2017 Legislature – Fail

By almost all measures, the 2017 legislative session deserves a report card dominated by “F’s”.

Instead of rising to the occasion, the Hawaii legislature is closing its session wallowing in the abyss of failure, well beyond the low end of mediocrity.

While a few bones were tossed out and crumbs dribbled here and there, the 2017 Hawaii State Legislature failed to move forward any meaningful positive agenda in support of environmental, economic or social justice.

They failed to cap interest rates on “pay-day lending,” failed to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, failed to regulate restricted-use pesticides, failed to ban polystyrene foam single-use containers, failed to protect the vital aquifer at Red Hill, failed to deal with the issue of quiet title to kuleana lands, failed to act on domestic violence, failed to prevent discrimination in healthcare access, failed the captive laborers in our fishing fleets, and failed in many, many other areas.

They could not even agree to set clean energy goals for transportation – goals mind you, not a mandate. Instead they caved in to the auto industry and climate deniers.

With a Trump administration in Washington DC aggressively working to reduce environmental protections, shred the social safety net and take away rights of the already disenfranchised, some of us actually hoped that 2017 would be a time for bold action by our Hawaii legislators.

But instead of bold action we received the same excuses that are delivered at this same time year after year. The phrases are so predictable that journalists can pre-write their stories with “insert phrase here” and just drop in the appropriate “We ran out of time,” or “We didn’t have the votes,” or “We will keep working on this during the interim, ” or “It was a bad bill,” ad nauseam.

To be clear, the problem is not a “bad bill.” If a bill is bad they should fix it or come up with another solution that they can support. The purpose of the legislature is not simply to pass and kill bills, but rather to solve problems.

If the legislature “runs out of time,” then they can and should extend deadlines and do the work needed to protect the public interest. Failing to ban the Restricted-Use Pesticide chlorpyrifos is an unconscionable act of neglect. Used widely in Hawaii on all islands, chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin known to inhibit brain development in children and there is no safe level of exposure for a fetus. The “pre-Trump” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended banning this dangerous chemical from use on food crops, but the “post-Trump” EPA director has reversed his own agency’s recommendation and refused to ban the substance. Instead of stepping up to protect children, the Hawaii legislative response is: “Let’s wait until next year and take this up again.”

Pay-day lending is an industry that is allowed, by Hawaii law, to charge in excess of 400 percent (interest/fees) on the loans made primarily to low income workers living paycheck to paycheck. For the past 12 years a bill has been introduced each session that attempts to cap the interest rate at 18 percent (or sometimes 32 percent). Each year the industry prevails and the bills die and the excuse is “We didn’t have the votes.” Yet there are rarely any vote actually taken and, consequently, the public never really knows who is in support and who is not.

On the surface, the membership in the House and Senate appear to be completely dominated by the Democratic Party. But it is clear from their actions that a majority of those serving are essentially Democrats In Name Only (DINOs). Most choose the D label as a matter of convenience and give only lip service to Party values and platform.

The Democratic revolution of 1954 that took control of Hawaii’s government from the “Big 5” sugar plantation and land-based corporations created a wave of progressive political and policy reform. New candidates ran for office and were elected by a newly inspired electorate.  As a result, many bold policy reforms were instituted in support of worker rights and environmental protections.  

Somewhere along the way, Hawaii’s political leadership lost its way. There are solid progressive legislators in both the House and the Senate, but their effectiveness is hamstrung by a corporatist-centered leadership unwilling to buck the powers of Bishop Street.

It’s time for a new political and policy revolution in Hawaii.

Fortunately new leaders, some spawned by the Bernie Sanders movement and others simply called by the urgency of the moment, are starting to step forward. As these new individuals begin to test their mettle, both in the elections process and in the general area of public policy advocacy, a new wave is being created. 

The momentum for change is building. May 4th marks the close of the 2017 legislative session but also marks the birth of a new movement for change. 

This is a movement where people once again take ownership of their government, demand accountability from their legislators and support and empower those new leaders willing to stand up to the corporate and establishment powers now in control. 

Please join with us Thursday March 4 from 7am until 8:30am along Miller Street to express our extreme disappointment with those at the legislature who have failed us so miserably this year.

(first published in Civil Beat on May 1, 2017)

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Kabuki smoke and mirrors political BS (with all due respect)

If they really wanted to, the Hawaii legislature and/or the Department of Agriculture could ban chlorpyrifos today.

In yesterdays April 2nd Honolulu Star-Advertiser headlined “Push to ban insecticide builds at Legislature, Rep. Chris Lee Chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee is quoted as saying “We have an obligation as elected officials at the state level to take action to protect our people when the federal government won’t.”

