2019 Legislative Session – Notable Bills

Over 3,000 bills were introduced in the House and Senate, but less than 300 bills will make it into law. Here are some themes from this year’s Legislative Session with bills that will be sent to the Governor to be vetoed or become law.

  1. Decriminalization – Criminal Justice Reform
    • HB 1383: Marijuana Decriminalization
      • This bill provides for the expungement of criminal records pertaining solely to the possession of three grams or less of marijuana. Decriminalizes the possession of three grams or less of marijuana and establishes that the possession is a violation punishable by a monetary fine of $130. Establishes a marijuana evaluation task force to make recommendations on changing marijuana use penalties and outcomes in the State.
    • SB 1539: Criminal Pretrial
      • This bills codifies the right to a prompt bail hearing upon formal charge and detention. Establishes right to counsel at the bail hearing.
    • SB 192: Unsecure Bail
      • Authorizes the court to release a defendant in custody on unsecured bail.

  2. Election Reform
    • SB 216: Mandatory Recount
      • This bill requires a mandatory recount of election votes and ballot measures when the margin of victory for election contests or tabulation for ballot measures is equal to or less than one hundred or one-quarter of one per cent of the votes cast, whichever is greater.
    • HB 1248: All-Mail Voting
      • This bill enacts voting by mail uniformly across all counties for all elections commencing in 2020. Establishes a limited number of voter service centers that would remain open from the tenth business day preceding an election through the day of the election to receive personal delivery of mail-in ballots, accommodate voters with special needs, offer same day registration and voting, and provide other election services. Allows for additional places of deposit for personal delivery of mail-in ballots. Appropriates funds for the implementation and administration of the election by mail program. Requires the Office of Elections to submit a report to the legislature before the convening of each regular session from 2020 through 2025, regarding the implementation of a vote by mail system.

  3. Hemp and Medical Cannabis 
    • HB 1353: Hemp
      • This bill requires the Department of Agriculture to establish a permanent industrial hemp program pursuant to federal law, and a corresponding special fund. Reduces or repeals certain regulatory requirements under the existing industrial hemp pilot program. Establishes monetary penalties for the unauthorized cultivation of hemp. Establishes authorized cultivation of hemp as an affirmative defense to certain criminal offenses pertaining to marijuana. Excludes hemp from statutory definitions of marijuana. Requires the Chairperson of the Board of Agriculture to prepare a state plan for approval by the federal Secretary of Agriculture and report on the approval process to the Legislature and Governor. Appropriates funds.
    • HB 290: Transportation of Cannabis – Inter island
      • This bill authorizes qualifying patients or qualifying out-of-state patients to transport medical cannabis between islands for their personal medical use.
    • HB 673: Transfer of License
      • This bill provides a process for the voluntary or involuntary sale or transfer of an individual dispensary license. Eases restrictions on allowable operating hours and location of licensed facilities. Expands allowable interisland transportation of medical cannabis products for laboratory testing.

2019 Caucus Package

Calling all Kama‘aina!

We want to make Hawaii more affordable for you and your family! Our 2019 Caucus Package focuses on economical, educational, and medical efforts to make Hawaii a reasonable place to live.

How you can get involved!

The 2019 legislative session begins in January. We need your help! If these bill ideas resonate with you:

  • Voice your support! Contact your representative and encourage them to vote in support of these bills.
  • Suggestions! Make an appointment with a Republican legislator to discuss the bills.
  • Testify! Attend the hearings during the legislative session and testify in support of the bill or submit testimony online at capitol.hawaii.gov.


More about the bill ideas:

Kama’aina Come Home
The cost of living in Hawaii is one of the highest in the nation and as a result, more of our families are relocating out of state for better financial security. This bill establishes a qualified returning resident down payment program funded by revenues collected from real estate investment trusts. With the return of our Kama’aina, it will strengthen our local economy through social, economic, and cultural growth.

Building Wealth For Renters
The path to home ownership becomes out of reach for families in Hawaii when a large portion of their income goes to paying high rents instead of going towards saving for a down payment on a house. In order to assist local renters, this rent-to-equity bill requires that developers receiving any publicly funded tax breaks or incentives to create a profit sharing agreement between the developer and tenant to eventually get families on the road to home ownership.

