West Hawaii legislators outline session priorities

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Sen. Josh Green
Sen. Lorraine Inouye
Rep. Richard Creagan
Rep. Nicole Lowen
Rep. Cindy Evans

HILO — Hospital, courthouse, school and airport upgrades. Solutions to homelessness, protection for kupuna, tax credits for battery storage of electricity, outlawing a controversial pesticide.

The 2018 legislative session kicks off Jan. 17, and West Hawaii lawmakers are outlining priorities for what they hope will be a productive 60-day regular session.

Among priorities for West Hawaii lawmakers:

Sen. Josh Green, D-District 3 (Kona, Ka‘u)

Green, who’s giving up what seems to be a safe Senate seat in order to run for lieutenant governor, plans to use his final legislative session for a major push to tackle homelessness. That’s an issue he wants to carry on into a term as lieutenant governor.

He wants to restructure the approximately $2 billion the state already spends on Medicaid, which pays for medical services for residents in poverty or with disabilities. By allowing Medicaid money to also provide basic shelter, it could end some of the expensive crisis medicine — for ambulances and emergency rooms, for example — and use the funding more efficiently, he said.

A physician, Green wants a better model statewide that includes medical services and behavioral health solutions for drug and mental illness treatment, permanent housing and safe zones so there are no unsheltered citizens in Hawaii in five years.

“This approach should improve people’s lives and will aim to decrease the economic impact of homelessness by 30-40 percent,” Green said.

Two Kona-area projects — the judiciary building and extension of Queen Kaahumanu Highway — are moving along, and Green wants to make sure they continue. He’s pushing to ensure money stays n the budget for these projects.

The cost of the second phase of widening Queen Kaahumanu widening phase two is now up to $105 million and is considered 60 percent complete. The project, which broke ground in September 2015, will widen Highway 19 from two to four lanes between Kealakehe Parkway and Keahole Airport Road.

The $90 million Kona Judiciary Complex is well on the way to completion, but it still needs as much as $7.5 million more for furnishings and infrastructure.

“This 10-year cycle has seen the largest appropriations ever for West Hawaii, between Queen Kaahumanu, the courthouse and Palamanui,” Green said. “Finishing these large projects is critical so we can next fight for a new hospital for Kona.”

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-District 4 (Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona)

Inouye plans to continue her push for a statewide airport authority to expedite improvements to the state’s aging airports — from restrooms and parking to passenger facilities and air traffic control.

“Hawaii is one of only three states in the country that is still stuck in the dark ages of managing its air transportation facilities with state government-operated airports,” Inouye said. “Our airports are disgraceful and it isn’t a lack of funding — almost all funding for airports is provided by the airlines and the airlines worked with the State Legislature in 2006 to approve a $2 billion modernization plan.”

Inouye, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, said the public procurement system slows progress. State employees are well-intentioned, she said, but their hands are tied by cumbersome regulations. She said she’s working with employees and labor leaders to ensure a smooth transition.

Inouye’s other 2018 legislative priority is securing a state tax credit for individuals, businesses and organizations that install energy battery storage facilities. Currently, tax credits are available for solar panels, but not the battery storage units, which she sees as a critical part of the system.

Tops on her list of capital improvement projects is a $1.6 million purchase of a vacant lot adjacent to the Waimea Elementary and Middle School campuses and Kamuela post office. She is also prioritizing a Senate resolution to urge the United States Post Office to expedite relocation of the Kamuela Post Office to a site with sufficient land area to ensure adequate parking in decades to come.

The vacant lot targeted for purchase is immediately adjacent to the school and post office and is owned by Parker Ranch. The ranch has allowed school families and staff and post office patrons and others in the community including Kahilu Theatre patrons to park on the gravel — often flooded — lot due to inadequate parking in the immediate area. However, the ranch recently announced it had to sell the commercially zoned parcel to fulfill other obligations to its beneficiaries. This triggered widespread community concern.

“Waimea Elementary has been fortunate to secure a number of funding partners that are providing preschool programming — the more the better for these children. But there is no place to park that’s close and safe,” she said. “The lot acquisition also would relieve parking needed by post office patrons every single day.”

