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2023 legislative session in memoriam: visitor fee, recreational pot, midwifery

FILE - The Father Damien Statue welcomes visitors to the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.
Sophia McCullough
FILE - The Father Damien Statue welcomes visitors to the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Jan. 18, 2023.

A little more than 3,100 bills were introduced this session, and by Wednesday, 171 measures had passed through both chambers.

More will pass Thursday as lawmakers prepare to close out the 32nd Legislature.

Earlier on in the session, memorable bills that died included ones to legalize recreational marijuana and a controversial midwifery licensure bill.

Close to 200 bills met their end in the 11th hour during conference committee last week.

"It was definitely a bit of a disappointing year because a lot of bills died in conference, and we are still trying to do the post-mortem on exactly why that happened," Rep. Nicole Lowen said in a Wednesday interview. "But did pass a couple good energy efficiency measures."

Lowen chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee. Notably, one bill will add new requirements on the state's existing appliance standards to increase both water and energy efficiencies. Another measure will phase out the sale of mercury-containing lightbulbs as a way to divest the hazardous waste in the local environment.

"Energy efficiency is so important because as we move forward towards decarbonizing, a lot of decarbonization relies on electrification of things like transportation and buildings," Lowen explained.

Some bills she worked on that died this session included one to create a county cesspool pilot program, and one to expand electric vehicle infrastructure at new state properties.

"It’s frustrating you see these bills that are broadly supported," Lowen said. "We've worked on them with all the stakeholders, over the interim, and you go through all this session, and then things all fall apart during conference for a variety of reasons. But that happens some years, and we'll just have to come back next year and keep working on it."

A visitor fee was on the list of campaign promises from Gov. Josh Green, and a priority for both the state House of Representatives and Senate, but that also met an ill-fated end.

"We got our conference hearing in the morning and at that point, they shared that they had an intention to pass an implementation plan, which is still a step forward that would create a pathway to the green fee program, which is our goal," Carissa Cabrera, project manager of the Green Fee Coalition, said this week.

But Senate Bill 304 died after being reworked and not receiving funding.

It was a similar tale for a bill to publicly fund elections. Advocates like Evan Weber of Our Hawaiʻi pushed this measure to increase transparency in state government.

"By putting aside public funds through public financing of our elections, we could allow candidates to run competitive campaigns without having to rely on private funds," Weber said.

Under one plan, with $7.5 million, a clean elections program would increase eligibility for public campaign financing statewide.

The death of Senate Bill 1543 in conference committee shows why reform is needed, Weber said.

"That is the least transparent and allows for the least amount of public input, and basically, this entire culture of corruption that this bill is trying to cure and get rid of, this bill actually became a victim of," Weber said. "So it was quite ironic."

Other bills that died include one to establish an early childhood educator subsidy program to increase wages; a bill to cap charges on certain government records; and one to disband the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.

Catch up on past coverage from this session:

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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