The Legislature is in full swing and all the new bills for the session have been submitted. Now we, along with other Chambers of Commerce and business organizations, are reading through hundreds of bills to determine their impact on business.
At the state level, hot topics for our chamber this year include:
* Addressing proposals that seek to increase the minimum wage in the hopes of finding a winning solution.
* Opposing unjustified increases in taxes and fees.
* Stopping unnecessary workplace mandates.
* Amending existing legislation that is particularly harmful to businesses.
* Backing bills that help industries in Hawaii.
* Asking that more transient accommodations tax revenue go to the counties.
* Supporting appropriate tax credits that spur economic development.
* Encouraging the establishment of funding priorities and living within our means.
* Reducing our state's unfunded liabilities debt.
* And, exploring how the state can help tackle the challenges businesses are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act age rate banding.
Along the way, we will be keeping our members informed of our activities on the chamber website at www.mauichamber.com, as well as through weekly eNews.
In addition to state legislation, bills are being heard by the County Council. This past Wednesday, the council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee took on the very controversial subject of the pesticide and genetically modified organisms bill and we were there.
It was a long day, beginning at 9 a.m. and recessing at 4:30 p.m., with many on Maui and Molokai signed up to testify. Both committee Chairman Riki Hokama and Vice Chairman Don Couch, should be commended for how they conducted the meeting. It was a polite and courteous meeting with the process established and decorum maintained. No cheering or disruptions were tolerated and testifiers did a good job of wrapping their testimony up in the one minute allotted beyond their three minutes of testimony. Ninety-six people testified, but 81 who signed up did not get to, according to The Maui News. The bill was heard again on Friday.
Council Member Elle Cochran called the bill a "work in progress" and noted she is open to input. She already has some amendments, but is not yet working with the Maui County Farm Bureau and the changes thus far do not alleviate the industry concerns raised.
As noted in last week's "The Chamber View," we strongly oppose this bill. Pesticide use is already highly regulated by the state and federal governments, and this bill is unnecessary and burdensome.
While many who support the bill paint it as a measure that impacts only large commercial agricultural producers, we have spoken with small- and medium-sized farmers and farm-resource organizations who say pesticide is a needed tool for all farmers. Many farmers believe the bill impacts farmers of all sizes and targets them, especially when other industries and the county and state also use restricted-use pesticides. With so many farmers and ranchers leaving their business that day to come down and testify against the bill, it was clear that it is very important to them.
When it comes to sustainability, people talk about the need to support local farmers and grow more produce locally to better support our food needs, yet we could jeopardize their operations with this bill. Organic growing is a goal, but it is not yet a viable, sustainable option for many farmers who need and know how to safely apply pesticides.
Instead of unnecessary and burdensome regulation, we should be prioritizing efforts to help by addressing water, adding more agricultural inspectors to prevent unwanted pests, and stopping little fire ants from spreading on Maui, since we can't prevent them because they are already here.
Support our local farmers and oppose the current bill.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.