Cultivating Successful Futures
A little more than half of our high school graduates pursue college degrees while the rest look for other opportunities. This bill will encourage more vocational training at the high school level and give students the opportunity to learn trade skills, such as carpentry, computer technology, and photography to name a few. By expanding funding and facilitating these types of learning opportunities, we’ll be giving our young men and women a head start to their futures.

Steering Resources To Students
The Works of Art Special Fund is used to acquire and store pieces of art for State buildings. However, we see an opportunity to put these funds to better use by steering these resources to student art programs. In doing so, students will receive invaluable experiences for a well-rounded education and cultivating creativity.

Curbing The Doctor Shortage
There are limited residency programs offered at our Hawaii hospitals. As a result, our local medical school graduates are forced to pursue residency programs on the mainland and some don’t return. In order to tackle our current doctor shortage, this bill will provide state matching funds to local teaching hospitals so Hawaii can increase the number of residency spots and encourage our graduates to continue their medical practice here at home.

Making Hawaii More Affordable
Expenses definitely add up. This bill aims at making Hawaii more affordable by eliminating the General Excise Tax (GET) on food, medical services, and feminine hygiene products. This could save the family household hundreds of dollars a year – far more measurable than the current low-income tax-credit.

See the info sheet for more information on other bills in our caucus package.

2019 caucus package - final

The Mike Buck Show with guest Rep. Tupola May 22, 2017 -Audio Only

May 22, 2017 MIKE BUCK with Rep. Andria Tupola

Mike Buck discusses the issues at the Hawaii State Legislature with his guest Representative Andria Tupola, Minority Leader, (R – H District 43 Ewa Villages, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, Nanakai Gardens, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Lualualei,

This week topics include; Rail, Unfunded state liability, HB451 HD1 SD2 CD1- The bill addresses  Hawaiian Home Lands; Successors; Blood Quantum, renewable energy, landfills and  the Marijuana Dispensary Town Hall with Reps. Har, Tupola, Cullen is on May 30th.

Contact: reptupola@capitol.hawaii.gov


A Banner Year For Secrecy, Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering At The Legislature

By Representative Gene Ward – May 25, 2017 – Civil Beat

From reducing poverty to increasing affordable housing, lawmakers could have done much better for the people of Hawaii.

In the wake of the 2017 legislative session, some commenters have given the Legislature an undeserved pat on the back. The truth is that we could and should have done much better for the people of Hawaii this session.

The heart of a strong, healthy democracy should be vigorous debate. Unfortunately, outside observers agree that this was a banner year for secrecy and behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the Legislature.

As former Speaker Rep. Joe Souki – who wasn’t “former” until the final hours of the 2017 session – recently admitted, “We are always secretive. It’s part of being a legislator.”

When it came to doing the people’s business, the Legislature repeatedly dropped the ball.

Reducing Poverty — But Not Enough

The Legislature finally passed a version of a state earned income tax credit to help low-income working families (House Bill 209), but it is unfortunate that it took so long and only resulted in a half-measure. The federal EITC is the most efficient and effective federal program to reduce poverty. That’s why the Republican caucus introduced a more fiscally responsible bill to create a state EITC in each of the past two sessions.

The majority’s version unwisely increases taxes on high-earning job creators, threatening the jobs of the very same working families they claim to help. In addition, because the credit is non-refundable, the poor will only really benefit from half of the tax increase while the state coffers keep the rest.

The Republican caucus has introduced measures to eliminate general excise taxes on food and medical services for years. Unfortunately, the majority has not given a fair hearing to these proposals to reduce the heavy burden of our state’s unusually regressive tax system on the working poor. To be frank, the only real cost-of-living reductions experienced by the people of Hawaii have come from Walmart, Costco and Target, not policymakers in the Legislature.

Doing Little On Affordable Housing

The Legislature’s actions on housing this session amount to only a single drop in the ocean of Hawaii’s affordable housing shortage, which has now reached over 45,000 units.

There are two real ways to increase the affordability of housing, but the Legislature did neither of them.

First, the state could actually pay for significant amounts of affordable housing construction — but there’s no money in this budget to accomplish that.

Second, the state could help the market meet demand by clearing away the restrictions and red tape that too often prevent private developers from taking action to increase the housing supply.

Instead, the majority wasted time considering just how much more red tape to add in transit-oriented development zones around the rail project. It refused to even consider selling development rights along the rail corridor – something that Japan and Hong Kong do all the time to raise private sector funds.

