Mahalo to the Maui Weekly for giving me this monthly column to report and update you on important legislative matters. I look forward to sharing information about the current issues we’re working on at the state Legislature.
As always, I welcome your suggestions and comments. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com or call my office toll-free ay 984-2400, ext. 66070#.
2011 Legislature convenes
Straight Talk from the Capitol
Senator Roz Baker · 5th District South & West Maui
The 26th Legislature recently convened and confirmed Shan Tsutsui as our Senate president, the youngest member to lead the Senate and the first from Maui. Other interesting Senate facts: Seven new senators were sworn in; one-third of the Senate are women; only one of the members is Republican.
Your Maui Senate delegation is well positioned to advocate for our constituents. I have the privilege of chairing the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and sit on three other committees: Health; Economic Development and Technology; and Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs. Fellow Maui Sen. J. Kalani English chairs the Transportation and International Affairs committee and sits on Ways and Means, Hawaiian Affairs, and Energy and Environment committees.
Currently, I’m working with constituents and colleagues on three key consumer protection initiatives:
The first initiative addresses the need for more consumer protection and lender accountability in the mortgage foreclosure process. We also want to increase credit counseling services and assist condo/homeowner associations in recovering unpaid common area maintenance fees. Because foreclosure issues continue to affect far too many of our neighbors, I’ll be introducing a package of bills to address the crisis.
Many of the unscrupulous practices in this industry did not come to light until after the 2010 Legislature had adjourned. However, the Legislature passed Act 163 to create a Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force to help us develop a plan of action.
On Friday, Jan. 28, the Task Force will present its findings and recommendations to the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee (CPN). In February, the committee will hold hearings on the bills generated from the Task Force and others on this topic. For more information, you can view the Task Force’s report at http://hawaii.gov/dcca/ocp/reports/Mortgage_Task_Force_report.pdf.
Public Utilities Commission (PUC)
Our second initiative aims to improve the efficiency and operations of the Public Utilities Commission. A recent informational briefing of the CPN committee raised concerns about the PUC’s decision-making process on services and impacts to neighbor island communities. I have introduced two bills to address these matters.
The third major area involves access to healthcare and implementation of the healthcare reform law. We are working toward establishing a framework for Hawai‘i’s Health Insurance Exchange to provide additional insurance options to individual consumers and small business owners. The goal is to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014. Massachusetts and Utah already have functioning insurance exchanges and we are learning from their efforts. I believe this should be a nonprofit quasi-public entity, rate-regulated and overseen by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner like other health plans, but not in itself, a government agency.
Our CPN committee should be very busy this session with insurance, professional/vocational licensing matters and consumer protection issues. We’ll also be conducting confirmation hearings on several gubernatorial appointees, including the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs director, Insurance Commissioner and a recent vacancy on the PUC.
Kīhei High on track for 2015
Several constituents have emailed to ask me about the development status of Kīhei High School. According to Randy Moore, assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services, our high school is on track to welcome its first class in August 2015.
The campus will be situated on 77-plus acres above Pi‘ilani Highway near the Kūlanihāko‘i Street intersection. It will be designed in accordance with the Hawai‘i High Performance School Guidelines to meet or exceed LEED silver-level certification.
Initially, the school will be built to accommodate 800 students but it will have the design capacity to enroll 1,650 students. The project will use a design/build method and Department of Education will develop and issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to identify potential design/build contractors.
Please consider becoming a part of the legislative process by submitting your comments on bills scheduled for hearing. Go to the Legislature’s Website (www.capitol.hawaii.gov) to follow the progress of bills, find our legislative timetable, community updates, project news and more.
You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter @rozbaker or my Capitol Web page.