique challenges women face daily. Yet, we must not lose focus on the ongoing inequities between men and women in workplaces throughout Hawaii. Closing this gender gap is an obligation that will benefit us all.
We have already come far. There were just three women in the Hawaii Legislature when Congresswoman Patsy Mink passed Title IX in 1972. Today there are 26. Changes to our laws and priorities have helped more women attend college, and today more women graduate than men.
Yet, for all our progress, working women still face frustrating obstacles and impossible choices. In March, after months of searching, my friend Stacie finally found a good job. She is now pregnant, but scared she cannot afford enough time off and will be forced to choose between her family and her career. It would help if her husband could stay home with their child, but his job does not offer paid paternity leave.
For women like Stacie, making ends meet can be even more difficult because, on average, a woman in Hawaii still makes $9,934 less each year than a man. This inequity hurts women and hurts our families. It especially hurts single mothers, and two out of three cannot afford basic necessities like food, rent and health care.
Women still face an uphill battle to improve Hawaii's labor laws. Despite strong advocates, bills to address equal pay in the workplace and help women balance dueling career and family expectations routinely take a back seat to other issues.
It does not help that only a third of our legislators are women. The Women's Caucus of the Democratic Party recently pointed out that women hold only two of 10 leadership positions in the state House. While having more female legislators might help address these issues, in the last two elections fewer than a third of all candidates were women. Unfortunately, many women I know who considered running ultimately decided against it because of family and financial commitments.
Despite this, more women are involved in political advocacy today than men and out-vote men in every election. Women under age 35 are the most active, and 7 percent more show up to the polls each year than their male counterparts.
The challenge is helping people understand how we can address ongoing gender inequity. Stacie votes in every election, but has never heard a candidate make women's issues a priority. Especially now, it is hard to campaign for better family leave, better benefits and higher pay when many people — men and women — do not even have jobs.
Yet, the gender gap women still face is basic discrimination that we simply cannot ignore. Women deserve the opportunity to pursue a successful career and be paid equally for their work. Both women and men deserve adequate benefits and time off to care for their families, who will be healthier and stronger for it.
Someday I hope to be a father, and I want a better life for my future wife and family. If we make these issues priorities today, it can happen.
Stacie is not sure how she will make ends meet if she leaves her job to care for her new baby. However, the next election is just around the corner and she plans to vote for a candidate who will help end discrimination against women in the workplace and put families first. So, too, do I.
The following commentary appeared on Civil Beat. Click here for entire post. You may have to be a subscriber to Civil Beat to see the end notations.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this commentary about the Regular Session of 2011.
My discussion focuses on the difficult decisions made by the Legislature to balance the state budget. I attempt to explain and defend the actions of the Legislature, particularly the House of Representatives.
Comprehensive Public Employees' Retirement System Reform
Before proceeding with the main substance, I would like to offer my prediction of what will ultimately be deemed the most important measure passed by the 2011 Legislature. This measure received relatively little publicity or media coverage during the session. Consequently, my emphasis on it may be surprising, a departure from conventional commentaries that trumpet more tangible, publicly appealing, and media friendly accomplishments. Yet, this measure in my estimation represents a significant pivot point in the future of Hawaii.
House Bill No. 1038 comprehensively reforms the public employees' retirement system benefit, contribution, and service provisions for public employees hired after June 30, 2012. HB 1038 has immediate beneficial impacts, resulting in cost savings to public employers of $54 million in fiscal year 2011-12 and $92 million in fiscal year 2012-13. More importantly, HB 1038 is intended to limit future increases of public employer contributions for the system and prevent such contributions from assuming greater and greater portions of the State's and counties' operating budgets. Because of the bill, Hawaii should be able to avoid public employee pension crises such as those currently experienced by California and other states. Future taxpayers will gain the most benefit from HB 1038, a far reaching piece of legislation.
The most credit for passage of HB 1038 should go to the Employees' Retirement System Board of Trustees and Executive Director, who initiated the measure, and Governor Abercrombie who fully supported it.
Beginning Co-Equal Priorities
The main substance of this commentary is the Legislature's actions toward achieving the two co-equal priorities I had submitted to you before the 2011 session convened.
One priority is to maintain the economic recovery and job growth. The other priority is to pass a balanced state budget that funds essential public health, safety, and education services without a general excise tax increase and without another mass state employee layoff. As of this writing, the State faces a budget gap of between $800 and $900 million over this and the next two fiscal years.
