New laws to move forward on state’s key issues

Posted on Jul 29, 2019 in Capitol Connection, Featured

Governor Ige with legislators and affordable housing partners at bill signing.

In the past two months, Governor Ige has joined with legislators and advocates to sign into law dozens of bills that affect virtually every segment of the community, including measures that advance the governor’s major initiatives in housing and homelessness, sustainability and education. The signing ceremonies represent the culmination of often years of work by stakeholders to improve policies and programs. Here are some highlights from recent bill signings. For a full list of new laws, go to https://governor.hawaii.gov, then scroll to “Bills signed or vetoed.”
(Look for a summary of more bills in the September Capitol Connection.)

AFFORDABLE HOUSING
• HB1312 (Act 189)
will add $100 million to the Rental Housing Revolving Fund over the next two years. This is in addition to $67 million added to the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund via Act 40 for infrastructure and land acquisitions. “These funds will help us keep the momentum going in building more affordable housing,” said the governor. We’ve completed 6,700 units and we have 7,700 more in the pipeline — 80 percent of them affordable.”

HOMELESSNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH
• HB257 (Act 128)
extends the ‘Ohana Zones Pilot, the Emergency Department Assessment Pilot and the Medical Respite Pilot programs. Together, they seek to decrease emergency room visits, provide temporary housing and places for the homeless to recover once they are discharged from the hospital. SB1124 (Act 129) encourages the use of coordinated community treatment of those with severe mental illness, and SB 567 (Act 130) appropriates $100,000 to the Department of Health to help families navigate the legal process in seeking help for a family member with an untreated mental illness. HB330 (Act 180) appropriates $150,000 to the Department of Health for youth suicide prevention.

Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald (center) joins the governor, key legislators and advocates for criminal justice system reform.

PUBLIC SAFETY, CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORM
• HB1552 (Act 179) establishes the Hawai‘i Correctional System Oversight Commission to provide independent oversight of the state’s correctional system to improve conditions and programs as well as the criminal pretrial system. The new commission and oversight coordinator will work with the director of public safety to prevent overcrowding at facilities, expand rehab services, and investigate complaints. The hope is to reduce the inmate population, reduce spending and reduce repeat offenders.

IMPROVING THE ELECTIONS PROCESS
HB1248 (Act 136) requires elections to be conducted by mail, starting with the 2020 primary election. Hawai‘i joins at least 22 other states that allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail. There will still be voter service centers open 10 business days prior to election day and on election day. SB216 (Act 135) requires a vote recount when the margin of victory is equal to or less than 100 or one-quarter one percent of the votes cast — whichever is greater.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono with Governor Ige.

WOMEN’S LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS
•Hawai‘i has become the first state in the nation to remove a requirement through SB1039 (Act 176) that persons must prove they were victims of sex trafficking to have a prostitution conviction expunged from their records and who have avoided additional convictions for three years. SB1037 (Act 175) amends the offense of “abuse of a family or household member” to clarify that bodily injury does not have to be visible to establish the offense of strangulation. HB483 (Act 177) extends the deadline for the Legislative Reference Bureau to finish a study relating to the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (Title IX).

The Caucus dedicated its bill package to Sen. Mazie Hirono, one of the co-founders of the group when she served in the legislature 20 years ago. “Women working together makes a huge difference,” she emphasized. “Nationally, there’s an all-out assault on women’s health and women’s right to choose, voting rights, civil rights — all these rights are being challenged. That is why it is so important that a lot of these protections get enacted at the state level. There’s a lot of focus on what states can do to protect our democracy. I commend you for your continued advocacy. It’s good to know that decades later we’re still fighting back.”

Read more in the August Capitol Connection newsletter

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