Aloha kakou. Mahalo to the Lahaina News for giving me this monthly column to report back to you on important legislative matters.
I welcome your suggestions and comments. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my office can be reached toll-free by dialing direct to 984-2400, extension 66070#. I look forward to sharing information with you about the issues we’re working on at the Legislature.
2011 LEGISLATURE CONVENES
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. Seven new senators were sworn in, one-third of the Senate are women and there is only one Republican member.
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.
Maui Sen. J. Kalani English chairs Transportation and International Affairs and sits on the Ways and Means, Hawaiian Affairs, and Energy and Environment committees. The Maui Senate delegation is well-positioned to advocate for our constituents.
I am working with my constituents and my colleagues on several initiatives. First is to address the need for more consumer protection and servicer accountability in the mortgage foreclosure process. We also want to increase credit counseling services and assist condo and homeowner associations recover unpaid common area maintenance fees. I’ll be introducing a package of bills to address the foreclosure crisis affecting far too many of our neighbors.
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 assist us in developing a plan of action. The task force will present its findings and recommendations to the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee (CPN) on Jan. 28. The committee will hold hearings on the bills generated from the task force and others on this topic in February.
The public can view the task force’s report at http://hawaii.gov/dcca/ocp/reports/Mortgage_Task_Force_report.pdf.
PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION
The second initiative is to improve the efficiency and operations of the Public Utilities Commission. The 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 I’m working on is access to healthcare and implementation of the healthcare reform law. We want to establish the framework for Hawaii’s Health Insurance Exchange to provide additional insurance options to individual consumers and small business owners. The exchange needs to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014. Massachusetts and Utah already have functioning insurance exchanges, and we will learn from their efforts. I believe it should be a nonprofit quasi-public entity, rate regulated and overseen by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner like other health plans but not a government agency.
I expect the CPN committee to be very busy this session with these and other insurance, professional/vocational licensing matters and consumer protection issues. The committee will also conduct confirmation hearings on several gubernatorial appointees, including the DCCA director, insurance commissioner and the recent vacancy on the PUC.
WEST MAUI HIGHLIGHTS
I am working with Rep. Angus McKelvey to secure funds for needed portable classrooms for Princess Nahienaena Elementary School to relieve overcrowding at King Kamehameha III School, planning and design funds for a new elementary school, and renovation funding for Lahainaluna High School’s boarders’ dorms as well as funding for their program.
We’ll also keep a sharp eye out to keep our Lahaina Bypass construction projects on target. A bill I’m reintroducing on behalf of the West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force is a part of the women legislators’ package. It prohibits discrimination against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence. We’ll also be looking at ways we can assist small businesses create jobs. It is also refreshing to be able to work collaboratively with the governor and his cabinet on many pressing matters. I look forward to sharing our progress with you.
You can participate in the legislative process by submitting your testimony 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 and lots more. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter @rozbaker or my member webpage on the Capitol website.
As always, I welcome your comments, ideas and views on any and all measures before us. A hui hou.