Members of Maui's legislative delegation are optimistic about the significant leadership changes in store when the Legislature convenes Wednesday, saying they anticipate accomplishing a laundry list of priorities for Maui residents.
While lawmakers will be returning to a state Senate where Maui's Shan Tsutsui is no longer president, the majority of state House members are expected to organize behind Wailuku Rep. Joe Souki as speaker, ending longtime Speaker Calvin Say's run at the helm.
Souki enlisted the support of the state House's seven Republicans - whom he's promised vice chairmanships of three key state House committees in return - and a dissident faction of Democrats opposed to Say.
Souki has said he'd continue to be mindful of Maui's needs as speaker, and Tsutsui, in his new role as lieutenant governor, is expected to continue to support Maui initiatives.
"I'm optimistic about the session ahead. We have a strong Senate team," said West and South Maui state Sen. Roz Baker. "Of course we miss Shan as a part of our team, but he's in a great spot to help Maui at the executive branch level. The way I look at it, we have a Maui advantage on many fronts. And I'm looking forward to Representative Joe Souki's leadership as House speaker and the solid Maui team we have in the House to work with."
Other changes include the appointment of former Kahului Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran to serve in the state Senate, filling Tsutsui's vacancy. Gov. Neil Abercrombie hadn't yet named a replacement for the open House seat as of Monday evening.
Meanwhile, Democratic freshman Kaniela Ing's addition to the state House as the representative for South Maui returns the Maui delegation in both chambers to a totally Democratic body. Ing handily defeated Republican George Fontaine in last year's election.
Most lawmakers cited balancing the state's multibillion-dollar budget as a top priority.
Lawmakers will start the session with Abercrombie's proposed budget plan in hand as a starting point. That plan calls for an $11.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including $6.1 billion in general funds.
Maui's legislators have a slew of Maui-focused priorities for the upcoming session, ranging from education and transportation to health care and the environment.
Here's a look at some of the delegation's priorities:
* Kihei high school: Baker, Ing and Souki all cited getting the long-planned high school campus built as a top priority this session.
Abercrombie's proposed budget includes $130 million for the Kihei school, which represents the single-largest capital improvement project in the governor's budget. South Maui's representatives in the state House and state Senate - Ing and Baker, respectively - will need to lobby to ensure the Legislature keeps the project a priority.
* Elementary school in West Maui: West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said that one of his concerns is the overcrowding of elementary schools in West Maui.
"We're overflowing. Getting a new West Maui school built has been on the matrix a long time and maybe it's time to look at that again," he said. "I'm trying to get additional classrooms built for now in the meantime."
* Central Maui intermediate school: Keith-Agaran said he's interested in seeing a new intermediate school campus for Central Maui come to fruition.
"I'm going to work with Speaker Joe Souki and whoever is appointed to the Kahului House seat to keep the effort to identify a location for a new Central Maui intermediate school on track," he said.
* University of Hawaii Maui College: Keith-Agaran also said he plans to meet with UH-Maui College officials to discuss funding needs for facilities and higher education opportunities.
* Lahaina Bypass: McKelvey said another priority will be to "keep the bypass going," referring to the decades-old project to reduce traffic in Lahaina.
The highway's first phase opened to traffic this month, while a second phase is expected to open in March. Once that second phase opens to traffic, motorists will be able to bypass four streets leading to the Lahaina business district. Future phases will extend the bypass both north and south.
"The challenge for federal highway funds is going to be greater because of the loss of (U.S.) Senator (Daniel) Inouye," McKelvey said. "But most of the money has been programmed in; it'll be a matter of keeping state funding in the pipeline."
* Kahului airport and harbor: "I want to make sure the Abercrombie administration remains on track in modernization projects at Kahului Airport, including the main runway replacement, realigned access road and rent-a-car facilities, and at Kahului Harbor," Keith-Agaran said.
Souki also said he views the airport and harbor projects as a priority.
* Highways and bridges: State Sen. J. Kalani English, who chairs the state Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs, was traveling out of state but has said before that repairing and maintaining the state's aging bridges are a priority.
He's said that of the 980 bridges the state is responsible for statewide, 270 are structurally defunct and 42 of those are on the Hana Highway. English represents East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
* Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay: McKelvey said he'll continue to pursue protection from development at Lipoa Point and Honolua Bay in West Maui. He's hoping to pool state, federal and private funds to both acquire the lands for preservation and to create a revenue stream to manage the area, possibly through an endowment.
"If there's no management plan in place, it could turn into a homeless camp or get overrun," he said. "The community wants to see this area protected and malama-ed after it's acquired."
* Public Lands Development Corp.: Several of Maui's lawmakers have said they would support repealing or scaling back the powers of the controversial Public Lands Development Corp. under the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
* Kaanapali Beach renourishment: Baker said that she and McKelvey are working to secure about $400,000 in public funds to match private funds needed to begin a beach renourishment project for Kaanapali Beach.
She noted that the Kaanapali Resort district has a $2 billion economic impact to the state and county. "It's an important area to restore and preserve like the restoration of Waikiki Beach accomplished using a public-private partnership," she said.
* Food safety and security:"I will be supporting food safety regulations that will take into account the concerns of our small, local farmers as well as our larger commercial agribusinesses, as well as continuing to explore ways to support locally grown produce and livestock," Keith-Agaran said.
"I'd like to also see what we can do as a state to support controlling Maui's axis deer population by making the meat safely available for local consumption," he added.
* GMO labeling: Ing said he'd support the labeling of genetically modified foods, either as a bill at the state level or as a resolution to Congress.
* Emergency SUV for Maalaea: Baker said she'll be pursuing a so-called special emergency medical vehicle response unit to be based out of Maalaea.
"Modeled after successful units and strategies used on Oahu and the Mainland, this special response vehicle, SRV for short, is an SUV equipped with all the appropriate life-saving, emergency response equipment and staffed by an advanced life support trained paramedic," she said. "Although it will not be used for patient transport, it will arrive at the scene if the resident ambulances are out of the district and provide advanced life support services to augment the basic services of the fire first responders, or it can arrive more quickly to a remote area while waiting for the medevac helicopter to arrive."
She noted that a staffed ambulance unit costs approximately $1.2 million while an SRV unit like the one she's proposing costs about $600,000.
To track legislation throughout the session, visit capitol.hawaii.gov.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.