Counties received mixed blessings in legislative session
The 2014 state legislative session ended last week, and we were once again reminded that success at the Capitol never comes easily.
Just a few minutes before the deadline for agreement, a House-Senate conference committee announced passage of a bill that would increase distribution of transient accommodations tax revenue to the counties by $10 million in each of the two upcoming fiscal years.
Based on current projections, instead of $21.2 million, Maui County may now receive $23.5 million in fiscal year 2015.
While county officials and those who rely on county services were pleased the legislation beat the deadline, the level of revenue distribution falls short of fairness.
The state continues to hold on to millions of dollars in revenue from hotel room taxes that should be returned to the counties, which earn the money by providing countless services supporting the visitor industry.
Mayors and council members throughout Hawaii sought removal of the TAT distribution cap, imposed three years ago. That would have resulted in a minimum of $72 million in additional revenue being returned to the counties each year.
The counties now have state legislators’ attention after proving we can work together and mount a unified effort. I’m sure the counties will be back with even more strength and determination next January for the start of the 2015 session, again seeking a fair share of TAT revenue.
I testified in support of several other bills that have advanced to the end of the session.
House Bill 849 clarifies the independent authority of county civil defense officials during emergencies. This would allow for more efficient emergency management.
Legal immunity for county lifeguards is to be extended for three years under House Bill 1024. The Hawaii State Association of Counties sought permanent extension of the liability protection, which has been in place for a decade and is benefitting the public.
A bill to amend the Sunshine Law and grant council members the ability to attend community association meetings and similar public events was passed with amendments suggested by the Office of Information Practices. Legal staff is still analyzing the amended legislation, but I’m hoping it will facilitate elected officials’ accessibility to their constituents.
Legislators also approved funding for a West Maui hospital. A total of $50 million is to be allocated from special purpose revenue bonds.
House Bill 2560 permits family child care homes in agriculture-designated districts for up to six children. Families living in ag districts will save time and money if qualified child care homes are permitted in their communities.
Eight new positions are to be allotted to the Department of Agriculture under Senate Bill 2110. These employees would supplement the work of ag inspectors and provide educational outreach to create a better understanding of pesticide use and misuse.
If you would like to join me in urging Gov. Abercrombie to sign these bills, please contact him at governor.hawaii.gov.
I want to thank our legislators and their staff members for listening to the counties and providing information and assistance to the council staff throughout session. I also want to thank my colleagues on the Maui County Council, Mayor Arakawa and the mayors and council members from the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii County and Kauai County.
Longtime observers said they’ve never seen the counties so united. We’ll try to keep that momentum going as we convene for the annual Hawaii State Association of Counties conference next month in Honolulu.
A hui hou.
* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council and holds the council’s Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua area residency seat. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.