The Legislature was successful in achieving the latter priority, but less so regarding the first. The primary reason for the difference in success was the reality of the state budget crisis, which worsened as the session progressed. The lack of available revenues prevented the Legislature from funding tax credits or employment programs needed for immediate job opportunities.1
Balancing the Budget -- Balanced Approach
After session began, the commonly acknowledged general fund budget shortfall was estimated to be a little more than $800 million over three years. The shortfall was based on the Council on Revenues general revenue projection of December 29, 2010. Subsequent projections, however, substantially lowered the anticipated revenue, resulting in an exacerbation of the shortfall by another $500+ million.2
Faced with a $1.3 billion general fund shortfall in late March/early April, the Legislature took a balanced approach to resolving the problem.
First, to address the immediate shortfall of about $200 million in this current fiscal year 2010-11, the Legislature transferred $16 million from non-general funds to the general fund, appropriated $40 million in rainy day funds and $42 million in hurricane relief funds, and authorized the Governor to utilize another $75 in hurricane relief funds if necessary. Those legislative actions, along with restrictions and contract cancellations by the Administration, were deemed sufficient to resolve the problem for this current fiscal year.
Next, for the fiscal biennium 2011-13, the Legislature both reduced appropriations and raised revenues, the same balanced approach taken during the past two years. Requested appropriations were reduced by about $618 million. Revenue enhancements, such as tax exemption suspensions, tax deduction limitations, fee increases, and non-general fund transfers, totaled about $660 million.3 In general, the revenue enhancement measures were focused on generating revenue from higher-income persons, visitors, and special interests.
The Legislature acted responsibly, avoiding the positions advocated by extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. Contrary to what some may believe, the Legislature did not solely raise taxes to balance the budget. Nor did the Legislature rely solely on spending cuts that would have decimated public services. Neither did the Legislature resort to tax refund delays to "kick the budget can" down the road as was done by the past Administration.
I am confident that the state budget passed by the Legislature does indeed fund essential public health, safety, and education services.
Obviously, the Legislature would have liked to appropriate more funds for lower and higher education, social services, economic development, and other worthwhile public services. Doing so, however, would have required the raising of substantial taxes, resulting in diverting more capital from the private sector than conducive to economic recovery.
Absence of General Excise Tax Rate Increase/Suspension of Certain General Excise Tax Exemptions
Very important from my perspective, the Legislature was able to balance the state budget without a general excise tax rate increase.
As the major revenue generating alternative to such a rate increase, the Legislature passed SB 754. The bill suspends the general excise tax exemptions for certain persons and activities for two years. Basically, SB 754 promotes fairness and raises revenue in a manner less detrimental to the economy than a general excise tax rate increase.4
Absence of Pension Tax
The state budget also was balanced without imposing a tax on pensions, one of the revenue enhancement options initially proposed by the Administration.
The House did pass a bill imposing a tax on the pensions of higher-income taxpayers exclusively. It, however, failed in the Senate. Under the bill, the pension of only the following would have been taxed:
(1) A married person filing jointly with an income of $200,000 or more;
(2) A head of household with an income of $150,000 or more; or
(3) A person filing an individual return with an income of $100,000 or more.
Persons with less than those income levels would not have been taxed. This point was not adequately communicated by the media.
Despite unfair criticism, I believe that the House took the right course and displayed political courage in considering and fully discussing the issue.5
Economic Recovery and Jobs
To achieve the priority of immediate job growth, I had introduced bills to provide tax credits for new employees, curtail business tax deductions not directly related to employment, and utilize temporarily special funds for public service employment programs (such as using the legacy land special fund for conservation employment rather than property purchases). None of those bills passed, however, because the state funds necessary for the programs had to be channeled instead to balance the budget.
Nevertheless, the Legislature did lay the groundwork for continuing economic recovery.
At the initiation of the Governor, the Legislature in HB 200 appropriated $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011-12 and $1.0 billion in fiscal year 2012-13 for capital improvement projects. The appropriations will serve the dual purposes of improving infrastructure and providing jobs.6
Much was accomplished for the promotion of renewable energy, an area promising for economic development and necessary for reducing the export of dollars for fossil fuel purchases.7 For example, SB 1347 permits the spreading of renewable energy costs among a public utility's affiliates and ratepayers. Although the bill did not receive as much attention as SB 367, the undersea cable bill (which failed), SB 1347 has the potential for accelerating renewable energy development, particularly on the neighbor islands.
The Legislature also passed HB 1342, which provides for expediting of permits for broadband infrastructure, and HB 677, which requires the establishment of a food safety and security program for local farmers to enable sale of their produce. Both, hopefully, will set foundations for the telecommunication and agriculture industries to evolve and grow.