Threatening The Judiciary And Faith-Based Organizations

Unfortunately, one thing the Legislature actually did accomplish this year was threatening the majority’s enemies. The majority caucus in the House insisted on passing a measure that would have cut judges’ pensions (Senate Bill 249), against the advice of the Salary Commission and every sense of decency to the Judiciary.

All minority members spoke out, loud and clear, against this measure. Thankfully, it finally died in conference committee.

The Legislature also took aim at faith-based organizations with an unconstitutional bill that will force pro-life pregnancy centers to put signs in their windows to advertise programs that provide free abortions and contraception (Senate Bill 501). This ill-conceived and malicious bill goes even further than a similar California law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In summary, according to some veteran observers, the 2017 Legislature was one of the worst sessions in the past 40 years. Anyone who claims the 2017 session wasn’t an embarrassment would need a very large fig leaf to cover all of the Legislature’s errors and omissions.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Author

  • Gene Ward
    Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) is a Vietnam veteran and former presidential appointee as a senior democracy officer in the U.S. Agency for International Development.


Bob McDermott: Pass The GET Surcharge And Finish Rail 15 We can’t afford to be distracted by raising the hotel tax or by giving up and stopping the line at Middle Street.

It’s time for Hawaii’s political leadership to face reality: we need to finish building our rail system. It’s past time for Gov. David Ige to demonstrate leadership by calling the Legislature into a special session — immediately — so we can pass an extension of the GET surcharge and get the rail completed.

If we fail to act now to provide stable funding, this project is going to cost all of us more money—a lot more. We need a special session now. Not to debate rail, not to consider other taxes, not for more talk about other transit options, but to take action: pass the extension now, and complete the project.

The numbers are compelling. In construction, like any business, time is money. For every month that passes while we fail to act, the rail project’s price tag inflates by ten to fifteen million dollars. Why? Because it delays everything—bids are not tendered, land is not acquired, and contracts are not signed.


We have only 4 miles to go. The obstructionists still think they can kill the rail project with a thousand paper cuts, but they need to face the stark reality of our situation. We have already finished 16 miles, and if we don’t finish those last 4 miles, Honolulu will have to pay the federal government over $800 million. Honolulu will forfeit another $700 million in transit funding on top of that.

We can’t afford to be distracted by schemes like raising the hotel tax by a whopping 30 percent (and killing numerous jobs in the process). Or by giving up and stopping the line at Middle Street. Or the fanciful panacea of running the line at grade. Any changes to the planned route require a new EIS, and that means a new round of lawsuits, more delays, and ultimately more costs.

Nobody in the Legislature dislikes taxes and fees more than I do. But I support finishing this project, and the best option is to extend the GET surcharge. We’re already paying it, and the sky isn’t falling. We need to reduce the skim to the state to 1 percent and continue the GET surcharge for a minimum of 10 years.

Without an extension, Honolulu may have to raise property taxes to meet its obligations. Ironically, if that happens, the anti-railers living in wealthy enclaves will end up paying even more.


By failing to act, we risk losing the bountiful harvest of economic and environmental benefits that the rail project will bring. It’s not just for West Oahu — every community will be served by a fast, efficient system. Entire communities will be revitalized and grow, with shops, restaurants and condominiums springing up along the line. The rail should be built from Kapolei to Ala Moana, and ultimately to UH Manoa so we can maximize our investments in transportation and education.

We have the ability to get it done and we have a funding mechanism to pay for it. The only thing we lack is the necessary political courage to lead the way. It’s past time for the Governor and the Legislature to do the right thing. Extend the GET surcharge now.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Author

  • Bob McDermott
    Rep. Bob McDermott represents House District 40 — Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry and Iroquois Point.
    Civil Beat May 24, 2017

A Word With Ward – Rep. Ward Addresses Drones – May 2017

Representative Gene Ward (H District 17Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) addresses Drones with Ted Ralston, Director of Unmanned Aerial Systems- the Hawaii component of Pan Pacific UAS Test Range Complex (PPUTRC), which is a unique blending of environmental and testing capabilities for UAS in Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Mississippi, and Kansas – the Extreme Climate states, in the eye of the FAA.

