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Read House Speaker Saiki's opening remarks for the 2023 legislative session

Scott Saiki opening 011823.JPG
Sophia McCullough
/
HPR
House Speaker Scott Saiki delivers his opening remarks at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.

The 32nd Legislative Session began at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.

House Speaker Scott Saiki stood before both newly-elected and long-time legislators on Wednesday to outline the issues he would like representatives to work on over the next four months.

Read Saiki's full speech below, as written before the address.

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SCOTT SAIKI: Thank you to Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra for the pre-program music, Miss Kawaipomaika'i Kahaloa for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Major Jared Sproat, Hawaiʻi Air Guard, National Anthem and Hawai'i Pono'i.

Please join me in thanks and acknowledgment to the community leaders who are cultural practitioners, for setting the ground for us in chant and prayer at the start of today’s proceedings: Dr. Punihei Lipe – ʻOli and Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson – Invocation

And please join me in thanking the Makaha Sons for being here today.

Please welcome my wife, Patsy Saiki, and my parents watching online.

Members of the Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly, members of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly.

Please hold your applause

Aloha! Aloha kākou, aloha to all of us. Welcome and thank you for attending our first open Opening Day in three years.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris West, President of ILWU Local 142, said something to me that is spot on today.

He said, “It’s cool to have Hawai’i back.” I know we all agree with Chris. Let’s give everyone here a round of applause for making it through the pandemic. We celebrate this moment and are happy to see so many familiar faces and many new faces.

Today, we are joined by 16 new House members. This is our largest freshmen class in 28 years. I would like to briefly introduce 12 of them, and Representative Lauren Matsumoto will introduce the remaining 4.

Please stand when I call on you:

  • Representative Kirstin Kahaloa (District 6) – a Native Hawaiian woman, mother, paddler, nonprofit manager, and someone who originally left Hawai'i for 14 years and almost did not return, but did so to make her community and state a better place to live.
  • Representative Terez Amato (District 11) – known as "Tamato", she grew up on Maui, is an advocate who eagerly overcomes obstacles and challenges, and views this role as an opportunity of a lifetime.
  • Representative Mahina Poepoe (District 13) – born and raised on Molokai, she is a Native Hawaiian woman who is passionate about aloha 'aina and seeks to bring this intention to government.
  • Representative Elle Cochran (District 14) – is a surfer, previously lived off the grid, a floral arranger, passionate about regenerative agriculture, and will work to ensure the voice of her community is heard in the State House.
  • Representative Andrew Garrett (District 22) – born and raised in Kanagawa, Japan, a former Cabinet member, married to my law school classmate, Patti, he wants to ensure that his two daughters and all the families will have opportunities to thrive here in Hawaiʻi.
  • Representative Jenna Takenouchi (District 27) – a problem solver who thrives in absorbing information, has a background in library and information sciences, and is a trivia expert.
  • Representative Micah Aiu (District 32) – an attorney and volleyball coach who makes history as the first mother/son team serving concurrently in the House and Senate, and who wants to make Hawaiʻi a better place to live.
  • Representative Cory Chun (District 35) – began service as a member of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board and whose entire family – his wife and two children – have names that begin with the letter "C".
  • Representative Rachele Lamosao (District 36) – a mother, lifelong Waipahu resident, proud Marauder, she is the youngest female Waipahu representative elected thus far and wants to create a better future for her son, Waipahu and Hawaiʻi.
  • Representative Rose Martinez (District 40) – The Dean of the Freshman Class, has a never quit and "can do" attitude whose lifelong passion and purpose is to serve her community and make a positive difference for the State.
  • Representative Darius Kila (District 44) – the son of Stephen Kila Jr. and Heide Kila, grandson of grandma Leslie, and a proud Hawaiian and diehard Taylor Swift fan, Kapolei high school and collegiate football player, and the tallest member of the Legislature.
  • Representative Natalia Hussey-Burdick (District 50) – a former server who fosters stray kittens, who fell in love with the legislative process, and not afraid to take on our toughest challenges, brings so much enthusiasm to the House.

And I would also like to introduce our sophomore members who were elected two years ago during the pandemic shutdown and whose opening day the past two years have not been open.

  • Representative Greggor Ilagan (District 4)
  • Representative Jeanne Kapela (District 5)
  • Representative Jackson Sayama (District 21)
  • Representative Adrian Tam (District 24)
  • Representative Sonny Ganaden (District 30)
  • Representative Lisa Marten (District 51)

As you know, the past three years impacted everyone in our community: stay-at-home parents instantly became homeroom teachers, students could no longer have daily interactions with other students, employees faced fiscal uncertainty, employers faced business uncertainty, individuals and communities already at a disadvantage when times are good carried even more hardships, families lost loved ones, including the recent loss of community members and leaders and our health care professionals and first responders worked tirelessly through it all.

As we return, we know that the lessons and inspirations of meeting difficult challenges will always be with us. Every crisis, if met together with resilience and resolve, brings new lessons and a chance to improve.

In the face of adversity, this House rejected business as usual and arose in action and inquiry in unconventional ways.

We asked the community to work with us in ways that were outside the box to better understand conditions and aspirations, and to produce results.

There are a few groups here today whose work continues to be felt. The first are the chairs who ran our House committees during the pandemic shutdown and in doing so, each took on specific initiatives to manage the problems we were facing.

Could all the committee chairs who served during the pandemic please stand to be recognized.

