For the record, I am not against requiring federal labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). As Chair of Senate Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, I recognize that consumers want to know what their food contains and make their own decisions. I read labels myself, looking for sodium, calories, saturated fats and items that can cause allergic reactions.
However, the GMO labeling issue is complex, requiring scientific consensus of all applicable factors, as well as more study of overall effects and ramifications. So, while I agree in principle with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s GMO labeling bill, I feel this is a matter for the U.S. Congress and the Federal FDA not the State, to research and regulate.
There are some matters that require uniformity in the law so that smaller populations are not disadvantaged. GMO labeling is becoming an issue where government actions need to be standardized and clearly understood by all before impacting the community-at-large.
For the entire 12 years of my elementary, middle school, and high school years, I did not go to school with one black child, although there were plenty of black children in my town. They went to a separate school system – and it wasn’t equal.
I’ve seen up close and personal the ugly face of discrimination, and with every minority group, you simply don’t put their rights on the ballot for a popular vote, because like the decision to get rid of so called separate but equal doctrine in education, if we had put that on the ballot, do you think that those black schools would have gone out of existence in the state of Texas?
We wouldn’t have had any of the advancements in equal rights if they had been put up to a popular vote. Minorities don’t ever get their rights that way. That to me was one of the fundamental reasons we needed to move Senate Bill 1 forward. It is about equality of rights under the law. It’s about equal treatment and it’s about treating everyone with dignity and respect.
I firmly believe that equal rights delayed are equal rights denied. Perhaps the urgency was brought on by the Supreme Court’s action on the Defense of Marriage Act; but even if it hadn’t come from that, I still think allowing legal rights to same sex couples is an action we should have taken, and it’s appropriate to do it now.
One of our most significant accomplishments this 2014 session was passage of a bill to increase the minimum wage in Hawai’i. The bill gradually raises minimum wage from $7.75 to $10.10 by 2018. The bill marks the first time minimum wage has been raised since 2007. Meanwhile, our cost of living has risen steadily.
Hawai`i becomes only the third state in the nation to increase the minimum over ten dollars. In my mind, the best thing about the measure is that it will directly impact Hawai’i’s families — especially female wage earners.
Consider the fact that women in America essentially have to work three months longer than men in order to get the same pay and more women than men are in low-end jobs. Increasing the minimum wage to something more acceptable will help women close that gap. Currently, two in three minimum age workers are women and one in three are parents.
- First increase Jan 1, 2015 of $.50/hr brings the rate to $7.75/hr.
- Then minimum wage rates increase $.75/hr. annually with a $.85/hr increase on Jan 1, 2018 to bring it to $10.10
This is a complicated issue. At a basic level, our communities do need more housing – not vacation rentals, or high-end condominiums — but a variety of housing that ordinary folks can afford, including more Hawaiian Homelands housing. We need more rentals, fee simple, multi-family, Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units — shelters that are clean, safe and functional.
Providing more housing requires a comprehensive approach between State and local jurisdictions. However, the process from permits to actual construction often takes too long. Add to that all the requirements developers must include and housing that started out as affordable does not end up that way by market time.
There are a number of programs that the 2014 Legislature funded to help provide additional rental units. HHFDC must now move expeditiously to approve developers for construction of new rental housing. At the same time, local and state authorities need to streamline permitting and other processes to put housing at the top of the list.
HIGH COST OF LIVING
There are no short-term fixes but I believe Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative is a strong step in the right direction. Its goal of 70% clean energy by 2030 is well underway with collaborative support from government, private/public organizations and the community statewide. Along with reducing our islands’ dependency on fossil fuels and optimizing efficiency in our electrical grid, the sweeping clean energy measures will help reduce our daily transportation costs and lower household expenses. The Initiative will also help diversify the economy by growing new and existing businesses in green technology and sustainability, creating more jobs and income for Hawaii families in the immediate and long-term future.
Although Hawaii has been making great strides in going green, not enough renewable energy and SmartGrid improvements are in place yet to reduce ratepayers’ bills. Here’s what I think we need to do, going forward.
▪ Utilize cheaper, cleaner liquefied natural gas (LNG) as transition fuel for power generation
▪ Aggressively pursue utility scale wind and solar projects so everyone benefits, not just those who can afford rooftop solar
▪ Modernize individual island electric grids; smart grids allow greater use of solar and wind power
▪ Fully implement Act 37 (which I authored in 2013) to require utility efficiencies and savings be passed on to ratepayers
▪ Democratize use of PV by aggressively implementing the GEMS (Green Energy Market Securitization) programs for community solar enabling renters and nonprofits to take advantage of rooftop solar
As Commerce and Consumer Protection Chair, I’m proud we gave the PUC more tools to implement our green energy initiatives. The PUC must now streamline their processes to better direct utility transformation from power generator to power distributor and reduce rates. Their recent orders indicate they are up to the task.
HAWAII’S PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM
While it is easy to lay blame about test scores or what’s wrong with our schools, I prefer to focus on the positives. Local youth are as bright and as talented as anyone born on the mainland. Although they may not share the same culture, backgrounds or experiences, they compete and win national scholarships, go to prestigious colleges or become proficient in a much needed trades or vocations. They become productive, contributing members of our community. We need to help our youth aspire to their full potential.
Parents and community members should look for ways to partner with school administrators and teachers. For instance, my Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise is currently participating in a program of mock interviews for students at Lahainaluna High School to better prepare them for scholarship and job interviews. The results have been phenomenal. We also sponsor an afterschool tutor program for elementary and middle school students who need a little extra help because language or other barriers have caused them to slip behind their peers. These programs, outside of the regular school hours, make a huge difference for these students. They also engage parents and motivate all of our students to succeed. It really does take a village to educate and inspire our youth.
Although money doesn’t solve all problems, the solutions to issues facing our schools do cost money – for new technology, transportation, highly qualified teachers, updating older schools ill-equipped for the 21st century — the list goes on. I don’t believe we adequately fund our schools and want to see our processes streamlined, accountable and collaborative so the funds can be efficiently and effectively used.
I’ve never been a fan of “No Child Left Behind” because ironically, it has left thousands behind and students and teachers, demoralized. With a standardized curriculum and core standards adopted, our students will have a better opportunity to graduate with the core skill sets that will allow them to succeed in life.
It is important that Hawai`i schools continue to strive for excellence, evaluate their performance and institute measures that will help teachers teach more effectively. When educators are student-focused, they can engage young minds to learn even in the midst of administrative challenges beyond their control.
GROWING THE ECONOMY VS. PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
New developments need to be vetted with an eye to answering the question “what can you add to the community?” I would ask if developments fit with in the community plan, address a community need, advance state/county clean energy goals and provide long-term quality. If the project is a commercial venture, I would look at how it would increase living wage jobs or advance the community’s quality of life.
Granted, these are subjective criteria but there must be a community-wide dialogue on major projects that could have harmful environmental impacts. There may also be a need to enforce laws that are already on the books. New laws may not be required.