This year, Chambers of Commerce statewide kicked off the opening of the Legislature with our first-ever Chamber Week, from Monday to Friday, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, which created the Oahu events. Activities were held daily in conjunction with opening of the 2014 session to engage members and the business community in the legislative process and to come together for a strong business sector legislative voice. It began Jan. 10 when Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed Jan. 13-17 Chamber Week. Events included:
* Monday, State of Business - CNBC reporter Scott Cohn and National Association of Manufacturers executives held a panel discussion in Honolulu about the state of business in Hawaii.
* Tuesday, Manufacturing Launch Party - Participants learned about the chamber's initiative to support local manufacturers and promote products globally.
* Wednesday, Opening Day of the Legislature and Business Appreciation Day - A fun and informational fair as the chamber said "mahalo" to Hawaii's business community at Tamarind Park in downtown Honolulu.
* Thursday, Walk Around the State Capitol - Chamber leaders and members of the business community visited the offices of legislators at the Capitol to discuss concerns and positions on key issues; and Leg Meet and Greet - A networking opportunity to meet legislators in an informal setting, get to know them, and share the chamber's first-ever legislative package in support of business growth.
* Friday, Military Appreciation Sign Waving.
Increased focus on business and the economy is a great way to start the session.
This was echoed by Sen. Sam Slom in his remarks during the Senate's opening-day session when he said we have not turned the economic corner and have yet to see the rebound that some are touting.
He said businesses are still hurting and Hawaii is a national leader in entitlement benefits, noting that as we celebrate the 53rd anniversary on the "War on Poverty" that we have not won. In fact, poverty on a national level has increased from 14 percent to 21 percent and we have spent $21 trillion attempting to address it.
Here at home, Slom said we must address what we are spending money on, citing a number of areas where he feels money was misspent. He shared that we are now spending more on benefits for the unemployed and welfare than we are on government-supported education.
He also explained that the special session, where 10,000 came to the state Capitol to participate, left many frustrated and angry with the process. The Legislature's power is to be derived from the people, he said, and the people are asking to be heard.
Further, he reported that Hawaii's true economic development will come from strengthening businesses and that is where attention is needed.
Opening day also celebrated the 55th anniversary of statehood. In the Senate chamber, 34 former senators were honored, beginning with former Gov. George Ariyoshi and including Gov. Abercrombie, along with Maui's own Fred Rohlfing, Joe Tanaka, Avery Chumbley and present Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim shared that Senate committee chairs worked diligently between sessions to address key issues that will be taken up again this session, including: GMO, the Affordable Care Act, invasive species, homelessness, harbors and infrastructure, education, raising the minimum wage and more. This will help them get a jump-start this year and we appreciate the additional work and research done.
The 2014 legislative session is underway and we encourage you to be an active participant. To get started, vist www.capitol.hawaii.gov/. There you can:
* Track the status of a bill or measure.
* Submit testimony.
* See a list of the current hearings.
* Obtain the "Citizen's Guide to the Legislative Process."
We hope you will join us by sharing your voice, getting involved and supporting the business sector, which creates needed jobs, holds up our economy and gives us all a better quality of life.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.