Lawmakers eye taxes, medical marijuana for next legislative session

Local News

The halls of the State Capitol will be buzzing again on Wednesday as lawmakers gather for opening day of the legislature.

What will the key issues be and how could the decisions affect you?

The general excise tax is sure to be a controversial issue.

“I was ready for the GMO (genetically modified organisms) battle and I think this one will be an even bigger battle,” said Sen. Clarence Nishihara, (D-Waipahu, Pearl City).

Nishihara says he will introduce a bill that would extend the GET surcharge to help pay for rail.

Right now, the surcharge is set to expire in 2022, but Nishihara’s bill would remove the sunset date.

“We need to have real facts before us to make really tough decisions,” he said.

Lawmakers say there will be bills introduced from both the Senate and House to address the GET.

Rep. John Mizuno (D-Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights, Moanalua, Fort Shafter), vice speaker of the House, believes healthcare will also be a key topic.

“Every year we’re paying between $40 and $50 million to help subsidize the Hawaii Healthcare Systems Corporation, so we’re looking at a possible public-private partnership to lessen the cost or the burden to Hawaii’s taxpayers,” he said.

Another hot-button issue that’s expected to come up this session is medical marijuana. The question is, will Hawaii follow in the footsteps of other states on the mainland? Some believe this could be the year lawmakers pass a medical marijuana dispensary bill.

“The dispensaries would be an opportunity for patients to purchase medical marijuana in retail establishments,” said Sen. Will Espero, (D-Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point), Senate vice president.

Lawmakers also say building affordable housing to address the homeless issue will also come up this session and so will the fight over GMO, although lawmakers believe it won’t get very far.

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