Not to be left out of the good intentions, Senator Mike Gabbard Chair of the Senate Agriculture said according to the newspaper article “that he would support an effort to ban chlorpyrifos.”

The story further reported that even the Director of Agriculture, Scott Enright was jumping on the ban chlorpyrifos bandwagon and now also supports banning this nasty neurotoxin that has already been banned nationally for residential use.

But of course the touch of reality came from Representative Richard Creagan Chair of the House Agriculture Committee saying, “As much as I would like to ban chlorpyrifos this year, I don’t anticipate that happening.” He called the EPA decision not to ban this restricted use pesticide “egregious”.

So key leaders in both the House and the Senate, plus the Director of Agriculture all support the banning of chlorpyrifos but yet the conclusion is, not now maybe later.

WTF?

It seems our legislative leaders have concluded that we have run out of time and the rules don’t allow making an actual ban happen this year. Maybe next year is the thought.

I beg to differ. There is a vehicle in SB804HD1 which is still alive awaiting a hearing in House Finance.

SB804HD1 contains language pertaining to chlorpyrifos and is titled Relating To Pesticides and could be amended in House Finance to become a ban, if there was the political will do do so.

If the legislatures rules prevent this measure from being the vehicle for any reason, the House and the Senate can change the rules. They do this all the time.

But they won’t. Because as nice as the words sound and as sincere as the intent might be, the leadership in the Hawaii House and Senate operate on a premise that the industry position is the one that prevails. And House/Senate leadership is supported/enabled by the majority.

If Speaker of the House Joe Souki and President of the Senate Ron Kouchi wanted to pass a ban on chlorpyrifos and protect our health and environment it could happen this year.

As things now stand given the current makeup of the House and Senate, it will not happen this year or next because the driving force behind all of this is the corporate power and influence of the 4 companies that actually make, sell and use the vast majority of this chlorpyrifos in Hawaii – Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto.

The industry drives the agenda. Zero Bills ever pass that attempt to regulate them, even those as embarrassingly weak as the existing language contained within SB804HD1. The industry is in charge and the industry will have none of it. Nothing, zero, nada.

If the Governor and his Department of Agriculture head Scott Enright really wanted to ban chlorpyrifos they don’t even have to wait for the legislature as this could also be accomplished via executive order and rule-making. The truth is they don’t really want to ban or regulate anything against the wishes of these large companies, and these companies do not support and will not support ANY attempts to increase their regulation.

So with all due respect to my friends at the legislature and at the governors office, this is all shibai – kabuki smoke and mirrors political bullshit.

Chlorpyrifos is a known neurotoxin used by the ton in Hawaii, banned in many other countries, and banned already in America for residential use. This is the same restricted use pesticide that Syngenta workers were hospitalized for after being exposed on Kauai resulting in a $4.8 million civil action against the company by the EPA. It is also the same chemical that was being sprayed in the fields directly next to the Waimea Canyon Middle School the day the kids got sick. Chlorpyrifos has been detected in air and water samples and even in a bee hive recently tested on Kauai.

Chlorpyrifos is used on all islands and the science is unequivocal. This is a nasty, nasty pesticide that has been proven to inhibit the brain development of the developing fetus as well as a long list of other severely negative health impacts – EVEN WHEN EXPOSED TO VERY SMALL AMOUNTS.

The legislature and/or the governor could take action to ban chlorpyrifos today. Please take the time today to call your district House Representative (look it up) and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke 808-586-6200 and ask that SB804HD1 be scheduled and amended to ban chlorpyrifos. Please call BOTH as BOTH are responsible.

When your district Rep tells you “There is nothing I can do as it is up to the House Finance Chair.” Please confirm that they do in fact support banning chlorpyrifos, and then ask them to also call the House Finance Chair and request a hearing. An individual House member calling the House Finance Chair to request a hearing is common practice and they should not resist this simple act (if they are sincere in their support of a ban).

Finally, when they tell you “we missed the deadline” or, “the rules don’t allow that” – Please remind them gently but firmly that “you guys make the rules” and “you guys can change the deadlines”.

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HB790 and my discussion with Kauai Rep. Morikawa

Below is a chain of communications between myself and Representative Dee Morikawa who represents the west side of Kauai which is home base for the chemical companies, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta.

I posted the below on FaceBook on Tuesday March 7th in response to an article posted in The Garden Island. Rep. Morikawa “shared” my post this morning. Consequently there are multiple threads of comments etc.

