The 2014 state legislative session began Wednesday, with me and several of my Maui County Council colleagues in attendance, and is scheduled to adjourn May 1.
Our state representatives and senators have started introducing and reviewing hundreds of new bills. In last year's regular session, 3,735 bills were introduced and 288 became law.
Details on pending and enacted bills are available at the 2nd Circuit Court law library in Wailuku, any public library, and online at www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Based on the structure of government established by the Hawaii Constitution, many of the Legislature's actions can have a direct impact on county operations and the daily lives of Maui County residents.
As council chair, I lead the coordination of intergovernmental matters, pursuant to the rules of the council. In that role, I supported efforts over the last several months to foster unity among local governments throughout the state.
For example, I've convened regular meetings of the council chairs from the three other counties that have helped foster new partnerships among the Hawaii Council of Mayors and the Hawaii State Association of Counties.
It is my hope that the counties' unity will be appreciated during the legislative session for the benefit of all of our constituents.
Under my direction, council staff is tracking legislation related to priorities we identified. I will be submitting testimony in support of the bills introduced in the HSAC Legislative Package. The bills would respectively provide legal protections for county taxpayers in matters of beach liability and roadway maintenance, and provide for funding for a medical facility in Hilo.
We shall monitor and continue to oppose legislation that would diminish counties' authority. Home rule is an important value. I'll continue to support efforts to lift the cap on transient accommodation tax revenues for the counties.
The counties play a major role in generating TAT revenues by supporting the visitor industry in innumerable ways, including by maintaining roadways, providing fire, police and lifeguard services, protecting the natural environment, furnishing parks and recreational opportunities, and supporting the Maui Visitors Bureau. Monies earned by the counties should be proportionately returned and not arbitrarily capped.
Lifting the TAT cap is a matter of fairness. It's also crucial to maintaining our county's sterling record of financial management.
Last week I submitted testimony in support of House Bill 849, which would clarify the relationship between the state and counties during emergencies and establish more local authority. No other level of government has better access to critical real-time information during a crisis than the county.
I also intend to work with Maui County's delegation to the Legislature in support of beneficial capital improvement projects on Lanai, Maui and Molokai.
Testimony submitted to the Legislature will be posted on the council website. I encourage residents to use elements of my testimony in the submission of their own testimony.
It will be my honor to be back at the state Capitol on Tuesday representing Maui County at the governor's State of the State address.
Meanwhile, the Maui County Council remains in session all year. The next council meeting is on Friday at 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers.
A hui hou.
* Gladys C. Baisa is chair of the Maui County Council and holds the council's Pukalani/Kula/Ulupalakua area residency seat. "Chair's 3 Minutes" is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.