The second group is the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness that the House formed in March 2020. The committee included leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors and it protected public health and our economy by developing reopening protocols; creating mass vaccination centers and providing timely data to the public.

Several members from our COVID-19 committee are with us today:

  • Peter Ho
  • Dr. Mark Mugiishi
  • Elliot Mills
  • Na'alehu Anthony
  • Pamela Tumpap
  • Tina Yamaki
  • Sheryl Matsuoka
  • Sherry Menor-McNamara
  • Su Shin

Please stand to be recognized.
The third group is the House’s Maunakea Working Group that met for a year and a half to propose a new governance structure for Maunakea.

The proposal is now law, and is being implemented. Simply put, this group is showing us how we can resolve conflict in our state. Several working group members are here today:

  • Dr. Noe Noe Wong Wilson
  • Rich Matsuda
  • Brialyn Onodera
  • Shane Palacat-Nelsen
  • Jocelyn Leialoha Doane
  • Dr. Lui Hokoana
  • Joshua Lanakila Mangauil
  • Kaiu Kimura
  • Mahina Paishon Duarte
  • Sterling Wong

Please stand to be recognized.
Sometimes through adversity, we are reminded that we should be better. Without public trust, we cannot lead. All of us need to rise to the highest expectations, and standards of conduct help set the way.

Last year, the House asked Judge Dan Foley to chair the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct and to make recommendations how standards can be improved.

This House takes reset and reform seriously and will take up the recommendations in earnest this session.

Judge Foley is here with us today along with another member, former U.S. Attorney Flo Nakakuni. Please stand to be recognized.

COVID challenged us, but we learned and adapted throughout. The pandemic taught us that if we don’t meet challenges directly and timely they will only grow larger, more difficult, and more divisive. It’s time to take those lessons and incorporate them into our work.

Our first step was our decision to continue the hybrid legislative environment allowing in-person and remote testimony from the public. But we are not done.

Father Damien. 150 years ago in 1873, a 33-year-old Catholic priest from Belgium arrived in our islands, volunteering to serve a spare and forgotten settlement at Kalaupapa.

There was not much there except for great need and the sick caring for the very sick. Father Damien and the sisters built shelters, established a reliable water supply, nursed the sick and welcomed patients as human beings into the community as best as they could become. He labored until his death in 1889, demonstrating courage, resolve and resilience.

Today we have far more resources, infrastructure and authority than Father Damien. But — will we have his courage, resolve and resilience ?

While we will undoubtedly deal with many issues, as every other legislature in the U.S. will do this year, we have an opportunity and the resources to focus on unresolved issues that often seem insurmountable. Here are a few examples.

1. Financial relief for Hawaii residents. We need to continue to build on the progress of prior legislators to target relief for middle and lower-income families. One potential reform is to adjust the earned income tax credit, which provides comprehensive relief for 108,000 Hawaiʻi households.

2. Renewable energy. The Legislature set the year 2045 as the deadline for our 100% renewable energy mandate. A $200 million dollar investment for low interest pay as you go loans for low and moderate income ALICE families would allow up to 7,600 households to install solar battery systems, resulting in lower utility bills and preventing the emission of 767,000 metric tons of greenhouses gases over the lifetime of their systems.

3. Hawaiian Homelands. Last year, the Legislature made a concerted decision to reduce the waitlist. We will work with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to ensure there is a strategic and common sense plan to leverage and maximize the $600 million infusion.

4. Mental Health. The gaps in our mental health system can be seen as we walk and drive through our communities. The pandemic has exacerbated the demand for mental health services. We will work with our mental health partners, the Judiciary and the Department of Health to identify, treat and support these members of our community.

5. Housing. We will add another $300 million to finance affordable housing projects, to meet the housing demand for lower-income groups.

6. State parks and trails. Visitors should pay fees to maintain our state parks, trails and other venues. We should create a statewide visitor reservation and payment system, make major investments to repair or restore our state parks, ocean resources, and forests and harness the enthusiasm and physical strength of community organizations to maintain parks and trails.

7. Red Hill. When it comes to the current state of our environment, no issue presents more of an existential challenge than the purity and well-being of our water. The House will reauthorize a Special Committee for Red Hill and the Aquifer, for accountability as well as to formulate a state and local coordinated policy as we step into the stewardship of this most precious resource that feeds this entire island, our people, businesses and future.

In all of these areas, we open this session pledging resolve and fresh perspectives.

And let me mention one other thing. The Sesame Street playbook.

The Sesame Street word of the day is: "cooperation."

Cooperation is the process of working together toward the same ends.

In order for Hawaiʻi to be successful, we must all endeavor to be in cooperation with each other. And we should routinely challenge ourselves to serve as Father Damien did and would ask us to do with courage, resilience and resolve.

Speaking of cooperation, as you know, there have been some media reports speculating on the relationship between the Legislature and the Governor.

So let me be clear.

The House will work with Governor Green and his team in good faith and in a positive manner so that we can solve problems and bring results to Hawaiʻi residents.

Governor Green, please stand and be recognized.

The year 2023 is a challenge and opportunity for all of us – freshmen with enthusiasm and energy, sophomore members with the benefit of fresh perspectives on existing issues; and veterans with institutional and experiential knowledge.

Let’s resolve to face and deal with problems, together, with and for the community. Let’s be resilient in the face of adverse conditions. Let’s have the courage to make this time and labor count, for all.

And maybe we should routinely ask of ourselves:

“What would Father Damien do?”

Thank you and let's have a productive session.

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