Inouye also is prioritizing $1.5 million for expansion of North Hawaii Community Hospital’s emergency room.

Rep. Richard Creagan, D-District 5 (Naalehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona)

Creagan, a physician who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Green, is putting his primary focus on a new teaching hospital for Kona.

“We currently have $500,000 appropriated for a feasibility study for this hospital and we are hoping to have the funds released from Budget and Finance shortly,” Creagan said.

The hospital would be affiliated with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, providing both inpatient and outpatient care for patients, as well as training for primary care physician specialties including family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, community psychiatry and possibly emergency medicine and obstetrics/gynecology.

Creagan hopes the hospital can be located near Hawaii Community College-Palamanui. He wants services at the hospital to include a hyperbaric chamber to treat infections and diving accidents, an adolescent in-patient mental health unit, an interventional cardiology unit and improved trauma services.

Creagan also will push a bill he sponsored last year to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, one of the nation’s most common agricultural insecticides sold under many brand names, including Dursban and Lorsban. The Environmental Protection Agency under the President Barack Obama administration had mulled banning the insecticide, but that plan was scuttled by the President Donald Trump administration.

“We are therefore bringing back that bill and provide for monitoring of exposure of pregnant women during the phaseout of this pesticide,” Creagan said, adding that chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to the unborn fetus of mothers exposed to it.

Top funding priorities are $1 million for University of Hawaii-Hilo for research on rat lungworm disease, support for clinical outpatient and inpatient evaluation and treatment center for the disease at Hilo Hospital and a smaller amount to reinvigorate the agriculture farm at Konawaena High School, where some 120 students learn agriculture.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-District 6 (Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa, Honokohau)

Lowen said affordable housing is going to be a big issue this coming session, not just for her but for the entire majority caucus in the House.

“We are obviously in the midst of a crisis with the lack of available housing that’s affordable for working residents,” Lowen said.

It’s an issue that hits home in West Hawaii, where workers struggle to find affordable housing closer to their workplace. Many workers must make the long commute from East Hawaii, where property prices are lower, in order to find an affordable place to live.

Lowen said ideas for solutions are still in the early discussion phases, but she plans to follow up with legislation as ideas become fleshed out.

Top funding areas for Lowen are Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, a sewer line from Honokohau Harbor to the wastewater treatment plant and money for school improvements.

Lowen should get a lot of support from Gov,. David Ige for her airport plans. Ige’s proposed supplemental budget released earlier this month includes $69 million in revenue bond funds for a permanent federal inspection station.

Ige is also requesting CIP funding of $6.6 million for restroom renovations and $1.5 million to design a new administration office building at the airport. And, he wants to add four full-time visitor information assistants and two airport operations controllers.

Rep. Cindy Evans, D-District 7 (North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala)

Evans plans to focus on the state’s most vulnerable populations in crafting policies and programs to help them thrive.

“We’re looking at timely, efficient and effective programs to empower the veterans, juveniles and our elders,” Evans said.

Particulars include continue a very successful veterans court pilot project that had fellow vets volunteering to help their troubled comrades. The defendants selected to participate in Veterans Treatment Court have all served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have experienced difficulties acclimating back into society. Many have mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the majority struggle with substance abuse as well, according to the state Judiciary website.

For juveniles, Evans seeks support for the Juvenile Assessment Center, which provides services for at-risk youth who have been arrested for minor or status offenses, identifies their needs, and links them and their families with appropriate services.

“It’s true diversion,” Evans said of the program that helps keep kids from becoming hardened criminals by treating them early.

Evans also wants to focus on the state’s growing elder population, in an effort to maintain services and combat fraud and other crimes against them. Those 65 and older made up 17.1 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents in 2016, a jump from 14.3 percent in 2010, according to Census Bureau data.

“Issues of elder abuse and fraud are only going to increase,” Evans said.

Waimea Elementary and Middle School is also a funding priority for Evans. She said there are a lot of needed upgrades for the aging facility, including parking and traffic control, a covered play court, equipping the STEM building and renovating the gym.