FAITH ACTION LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP 2021
The State Legislature ended the 2021 session as scheduled on April 29. It faced substantial difficulties in resolving issues associated with the State budget, but finally completed it.
However, many community advocates were disappointed in what they considered to be the Legislature’s inadequate response to many other issues facing Hawaii, such as climate change, affordable housing, housing security, living wage, agriculture, food security, public education, homelessness, gun safety, and government transparency. The outcome of the 2021 legislative session shows that not enough legislators are truly committed to a long-term vision of a thriving and equitable Hawaii.
Housing NOW! Task Force
Faith Action’s Housing NOW! task force backed several bills advanced by Senate Housing Chair Stanley Chang. None passed. Sen. Chang’s comprehensive ALOHA Homes housing plan is based on Singapore’s success in housing a population six times Oahu’s on an island less than half Oahu’s size. Chang’s bill would develop tens of thousands of homes near rail to be sold on State leased land targeted at $300,000 to Hawaii residents who owned no other property and who guarantee they will occupy the units. The proposal would be financed through revenue bond sales covered by the purchasers’ monthly mortgage-like payments.
During the 2021 legislative session, ALOHA Homes drew additional support from a State-subsidized study completed by the nonprofit Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice. It found that both Vienna and Helsinki — with high-cost construction like Honolulu driven by strong unions — could build housing at the ALOHA Homes target price. The study also recommended financing needed housing infrastructure via “Community Facilities Districts.” Nevertheless, the State House of Representatives showed little interest in either ALOHA Homes or in several bills containing ALOHA Homes concepts that Sen. Chang sent their way.
The Housing NOW! task force continued Faith Action’s legislative effort to have Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) taxed. Here, it achieved some success. While the major bill that would have taxed REITs died, the Legislature did pass HB 286, which forces REITs to declare their Hawaii-based revenue. Bill passage means we will finally document how much in total corporate taxes REITs would pay.
The Housing NOW! task force was less successful with SB 33, which would have required each county to estimate its housing need, develop a plan to meet that need, and identify sites for the needed housing. The bill embraced a community planning concept that the task force will pursue with the Honolulu City Council in the coming months.
Environmental Justice Task Force
The Environmental Justice Task Force sponsored a carbon fee and dividend bill that they called “Carbon Cashback.” This bill would have put a price on fossil fuels and distributed all the revenue generated to Hawaii’s residents in equal shares. Unfortunately, the bill died before a UH study was issued, which showed that this concept would substantially reduce Hawaii’s greenhouse gas emissions, while giving financial benefits to low- and middle-income households.
After that bill died the task force supported several bills and a resolution SCR 44, which declares a climate emergency in Hawaii. The resolution was passed, making Hawaii the first state to declare a climate emergency. At a press conference announcing the passage of this measure, advocates emphasized the necessity of follow-up with concrete action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
HB 1142 is another bill passed by the Legislature that addresses climate change. It creates a funding mechanism for the installation of electric vehicle charging systems in order to encourage people to purchase electric vehicles. The electric utilities in Hawaii are still using fossil fuels to generate electricity, but renewable energy is steadily replacing those fossil fuels.
Long Term Care Task Force
The Long-Term Care Task Force was part of a coalition supporting SB 838, which would provide greater flexibility in the implementation of the Kupuna Caregivers Act. The bill did not pass.
Living Wage Task Force took a pause this session, but will pursue this issue next year.
Faith Action realizes that very few bills get passed in their first legislative session. It usually takes years, and that is why advocates must be persistent if they hope to ultimately be successful. Faith Action looks forward to the 2022 legislative session and is already making plans for it.
Meanwhile, even the bills which passed the Legislature will not become law until signed by the Governor. So stay tuned.