Counties preparing for the state legislative session

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

On Oct. 16, the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development, and Agriculture Committee recommended approval of the Hawaii State Association of Counties legislative package that will be introduced to the state Legislature in January.

Every year, HSAC, which represents the collective voice of the four county councils, develops proposals to further the interests of county government.

Bills in the package must be supported by all four county councils and, therefore, represent top priorities facing all counties.

One of the most important priorities is the reinstatement of limited liability protections for lifeguards.

In the last legislative session, the counties lobbied for an extension to the law, which was set to sunset on June 30. Although the Senate supported the counties’ position, the House amended the bill to offer legal representation to state lifeguards.

The revised bill was vetoed by the governor, and as a result no liability exemptions exist for these frontline employees.

Lifeguards are critical to keeping both visitors and residents safe and they deserve limited liability protection as they navigate the rough ocean waters. The Legislature must seriously consider this bill and re-enact a law that has been beneficial since 2002.

The issue of the counties receiving a greater share of the transient accommodations tax, or hotel room tax, also remains a top priority.

The counties’ allocation is currently capped at $103 million. Despite an increase in visitors, the cap results in the counties missing out on additional revenue.

When the TAT was first established, a percentage was allocated back to the counties to help offset the costs of visitor-related impacts on the many services used by visitors, including parks, police and fire services, just to name a few.

HSAC’s proposal removes the cap and under a formula allocates 44.8 percent of TAT revenues to the counties. This would allow the counties to share in the revenue growth as more visitors stay in the islands and would proportionately reimburse for costs based on the number of visitors.

Another proposal relating to revenue generation is a proposal for an additional conveyance tax. A new tax would be established to assist the counties by adding a 1 percent conveyance tax on the sale of residential properties over $2 million. All revenue generated by this new tax would be allocated to each respective county’s affordable housing fund. In turn, the counties would be able to continue their partnerships in creating additional affordable housing in their own unique ways.

In total, 17 proposals are slated to be included in the package, ranging from a tax credit to offset the installation of automatic fire suppression systems in any new dwelling units; a tax credit for those who hire individuals with a disability or those 67 years of age or older; to a bill to allow a representative from each county council to be present as a nonvoting participant in collective bargaining negotiations.

Considering the legislative session only lasts 60 days, it is never too early to begin a dialogue with legislators to advocate for issues that improve the lives of residents.

It is HSAC’s hope that legislators will carefully consider each of these bills in a collaborative manner. It is only by working together that we will be able to improve each of our communities.

If you would like to learn more about the Maui County Council’s efforts at the state Legislature, go to mauicounty.us/2018

stateleg. Additionally, all bills throughout the legislative session can be tracked at capitol.hawaii.gov.

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is chair of the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development, and Agriculture Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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