By Wendy Osher
The Twenty-Sixth Legislative session opened today with limited focus on festivities, and a shortened ceremony.
The decision to scale back the opening day event was in response to continued slow economic recovery in Hawaii.
Presiding officers and caucus leaders offered their thoughts on the legislative session ahead, with senate concerns focused on job creation and creating a sustainable economy.
Senate President Shan Tsutsui said that despite budget woes, there were many accomplishments achieved in the past year including legislation to provide for the recognition of Native Hawaiian people.
“This law helps us to continue on what has been a long journey to obtain federal recognition and begin the process towards true reconciliation between the Native Hawaiian people and the government of the State of Hawaii and the United States,” said Sen. Pres. Tsutsui.
Also adopted was Act 48, a mortgage foreclosure measure aimed at ensuring the rights of the homeowner are upheld, and that they are afforded a fair and due process to deal with financial institutions.
Looking forward, Sen. Tsutsui said he expects that by the end of next week, the Senate will roll out a bipartisan initiative entitled “The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012.” He said it will aggressively address the backlog of repair and maintenance issues at public facilities throughout the state.
Under the measure, leaders plan to work with state departments and agencies to identify a collection of projects that are shovel and permit ready.
“This bill will have two primary objectives, one to aggressively cut into the State’s multibillion dollar deferred repair and maintenance backlog, and second would be to immediately create jobs for our local residents,” said Tsutsui.
Tsutsui said that as the Legislative body moves forward, the Senate has forged a stronger relationship with House leadership, an effort that has resulted in the reconvening of eight conference committees beginning today.
“This is the first time in at least a decade that an agreement like this has been reached,” said Sen. Pres. Tsutsui. “Through continued discussion, both House and Senate leaders also agree that investing in our state facilities while streamlining the process for repair and maintenance projects is not only necessary, but critical to providing a boost to our local economy.”
Meantime, Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom called it a “political, economic and cultural tipping point,” saying, “never before in history, have our decisions been as critical.”
Slom said he would not only oppose bad programs and bills, but bring attention to irresponsible waste. He acknowledged the majority’s decision to cut back on opening day festivities, but said, it diminishes the participation citizens have in government.
He said, “Certainly expenses must be cut back in the legislature, just as individuals, families, and small businesses have been doing for years–but not just for opening day.”
Sen. Slom also found fault with the removal of prayer from the legislature saying, “We hope that prayer will return to the senate this year, instead of placating a few individual activists in our community. If there is ever a time that God’s spiritual support and guidance is needed, it is during our legislative decision making,” he said.
In their opening remarks, both Majority and Minority leaders called for unity moving forward.
Sen. President Tsutsui said the theme this year is, “Pupukahi I Holomua” . . . “Unite to Move Forward.”
“Let this guide us as we begin this year’s session. During the interim, the Governor unveiled further focus to his New Day Plan. This included three main objectives—growing a sustainable economy, investing in people, and transforming government. This year, let us pledge our support to the Administration in its commitment to these objectives,” he said.
Meantime, Sen. Slom said every day in Hawaii is a New Day. He said, “It is time that we join together to make it a better day for all of Hawaii’s people.”