So- To provide a coherent view of the exchange and alleviate the need for going back and forth between the two posts, I have posted below the entire text of our various statements
***********************************************************
Original Facebook post March 7, 2017

Unfortunately Kauai Representative Dee Morikawa announced today she does not support allowing the County to protect itself against the health and environmental harms caused by the chemical companies based in her district – and she will be voting NO on HB790.

It appears also that she does not fully understand that HB790’s disclosure provisions only apply to the very largest users of Restricted Use Pesticides and will have zero impact on small farmers.

Is sad really as the legislative session still has a long way to go.

If there are valid concerns with the specific language of this important measure those elements could be dealt with via amendments as the measure moves forward in the process.
It is far too early to simple kill the Bill and end the entire discussion.

If you live on Kauai’s west side, please consider making a last minute call to her office with a polite request that she reconsider her position, vote yes and support allowing this important conversation to continue. 808-586-6280. Calls must be made before 11am today, Tuesday March 7. (subsequent note – vote will now be tomorrow, Thursday March 8th)

http://m.thegardenisland.com/news/local/pesticide-bill-will-be-put-to-a-vote/article_7d79c5e8-e38b-5db9-9384-6c185eacb9dc.html?mode=jqm

***********************************************

March 8, 2017 below was posted on FaceBook by Representative Dee Morikawa who represents the west side of Kauai which is home base for the chemical companies, Dupont, Dow, and Syngenta.

“For anyone seeing this post, let me clarify this. I passed the pesticide disclosure bill in 2013 that makes it Mandatory to report restricted use pesticides to the public. Shortly after, 2491 came out by the Kauai County. Then the Kauai Good Neighbor Program was developed and for 3 years reporting by large Kauai ag companies has been occurring. Now in 2017 the Dept. of Ag will be rolling out this program for the whole state to follow. They need to move carefully, and in step with resources to make sure the program can work. You cannot throw mandates without a budget to do it. So let’s be honest about this Gary Hooser. Tell people the whole truth. HB 790 is badly written, and will cost taxpayers a lot of money to accomplish zilch. I do careful and responsible legislation and am embarrassed to see this bill passed in its form. This is an attack to my district who many are employed by these businesses. Who work hard to provide a quality lifestyle for their families, who are community leaders that volunteer to provide children access to sports, community and school events. THE DISCUSSION WE NEED IS ABOUT LEAD POISONING.”

*****************************************************
March 8, 2017

Rep. Morikawa,
Good people can look at the same information and come to different conclusions.

The disclosure Bill you passed in 2013 while well intended and I applaud your effort the end result is totally inadequate and does not accomplish what is needed. http://www.civilbeat.org/2015/03/after-2-years-hawaii-still-wont-enforce-pesticide-disclosure-law/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=users&utm_campaign=morning_beat

The so-called Good Neighbor Program is voluntary, participation is inconsistent, the reports do not include all pesticides and critical pre and post application public notification/signage requirements are woefully inadequate. For the past year the state department of agriculture has suggested that they intend to go “statewide” but we have yet to see that happen, and there are no indications it will happen anytime soon.

The threat of “costing the state a lot of money” is a red herring. The state can and should pass the cost of regulation on to those who are being regulated (the large multinational chemical companies). This is lawmaking 101 – increase fees to pay for administration and place burden of compliance on the companies backed up by fines and penalties. For the state to wring its hands, whine and complain about how difficult this is to implement or that this is going to cost the state “millions” is disingenuous at best.

Like the vast majority of Bills passed at this stage in the legislative process, HB790 is a work in progress. This is the nature of lawmaking at the state legislative level. The reason to “defect the date and move it forward” is to allow further public discussion and permit the various Senate committees to also review and further amend the measure as may be needed. At the end, the Bill would be further reviewed and amended in conference committee – it is only at this point when this and most Bills are finally complete and ready for a final vote. You know this Dee and you know that most of the measures you vote on daily are similar “works in progress”.

HB790 will have no negative impact on the employees of the chemical companies you are concerned about. Syngenta is being fined $4.8 million for not protecting these same people. Perhaps this is a better place to focus your energy and outrage. We should all also be outraged that these companies pay their field workers so little that they must import contract labor from the mainland instead of hiring local residents.

I agree that these companies spend lots of money on community events for the west side of Kauai. I understand that they give lots of money to schools, clubs and various west side organizations. I suggest their motives are not driven entirely by altruism but understand this money is important to the individuals and organizations who benefit from the largesse of the chemical industry.

