Published in The Maui News, Jan. 18, 2015
By MIKE WHITE for, The Maui News
The opening day of this year’s state legislative session is on Wednesday.
As a former member of the state House of Representatives, I know how important the Legislature’s work is to the people of Maui County. Aside from working with our state legislators, I will make my office available to make sure the voices of Lanai, Maui and Molokai residents are heard during the session.
The Maui County Council has submitted a legislative package containing two state bills. One bill would allow the University of Hawaii Maui College to research industrial hemp, while the other bill would make council members more accessible to constituents.
A state law enacted last year approved a two-year industrial hemp research program, but only at a single testing site on Oahu. The council has noted the potential economic development benefits of this crop, and believes allowing demonstration projects in each county may yield better research results.
The council also seeks to amend a section in the state Sunshine Law to allow members of a county council to jointly attend and speak at community meetings where informational presentations are made. Under current interpretations of the law, Maui County council members – elected officials who represent all Maui County residents – can’t freely attend such gatherings.
Consequently, opportunities to educate ourselves on important issues are limited. Some of you may have even seen council members reluctantly leave important community meetings because of Sunshine Law concerns.
I will also track state bills that may affect the county’s revenue and taxing authority.
During the last session, the counties fought for a fair share of the hotel room tax, also known as transient accommodations tax, or TAT. After extensive lobbying efforts, a meager $10 million out of the potential $72 million was returned to the counties.
This year, the TAT will continue to be a priority. Restoring the counties’ share of the TAT is a vote in support of much-needed county assistance to maintain a healthy visitor industry across the state.
I will also monitor bills with a direct impact on county operations and home rule, capital improvement projects in Maui County and other issues of special concern, such as legislation on the hospital system.
On behalf of county residents, I will submit testimony to explain my position on select items. To read the bills being tracked and testimony I submit, please go to mauicounty.us/2015stateleg. The 2015 Hawaii State Association of Counties’ legislative package is also available on the website.
Meanwhile, the work of the council (which is in session throughout the year) continues with committee meetings.
On Thursday, the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee is expected to consider nominations to boards and commissions, as well as the reappointment of Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong, Prosecuting Attorney John Kim and Water Director David Taylor.
Check the council schedule at mauicounty.us/calendar for confirmation of meetings and background on agenda items.
Citizen participation in the council’s work is imperative. I placed two pahu niu (coconut drums) in the Council Chambers to symbolize the calling together of members of the community, and I look forward to working with you.
* Mike White is the chairman of the Maui County Council and holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao 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.