Governor Abercrombie's Leadership
Finally, I would like to acknowledge Governor Abercrombie for his leadership during the session. He was in the forefront, leading the effort to resolve the budget crisis and enact structural fringe benefit and tax reforms. Although he has been criticized by some for lack of success, I would disagree. By personal example, he showed courage and fortitude in attempting to achieve an ambitious agenda. To me, there is much more worth in a person who tries to reach many difficult goals, thereby heightening the risk of failure, rather than one who espouses few "easy" goals, thereby ensuring a pale "success". Governor Abercrombie, with his "New Day" leadership, is clearly the former.
About the Author: Representative Calvin K.Y. Say currently serves as the Speaker of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. Speaker Say is the first Chinese-American to serve as a Chamber Speaker.
Elected President of the National Speaker's Conference by his House (Assembly) Speaker colleagues across the nation in 1999, Speaker Say is now a senior member of the organization, and is nationally recognized as an expert on State budget issues and fiscal challenges.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
The opinion below by Rep. Rida Cabanilla appeared in this morning's Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
I agree that public housing projects, such as Mayor Wright Homes, have lapsed into disrepair. The current situation must not and cannot be permitted to continue ("State owes Mayor Wright tenants," Our View, Star-Advertiser, April 25). However, the state Legislature is not to blame. For the past six years under the Lingle administration, there was no oversight and accountability of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA), which is responsible for the maintenance of public housing.
HPHA has consistently operated in violation of HRS 356D-43, which mandates that HPHA establish a rate of rent that will generate sufficient revenue to "pay all expenses of management, operation, and maintenance … to the end that the state low-income housing projects shall be and always remain self-supporting." It is because of severe mismanagement and non-conformity to the law that public housing projects are in the poor condition they are in now.
When HPHA was created in 2005, it was given powers to create rules necessary for the management and maintenance of its properties. While HPHA has made rules for these purposes, clearly these rules are not adequate. Its rules concerning the eviction process are so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to evict persons from public housing even when it is reasonably warranted. Furthermore, HPHA charges such a minuscule amount for rent that the state Legislature has been forced every year to appropriate millions of dollars to bail out and subsidize HPHA at the expense of taxpayers.
For fiscal year 2011, rental rates are projected to cover only 43 percent of operating expenses when state law mandates that it cover 100 percent of expenses — and this is not even including other financial obligations as noted in HRS 356D-43. At least 54 percent of tenants pay less than $300 per month for rent with utilities included. Further compounding this, some tenants refuse to pay their rent, resulting in $1.44 million owed in back rent and interest charges as of December.
The House Housing Committee has passed many bills that have tried to remedy this situation. However, HPHA has staunchly opposed every single one, blocking every single attempt to find a resolution. In the 2010 session, House Bill 2319 would have set a five-year residency limit in state-owned public housing in order to prevent individuals from being permanently dependent on what is intended to be temporary help.
Among bills this session, HB 231 would have established a two-year pilot program providing security for Mayor Wright Homes; HB 754 would have set a minimum $300 rent to help provide sufficient revenues to cover operations and maintenance of public housing; and HB 755 and HB 1573 would have simplified the eviction process. All these would have helped significantly, and I find it incredibly unconscionable, especially considering the dire situation that public housing projects are in, for HPHA to claim that this "determination of policy … is soundly within the board's purview" and that the Legislature should not intervene.
The House Housing Committee has tried for years to help HPHA and provide avenues to help rectify issues. Policies set forth by HPHA need to improve and HPHA must conform to state law. Furthermore, systemic issues are significantly exacerbating the gross ineffectiveness of HPHA and it must be addressed by the governor and HPHA's board. It is long overdue for HPHA to get its act together and long overdue for its board and the governor to ensure that it does so.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
That's what people are calling Hawaii's law on mortgage foreclosures after the Governor signed SB651 today.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
New law increases freight fees to fund fight against invasive species
Governor Neil Abercrombie today signed House Bill 865 into law – a bill that increases the fee on the net weight of imported freight in order to strengthen the state's invasive species programs, including the improvement of inspections at airports and harbors.
The new law increases the fee from 50-cents to 75-cents for every 1,000 pounds of freight, or part thereof, brought into the state. The legislature determined that, due to insufficient funds, the state is unable to adequately inspect imports that may contain prohibited items and to stop the spread of invasive species throughout Hawaii. The increased funding will go toward programs on the inspection, quarantine and eradication of invasive species.
"Hawaii does not have adequate resources to fight invasive species, and this new law will help provide the funds needed by our state agencies," said Rep. Clift Tsuji, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee. "The threat of invasive species to our environment has become very serious. If we don't increase our inspection and eradication activities, our natural environment will rapidly deteriorate. This is an important bill because the spread of pests like the coqui frog and others will negatively impact our economy and quality of life."
The bill takes effect immediately upon approval.