Taking advantage of a required five-day recess in the current legislative session, State Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. George Fontaine met with South Maui constituents to share information on legislative initiatives and plans for the remaining weeks of the session.
The meeting was held on the Lipoa campus of the Kihei Charter School, on Saturday morning, Feb. 25.
Opening the meeting to questions, Rep. Fontaine spoke about House Bill 2760. If passed, the new law will have statewide impact and prohibit the use of mopeds in bicycle lanes and bicycle paths. It will also prohibit operating a motor vehicle or commercial motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device.
State Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. George Fontaine discuss pending legislative matters prior to convening their joint community legislative update meeting held on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Lipoa Street campus of the Kihei Charter School.
Sen. Baker noted that there is a new legislative Website that increases the ability for voters to comment on legislation before the House and Senate, and outlines how bills can be tracked, including reviewing testimony. The new site can be accessed at www.capitol.hawaii.gov.
Rep. Fontaine and Sen. Baker also reported on the pending film tax credit legislation, HB1758. Its goal is to promote TV production in the state. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the Senate.
HB1758 authorizes the director of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to issue revenue bonds for qualified media infrastructure projects. It creates a special fund for disbursement of funds. It requires matching funds and post-audits.
On March 6, the House passed the bill on its third and final reading, and it was transmitted to the Senate for consideration. The companion bill in the Senate, SB2043, is currently on hold.
But, it was after the generally genial opening that the meeting opened up to voter frustrations and concerns.
"I am disgusted with MECO [Maui Electric Company] putting 70-foot metal power lines down Pi'ilani Highway and the PUC [Public Utilities Commission] seems asleep at the switch," said Kihei resident Duane Chang.
"I agree with you on those poles," Sen. Baker responded. "Those 70-foot metal poles should not go along the highway. I agree with you," she insisted.
Rep. Fontaine added," When it comes to MECO, I have a problem, because we pay a 100 percent fuel subsidy to the company, and then we pay an additional subsidy when they want to do an infrastructure upgrade."
On another contentious topic, Janelle Tryggestad of Kihei challenged Sen. Baker and Rep. Fontaine regarding the need for new legislation to ensure Transient Vacation Rentals (TVRs) are paying their Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) and the General Excise Tax (GET).
Referring to SB2089 Tryggestad said, "When it comes to payment of GET and TAT, 90 percent of TVRs are complying. Ten percent don't. The legislation would add to the cost of vacation rentals."
Rep. Fontaine told Tryggestad that the legislation on TVRs had died in the House.
Sen. Baker said she was seeking balance and "trying to come up with something that acknowledges people who dutifully pay their taxes. Don't want to beat up on the guys who are complying. It may not work out and die a quiet death. We will hear SB2089 on Tuesday and make a decision then or Wednesday."
On Feb. 29, the Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection passed SB2089 legislation (with amendments). Sen. Baker voted to pass the bill. The full Senate adopted the legislation on Tuesday, March 6, and transmitted the bill to the House, keeping the issue alive.
The next topic was the status of the Kihei High School. Andrew Beerer of the Kihei High School Action Team raised questions about the location and the lack of construction funding, even though the land has been purchased.
Sen. Baker said she had gotten $32 million for the school over the years, but that $20 million had expired because it was not released by the state.
Rep. Fontaine said, "The county won't give us a guarantee of water. No developer will even look at it without water."
Cheryl Zarro was adamant when telling Sen. Baker, "What are you doing about helping the charter schools? We have 250 high school students in Kihei right now. Students are not being served by the public schools. What is being done to help charter schools? You're talking about a Kihei high school. There is a Kihei High School, and students are being educated right now."
Sen. Baker responded strongly: "We are all very supportive, but because of the way charters are organized, it makes it tough. We are going to try and get facilities for the Kihei Charter School."
Other issues raised with the legislators included alleged failures of the Department of Education, the impact on the housing market of foreclosure legislation passed in the last session, high gas prices and charges of gouging at the pump, protection for victims of sexual violence and watershed protection.
It was, as Sen. Baker said afterwards, "A lively meeting."