And yes, lead poisoning is another very important issue that needs to be addressed and I am happy to know you are committed to working on this. Please know that I am very much interested in helping on this as well and will be supporting legislation focused on this issue, as well as continued to work on achieving full pesticide disclosure, buffer zones around schools and comprehensive testing of air, water and dust in the area.

As stated above, good people can look at the same facts and circumstances and come to different conclusions.

gh

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Hooser To Host KKCR “Policy & Politics” Talk Show

Starting this Monday February 13, from 5pm until 6pm I will be joining the hardworking volunteers at KKCR and hosting a regular talk show entitled “Policy & Politics”!

“Policy & Politics” will focus on exploring topics dealing with all levels of government.

My goal for the show is to stimulate, educate and discuss both the nuts and bolts of policy and politics but also how to effectively engage and impact both policy decisions and the political landscape at all levels.

Please tune-in or listen on-line if you can this Monday February 13 from 5pm until 6pm!

KKCR-FM
90.9FM Hanalei, 91.9FM Islandwide, 92.7FM Moloa`a
(I am told reception extends to the Waianae coast and parts of the north shore of Oahu as well)

My plan is to also stream the show live on FaceBook
Go here to listen live online:
http://www.kkcr.org

Mahalo to all the dedicated volunteers at KKCR Kauai Community Radio for allowing me to join your team as a volunteer DJ. I hope to serve you all well and support the community mission of this incredible organization.

KEKAHU FOUNDATON / KKCR MISSION STATEMENT
KKCR is Kaua`i’s independent, non-commercial, listener-supported community radio station. KKCR seeks to:

• Stimulate, educate and entertain our audience
• Preserve, perpetuate and celebrate Hawaiian culture
• Reflect the diversity of the local and world community

KKCR provides a forum for overlooked, suppressed, or under-represented voices and music. The Kekahu Foundation facilitates this broadcasting opportunity.

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Time To Legalize Pot In Hawaii – It’s The Right Thing To Do And Frankly We Need The Money

It’s time now to legalize cannabis for recreational use by adults in Hawaii.

The recreational use of cannabis is already legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C..

It is the right thing to do in terms of public policy, we need the significant tax revenue legalization will generate and it is inevitable that Hawaii will eventually follow the many other states who have already taken the step.

Why are we waiting?  Delaying an action we know will be taken in the coming years achieves nothing while costing our state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Most law-makers are by nature risk adverse and will tackle the big and potentially controversial issues only when pressed by their constituents to do so.

It is time now to press on this particular issue.

Please call or email your individual district Representative and Senator, today (before Wednesday February 15 if at all possible) to express your support for legalization and request a hearing for SB548 and HB1464.

Or, email ALL Representatives and Senators the same message at sens@capitol.hawaii.gov  or reps@capitol.hawaii.gov

Hawaii should move forward now to pass into law HB1464 or SB548 or similar measures that legalizes the growing, use and sale of small amounts of cannabis by adults for recreational use.  We can learn from the experience of states that have gone before us and adopt reasonable policies now to implement this long overdue and much needed public policy change.

Proposed measures to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts are not enough and though well intended serve only to delay what is really needed – which is full legalization.

It is only through legalization that the fear, stigma and heavy cost of criminalization is avoided.  Only through legalization will the jobs and much needed tax income be created.  Decriminalization is a half step that accomplishes none of this.

Important facts for the skeptics:

  1. Marijuana is not a so-called gateway drug.  “…the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances.”  National Institute on Drug Abuse https://www.drugabuse.gov
  2. Legalization of Cannabis does not lead to an increase in crime. “Since 2009, when the medical marijuana industry in Colorado started to take off, both rates (property crime and violent crime) have fallen—by 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively.” Reason Magazine review of Colorado study
  3. Legalization does not lead to increased use among young people. “Rates of marijuana use among Colorado’s teenagers are essentially unchanged in the years since the state’s voters legalized marijuana in 2012, new survey data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows.”  Washington Post

Every single aspect of government is in need of additional funding and the legalization of cannabis could provide significant funds for schools, natural resource protection, affordable housing and much more.

I suspect a majority in the legislature agree that legalization is the right policy and that the State desperately needs the money and jobs it will generate, but they will only act when the citizen voice is loud and clear and demands action.

We all know this policy shift is inevitable and our state needs the benefits now.

Please call or email your State Representative and Senator today.

Gary Hooser

Kauai County Council 2012 – 2016                                                                                           Hawaii State Senator 2002 – 2010                                                                                            Senate Majority Leader 2006 – 2010

Other Reasons Supporting Legalization from the Drug Policy Alliance http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana-legalization-and-regulation

“Like alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s, which was intended to banish certain substances from society, drug prohibition has not only failed its mission but has made its mission impossible.  The failures of prohibition are painfully obvious: wasted money, wasted lives and wasted opportunities.”