Ted Ralston and Rep. WardContact: repward@capitol.hawaii.gov

Bring The Honolulu Rail Project Back To Planet Earth

No, Mayor Caldwell, raising taxes is not the only way to address the spiraling costs of the biggest public works project in Hawaii history.

headshot dec 2011By Cynthia Thielen  – Community Voice 

This legislative session, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell lobbied hard for extending the general excise tax another decade to fund rail, already the most expensive public works project in state history.

Had the Legislature buckled to that pressure, we would have converted a disappointment into a disaster. After burning through a generous $1 billion contingency fund, the mayor offered no honest accounting for past mistakes, no serious pledge to reduce expenses and no reasonable concessions to economic reality.

Instead, he pinched the “too-big-to-fail” argument from Wall Street bankers and demanded yet another bailout from Hawaii taxpayers.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell inside the rail project’s first train car.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Last year, the Federal Transit Administration urged the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to consider “a smaller project of independent utility” within current budget constraints. It conditioned federal funds on cost containment, interim terminus or deferral of certain stations, or new investment. With characteristic obstinacy, Caldwell pursued only the last option by only a single means: raising taxes.

I support bringing the city center segment from Middle Street to Ala Moana down to street level. This sensible alternative would save about $4 billion and four years of construction, while sparing Honolulu’s waterfront from permanent visual blight. By running the trains sooner, we can also use passenger fares to defray some expenses.

Building a street-level portion would imaginatively and prudently combine the measures requested by the federal government. The city has always reserved this as a contingency option should cost overruns doom the original plan for elevated rail. We have now reached that juncture.

Tax increases in any form will only subsidize Caldwell’s reckless hubris and aggressive incompetence.

Saving taxpayer money is not simply a matter of expediency, but of fairness and principle. Extending the general excise surcharge shifts the burden to our poorest residents, who will pay more for groceries and other necessities. Increasing the hotel and accommodation taxes hobbles our state’s primary economic engine. Raising property taxes further inflates housing costs, while devastating seniors and middle-class families, whose homes are often their most significant investment.

Worst of all, tax increases in any form will only subsidize Caldwell’s reckless hubris and aggressive incompetence. No one has supervised this boondoggle longer than he has. Before running for mayor, Caldwell served as the city managing director from 2008 to 2010, the self-proclaimed “primary point person” for rail. On his watch, bloated red tape, numerous design changes and haphazard contract modifications drove costs skyward.

By January 2010, the FTA had already publicly questioned whether Honolulu could afford a $5 billion rail project. Following that report, Gov. Linda Lingle, an early supporter of elevated rail, warned that the city should revise its financing and construction plans to anticipate a federal funding shortfall.

“I don’t know another project except this one that has made no adjustment from a pre-recession to a post-recession proposal,” Lingle said at the time. But rather than return to the drawing board, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Caldwell pressed heedlessly forward.

When launching his mayoral campaign two years later, Caldwell again dismissed legitimate concerns about cost and funding.

“The current $5.2 billion budget includes a very large contingency and adequate reserves for short-term financing,” he blithely claimed. “Reports that it will cost $7 billion or more are only scare tactics unsupported by anyone except tea party-style rail critics.”

Today, HART’s own cost estimates for the project stand at $10 billion. We can only expect this figure to increase. Construction has not even reached the halfway mark, and the costliest segment through the dense downtown corridor still lies ahead. On current trajectory, rail will probably wind up costing $13-15 billion.

Mile for mile, that’s roughly the cost of the Channel Tunnel connecting England and France (adjusting for inflation). But the “Chunnel” was among the most complicated engineering feats of the last century — 20 miles undersea — and running high-speed trains that could load cars onboard. Moreover, at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s insistence, private shareholders funded the whole project.

By contrast, under the best case scenario, we will receive a slightly fancier version of the Pearlridge monorail at ruinous cost to ordinary taxpayers. Nor does this include the price for continuous maintenance and repair. Because HART acquired substandard material at premium rates, we have already seen cracked guideways and broken shims before the first train has left its station. Unless we correct course now, these problems will only accumulate and compound.

Enough is enough. Honolulu deserves responsibility, accountability and fairness. Let’s bring this project back down to Earth.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Author

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is a member of House committees on Judiciary; Energy and Environmental Protection; Water and Land; and Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. She is also a member of the Women’s, Keiki, and Kupuna caucuses.

Civil Beat Link to article