Legislature 2003 opens; let's get to work
|||Senate majority: Restructure the way we do business|
|||Senate minority: Keep an open mind on the issues, and seek new solutions|
|||House majority: We must restore citizens' faith|
|||House minority: Jobs are the state's No. 1 priority|
You could hear almost anything you wished for yesterday during speeches that marked the opening of the 2003 Hawai'i Legislature.
There were pledges of cooperation from Democrats to the new Republican Lingle administration. There were attacks on Republican politics that suggest Democratic leadership is prepared to draw a bright line on some issues.
If there was an overall theme, it appears that while there is general agreement on the major problems and issues facing the state most critically balancing the budget there will be stiff competition for credit in solving those problems and solutions. That competition should not dissolve into confrontation.
On specific topics, a few observations:
On education, House Democrats appear to be on track with a proposal to let individual school administrators make decisions about repair and maintenance projects that now must go through a central bureaucracy. This could be a way to kick-start the long-delayed "Marshall Plan" effort to upgrade the physical facilities of our public school system.
But Democrats appeared ready to head off Lingle's call for district-level school boards with their own "community-based" school board initiative, which sounded like nothing much different from the current School/Community-Based Management system with a new title.
While details are yet to emerge, it sounds as if Lingle and lawmakers may be on the same page when it comes to secure, long-term drug treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of hard prison time. That's positive.
We share Senate President Robert Bunda's frustration with efforts to halt the penetration of our population by drug pushers, particularly those selling the insidious crystal methamphetamine to our youth. But we think his call for mandatory drug testing and treatment of public school students as criminals might go too far.
As for the state's financial obligation to Native Hawaiians, Say announced triumphantly that a way has been found to pay the Office of Hawaiian Affairs $10.3 million in back revenues owed for the state's use of ceded lands.
Miraculously, they say they've cut the deal without going through a lengthy legislative process. Now, the Legislature must make good on its promise and also pass a new law to restart reasonable ceded land payments to OHA.
Republicans in both the House and Senate were obviously ecstatic. Their enthusiasm will contribute greatly to this session if it is applied in a spirit of cooperation and consultation with majority Democrats.
Everyone talked about the budget crunch ahead, but no one had any real specifics on what could be done to ease it. There was talk about seizing control of up to $3 billion parked in "special funds." This sounds good, but could be largely illusory, since much of that money (harbor, airport and highway special funds, for instance) is not available.
At the end of the day, one of the best lines came from House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, who made reference to the recent elections and Lingle's victory.
Speaking to the general public, Saiki proclaimed: "We get it."
If that is indeed true, this could be a most productive session.