Reduce harm                                                                                                                                       The criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately harms young people and people of color, sponsors massive levels of violence and corruption, and fails to curb youth access.

Create jobs                                                                                                                                  Legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring one of the nation’s largest cash crops under the rule of law. This will create jobs and economic opportunities in the formal economy instead of the illicit market.

Save money                                                                                                                                     Scarce law enforcement resources will be better used to ensure public safety while reducing corrections and court costs. State and local governments would acquire significant new sources of tax revenue from regulating marijuana sales.

Promote consumer safety                                                                                                        Marijuana product testing is becoming a standard requirement for legalized marijuana markets. This means consumers are better informed about the marijuana they use.

Drug Policy Alliance

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Hawaii State Senate and House regularly violate the State Constitution – or not?

At the recently held Hawaii Peoples Congress issues with regards to the “accountability of elected officials” was a hot topic of discussion.

The matter of the Maui County Council flaunting the Sunshine Law was discussed.
http://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2016/12/another-complaint-is-filed-against-mike-white/

Also discussed at length was how committees in both the House and the Senate often diminished, ignored or actively blocked the publics participation in the law making process. The “Conference Committee” process and the lack of adequate notice for committee hearings were two of the reoccurring themes.

This conversation led to a close review of the state constitution which appears to indicate both the State House and the State Senate are in violation on a regular basis.

What do you think?

Hawaii State Constitution
http://lrbhawaii.org/con/conart3.html
Article III – The Legislature
Organization, Discipline, Rules and Procedure
Section 12.
3d paragraph

“Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.”

Given the above requirement it would seem that both the State House and Senate regularly violates the Hawaii State Constitution.

It is common practice that House and Senate Conference Committee members regularly meet in private “for the purpose of making decision on matters referred to the committee”. They meet in private, negotiate in private and agree on the outcomes in private, emerging from the closed private meetings to announce the outcome and then formally vote at the public meeting. This practice seems obviously to violate the Hawaii State Constitution.

It is also far too common a practice for the various committees of the legislature to provide less than 24 hours notice of a committee meeting. Sometimes less than one hour of public notice is provided. The State Constitution states that a committee meeting held for the purpose of making a decision…”shall be open to the public”. It would seem that a meeting held where it is physically impossible for the public to attend due to basic logistics (time to drive or fly to the meeting once notice is received) also violates the Hawaii State Constitution.

I welcome input from readers (and lawyers) on this. Are there any budding young law school students or aspiring public interest lawyers that want to engage this issue?

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Breaking News: EPA files complaint against Syngenta for farmworker safety violations on Kauai

From EPA – HONOLULU – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint alleging that Syngenta Seeds, LLC violated numerous federal pesticide regulations meant to protect agricultural workers at its crop research farm in Kekaha, Kauai. EPA is seeking civil penalties of over $4.8 million for the violations.

On January 20, 2016, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide. Ten of these workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment. Restricted use pesticides are not available to the general public because of their high toxicity, potential for harm and impact on the environment.

“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority, as it directly affects the health of farmworkers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is committed to enforcing the federal law that protects those who spend long hours in the fields. We appreciate working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to respond to this serious incident.”

The company named in the complaint does business as Syngenta Hawaii, LLC., a subsidiary of Syngenta AG, a global enterprise that produces chemicals and seeds. The EPA complaint states that Syngenta misused the pesticide “Lorsban Advanced,” and it failed in its duties to adequately implement the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s Worker Protection Standard.

Specifically, EPA alleges that Syngenta failed to notify its workers to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides. The company then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed, and without proper personal protective equipment. After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies onsite and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention.

An inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture was present at the Syngenta facility when the exposure incident occurred, prompting the State’s immediate investigation. In March, HDOA referred the matter to EPA for follow-up investigation and enforcement. In April, EPA inspectors conducted a series of inspections, which led to the complaint.

The active ingredient in “Lorsban Advanced” is chlorpyrifos, which in small amounts may cause a runny nose, tears, sweating, or headache, nausea and dizziness. More serious exposures can cause vomiting, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness. Sometimes people develop diarrhea or blurred vision. In severe cases, exposure can lead to unconsciousness, loss of bladder and bowel control, convulsions, difficulty in breathing, and paralysis. Symptoms can appear within minutes and may last days or weeks.

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