Support for sugar workers, veterans among bills approved for crossover

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With the Legislature’s crossover deadline one week away, the House passed a numbers of bills Thursday and sent them to the Senate for consideration.

Among the House bills passing third reading by the full House were measures that provides assistance to dislocated sugar workers from Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company on Maui, addresses Hawaii’s chronic housing shortage, creates a Transit Oriented Development authority, and establishes a veterans’ services counselor position within the Office of Veterans’ Services to assist all veterans, with a primary focus on female veterans.

“One of our top priorities among the many needs that we are addressing in this session is providing immediate assistance to the sugar workers on Maui who will lose their jobs with the end of sugar production at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.,” said House Speaker Joseph M. Souki (Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu).  “This measure will help ensure that the affected workers and their families are provided every opportunity to transition smoothly through this difficult and unsettling time.”

HB2186, HD1 directs and appropriates funds for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to provide workforce development, worker training and retraining, and other dislocated worker assistance programs for workers affected by the cessation of sugar production on Maui.

Another passed bill relating to agriculture is HB1982, HD1 which authorizes the issuance of special purpose revenue bonds to assist Big Island Dairy, who operates a dairy farm in Ookala, one of only two commercial dairies remaining in the State.  Although the dairy plays a vital role in Hawaii’s agriculture and economy, the company faces increasing competition from mainland producers.

The House also passed a number of bills addressing Hawaii’s chronic affordable housing shortage, including:

HB1958, HD1 provides a General Excise Tax exemption for low-income rental subsidies including those from the Housing First programs.

HB2638, HD1 authorizes the Public Housing Authority to impose maximum rental periods of five years for state low-income housing projects which receive state funds for repair and maintenance or capital improvement, but excludes tenants who are disabled or 65 years of age or older.  The measure also requires rates for the five-year rentals to be fixed the for entire term of lease and establishes a trust account for the Authority to provide matching funds for tenants who choose to participate in those five-year rentals.

HB2659, HD1 requires a percentage of funds in the Housing First Special Fund to be used to provide homes for persons who qualify for social security disability benefits and are diagnosed with life-long, serious mental illnesses.

HB2744, HD1 bases the amount of the tax credit on whether or not a building is financed by tax-exempt bonds. Increases funding for affordable rental housing development by making the State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit more valuable. Reduces State Tax Credit period from ten to five years.

The first “crossover” on Thursday, March 10, is the deadline for non-budget bills to pass third reading in order to move to the other chamber. If successful, House bills are sent to the Senate and Senate bills are sent to the House for further consideration.

Other bills passed today by the House include:

HB2199 establishes a Transit Oriented Development Authority within the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism to oversee and manage development of infrastructure on state lands within one-quarter mile radius of rail stations.

HB1814, HD1 appropriates funds to provide training and track data on public school pupil punishment and use of restraints restrictions established by Act 206, Session Laws of Hawaii 2014.

HB2510, HD1 authorizes the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. to establish a housing voucher program for full-time classroom teachers employed by the Department of Education, including classroom teachers at public charter schools.

HB2489 appropriates funds for the establishment of a veterans’ services counselor position within the Office of Veterans’ Services to assist all veterans, with a primary focus on female veterans.

HB2491, HD1 appropriates funds for programs, ceremonies and activities commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.

HB2252, HD1 requires hospitals to adopt and maintain discharge policies, consistent with recent updates to federal regulations, to ensure that patients continue to receive necessary care after leaving the hospital.

HB2010, HD1 allows the First Job Training Programs that provide on-the-job training and education to first-time hires to pay participant-employees a special minimum wage that is less than the state’s minimum wage.

Click here for a complete list of bills passed by the House to date this biennium.

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