HONOLULU - Hawaii lawmakers plowed through a mountain of bills Tuesday in advance of a legislative deadline, moving swiftly through their work until they hit a sex education bill that drew criticism from gay rights opponents and generated a salty debate in the state House.
Lawmakers must advance policy measures by Thursday, and leaders said that the burst of activity early in the week was to provide time for amendments.
Proposals that don't move ahead by the cutoff date will die for the session unless legislators use arcane procedures to revive them.
Lawmakers passed bills ranging from requiring lobbyist disclosures to increasing the minimum wage. Combined, the House and Senate moved hundreds of bills, sending some to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for approval and others to conference committees, where they will be further debated before the session ends May 1.
Proceedings in the House were smooth until Rep. Bob McDermott, R-Ewa Beach, introduced an amendment about sex education curriculum to an unrelated education bill (SB 2288). He and Rep. Richard Lee Fale, R-Waialua, criticized the "Pono Choices" curriculum for children ages 11 to 13 as providing "medically inaccurate" information - namely, that the anus is a sex organ. Rep. Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, said that the amendment would be a way to quell worries from the "mother bears" of Hawaii who worry about their kids' education.
McDermott, one of several lawmakers who voted against Hawaii's gay marriage bill last year, has repeatedly criticized the sex education curriculum.
The amendment touched off a flurry of critiques, and Rep. Jessica Wooley, D-Kaneohe, upbraided Ward for claiming to speak for mothers.
Rep. Della Au Belatti, D-Makiki, then criticized McDermott's amendment as focusing on specific sex acts, leading McDermott to contradict her on the floor, saying, "I'm not perverse." In the end, the seven House Republicans were the only votes in favor of the amendment, and it failed, although the bill they tried to attach it to passed.
The House also approved a bill that raises the minimum wage by 50 cents beginning next year and by 75 cents in each of the following three years, to $10 an hour in 2018. Lawmakers in the Senate originally wanted to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but House members voted to reduce that amount to $10 an hour.
"You don't get that far on $31,000 anywhere in Hawaii," said Rep. Karl Rhoads, D-Chinatown.
The House easily passed a bill that would require kids who turn 5 by July 31 of a school year to attend kindergarten (SB 2768) and another that would compel lobbyists to report contributions and expenditures made during a special legislative session to the state ethics commission within 30 days (SB 2629).
The House also passed measures that study the installation of air conditioning in public school buildings statewide (SB 2424) and that would study, test and model ways to kill the little fire ant, a pernicious invasive insect (SB 2920).
The Senate flew through a heap of proposals with little to no discussion, except for a few remarks of dissent from the lone Republican, Sen. Sam Slom of Hawaii Kai.
At one point, the senators approved a list of 98 bills at once. Proposals that sailed through in that batch ranged from treating adult sex offenders to modernizing Hawaii's electric grid.
Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kaimuki, expressed reservations on a handful of proposals that were "gut-and-replace" bills, meaning their original contents had been scrapped and replaced with new proposals without a public hearing, but he still approved the measures.
The Senate sent a message about tanning by passing a bill (HB 611) that would keep minors out of tanning facilities. But Slom said the industry wasn't consulted about their practices, and many salons already require parental permission for minors.
"It's interesting that you can have a minor get tattoos and piercings with parental consent," Slom said.
The Senate completed its votes on about 175 bills in just over one hour. The Senate had reviewed the bills in caucus, which cut the agenda considerably, said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.
While wrapping up the proceedings, Kim jokingly asked which senator won the bet about how quickly they would finish.
"We kind of do that just to add a little humor to our work," Kim said.