Hospitals privatizing bill makes transition to House

A Senate bill to transfer state public hospitals to a private nonprofit has crossed over to the state House of Representatives, keeping it alive this lawmaking session.

Senate Bill 3064 needs more work, however, as indicated by the current bill’s effective date of July 1, 2050.

When asked about the measure’s date, West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker said it’s an indication that the committee, in this case the Senate Ways and Means Committee, believes that the bill requires further discussion “so the bill could not just pass final reading without further consideration.”

“It’s a favorite tactic to signal that the measure is a ‘work in progress,’ ” said Baker, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and is vice chairwoman of the Health Committee.

Advocates of the transfer of public hospitals from the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., including Maui Memorial Medical Center, to a private nonprofit want lawmakers to remove a provision of the bill that would limit the nonprofit entities to those incorporated in Hawaii before Jan. 1, 2000.

Proponents also want language added to the legislation to provide for regional decision-making, an assurance of continued patient access to quality services and a provision that any public-private partnership would provide fair and competitive wages and benefits for hospital staff.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association opposes the bill because it doesn’t provide for collective bargaining and doesn’t have long-term assurances that communities will continue to receive needed health care services.

Department of Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young has expressed support for the general intent of the bill but maintained concern about how it would be implemented, impact the state’s general fund and resolve questions of the state’s responsibility to meet employee obligations under collective bargaining contracts.

Proponents of transferring health facilities to a private entity argue that the move would reduce public hospitals’ dependence on government subsidies, provide greater access to quality health care, lower costs and gain access to private capital. More money would help address facility repairs, maintenance and upgrades; create efficiencies of scale and increased resources; enhance information technology infrastructure; and offer private-sector compensation packages to attract and retain qualified medical personnel.

Last year, a bill to allow public-private partnership options for the state’s community hospitals failed to pass in the Legislature after it ran into stiff opposition from public employee unions.

Thursday is the deadline for bills to cross over to the nonoriginating legislative body. Bills failing to cross over are dead for this lawmaking session.

Other bills of interest to Maui County residents that have met the crossover deadline include:

* House Bill 1671, which would remove a $93 million cap on transient accommodations tax revenue to be distributed to the counties and to establish that 44.8 percent of hotel room tax revenue go to the counties. Of that amount, Maui County would get 22.8 percent; the City and County of Honolulu, 44.1 percent; Hawaii County, 18.6 percent; and Kauai County, 14.5 percent. Maui County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa submitted written testimony in favor of the bill, estimating that approximately $72 million in hotel tax revenue would return to the counties, which would use the money to “provide services and infrastructure investments necessary for our state to maintain its competitive edge over other travel destinations and continue to attract visitors.” Baisa pointed out that the cap on room tax money to the counties was implemented as a temporary measure to help the state with its budget shortfall.

* House Bill 2101, which would authorize that a portion of state conveyance tax revenue would be used to replenish the Kahoolawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund, which is forecast to be depleted in 2016. Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission Executive Director Michael Naho’opi’i testified in favor of the bill, saying it would provide permanent state statutory funding for the restoration of Kahoolawe and continue “the dreams of the people that fought for the return of Kahoolawe.”

* Senate Bill 2343, which would appropriate funding for invasive species prevention, control, outreach, research and planning. The measure has drawn the attention of lawmakers after the discovery late last year that the stinging little fire ant had made its way from the Big Island to Maui and Oahu. A companion bill, House Bill 1716, passed the House and was transmitted to the Senate.

* House Bill 2213, which would authorize the issuance of special purpose revenue bonds to assist the proposed West Maui Hospital and Medical Center Foundation in establishing a hospital in West Maui.

* Senate Bill 2728, which would clarify that the designation of a public trail would be provided by law. The measure has drawn fire from the Public Access Trails Hawai’i group, which has argued that the bill would negatively impact its dispute with Haleakala Ranch over public access to the 3.3-mile Haleakala Trail, also known as the Haleakala Bridle Trail. The current bill has been amended to have an effective date of July 1, 2050, “to facilitate further discussion on the measure,” according to a Senate Ways and Means Committee report.

* House Bill 1728, which would specify that a government agency does not assume ownership or jurisdiction over a disputed road solely through maintenance or repairs. The measure also authorizes quitclaim ownership of roads in favor of the counties.

* House Bill 1651, which would require retailers to collect taxes on Internet sales transactions. Upcountry Rep. Kyle Yamashita, a Democrat, said that as the Internet becomes more popular the state has to adapt with the times, and the state needs to figure out how to maintain its revenues. Republican Rep. Gene Ward was among nine House members to oppose the bill. He said Hawaii residents should not need to pay more in taxes to get what they need.

Bills that do not appear headed for passage include Senate Bill 2962, which would allow County Council members to jointly attend any meetings or presentations without violating the state’s Sunshine Law, as long as the gathering was open to the public. The measure was opposed by open government advocates and supported by members of the Maui County Council.

House Bill 325, introduced by South Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing, to prohibit smoking at all public beaches was deferred in committee Feb. 7.

Hundreds of bills made their way through the House and the Senate chambers Tuesday, a deadline to post bills 48 hours before Thursday’s crossover deadline. The Senate alone passed more than 300 bills.

The Senate approved a bill to make the ukulele the state instrument, although there was some debate among senators who favored the steel guitar. The Senate also passed bills that would ban flavored tobacco products and that would establish an environmental court.

Sen. Sam Slom, the Senate’s only Republican, opposed a bill to create a state-level position to help prevent people from falling down. “I’m going to go no on this bill,” he said on the floor. “The idea of a fall coordinator, I was getting a little woozy.”

Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland responded that falls are a leading cause of hospitalization and fatalities in Hawaii and cost $95 million annually. The measure passed.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Brian Perry can be reached at