As the legislative session heads toward its adjournment Thursday, lawmakers buckled down Tuesday to vote on dozens of remaining bills, including approving the proposed state budget, which contained some key items for Maui County.
The $23.8 billion biennium state budget proposal was one of the first bills to clear both the House and the Senate unanimously Tuesday morning and is now headed for the governor's desk.
The 281-page House Bill 200 included a number of appropriations for Maui County, including $130 million for a new high school in Kihei, $20 million toward the preservation of Lipoa Point on the west side and millions toward transportation improvements.
Funds to build a high school complex in Kihei have been on the agenda for years, Maui lawmakers said. The proposed $130 million will allow the school to be built all at once, instead of in phases, which would cost up to $25 million more.
"I'm pleased that the Senate unanimously approved a state budget that includes funding to begin the construction of Kihei high school," state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, who represents Central Maui, wrote in an email after the Senate session ended Tuesday afternoon.
"A school for the South Maui community is long overdue and will also help with the crowding at Baldwin and Maui High," said Keith-Agaran, referring to the island's two largest high schools in his district.
The acquisition of Lipoa Point from current landowners Maui Land & Pineapple also is a landmark decision, as it ensures that the nearly 280 acres of coastal lands surrounding and north of Honolua Bay will remain free from commercial development, while allowing ML&P retirees to keep their pensions.
Keith-Agaran also noted that the state budget includes $6 million for continued upgrades at Maui Memorial Medical Center, $950,000 for the second phase of the Easter Seals campus in Kahului and $4.7 million in additional funds for the Central Maui Regional Park.
"Maui has an excellent Senate team," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai. "With Senators Baker and Keith-Agaran, this was the first round for this new team, and we found being able to coordinate our efforts and talk about the issues with a unified position continues to be our strength in the Senate."
English, who chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs, also noted that "a lot" of the committee's $1.2 billion budget proposal will go toward bridge replacement projects, harbor improvements and airport upgrades in Maui County.
Bridges along Hana Highway, harbors at Kahului, Kaunakakai and Kalaupapa and airports at Hana, Lanai, Kapalua and Molokai will all see improvements in the coming years, said English.
The state budget proposal also allocated $217 million over the next two years to be put toward relieving the state's more than $20 billion in unfunded pension and health benefits. In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Neil Abercrombie urged lawmakers to put down $100 million a year toward unfunded liabilities, though he also admitted that it would take much more - $500 million a year for the next 30 years - to pay off what is owed to state workers.
Two bills relating to drug prescriptions - House Bills 62 and 65 - sailed through both chambers of the Legislature. HB 62 prohibits the marketing of patients' medical health information without prior consent while HB 65 allows state and county workers and their beneficiaries to opt out of mandatory mail-order prescriptions, allowing them to get their medications from local pharmacies instead.
"(HB 65) is a very important bill because we wanted to make sure for folks who are more comfortable having face-to-face interaction at their local pharmacy, they should have the option to do that," said South and West Maui state Sen. Roz Baker, who lobbied for the measure in the Senate.
"It was awesome because both bills were passed unanimously; 78 people in state Legislature believed in them," said Molokai Drugs owner Kimberly Svetin.
She has been working with other local pharmacists, community groups and lawmakers to get the bills signed into law.
"Our next step is to meet with the governor and get this made into legislation," said Svetin.
Abercrombie, who launched his re-election campaign Monday, will have until June 24 to review bills passed by Legislature. He will then either sign measures into law, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature. Should the Legislature disagree with a veto by the governor, it will have until July 9 to override a veto.
Both the House and the Senate will meet Thursday morning to vote on a few remaining bills that were pushed back from Tuesday's agenda to allow for more discussion, according to a spokesman for the House.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.