Acasio lays out her legislative priorities

  • ACASIO

Correction: New District 1 state Sen. Laura Acasio of Hilo served as House District 2 chair, not Democratic party chair, from 2018-20.

Hawaii Island’s newest legislator met the press Thursday via the internet to introduce herself.

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Laura Clint Acasio, appointed Tuesday to the state Senate District 1 seat vacated by newly elected U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, said her legislative priorities include “health and wellness, protecting ourselves, especially related to COVID,” plus improving access to health care for neighbor islanders and food security. District 1 includes the greater Hilo area.

Hawaii imports about 85% of its food and Acasio said the issue of food security “has come more to light because of COVID, but has always existed.”

“Agriculture, diversified agriculture and supporting our small farmers is such an important issue,” she said.

Acasio is a longtime educator who has two children, ages 14 and 16. Many schoolchildren are still on a distance learning model, and when asked about more in-person class time, especially on Hawaii Island, which had a 1.4% infection rate as of Thursday, she replied, “First of all, we need to get our kids back into school, absolutely.”

Acasio acknowledged the DOE is leaving much of the decision making up to the individual schools based not only on the infection rate, but “on capacity and enrollment size” given the mandate to social distance.

“This has been a part of this whole conundrum of the pandemic that everyone has been faced with and dealing with,” she said. “… But getting them back into school might look differently. … That is something we’re going to look at and that we can engage in.”

Acasio said small-group instruction outdoors “could be quite engaging.”

“I can speak to where I have recently taught for seven years, at Haaheo Elementary at Wainaku, that we don’t have any covered outdoor spaces,” she said. “And, of course, in Hilo we need covered outdoor spaces.”

Acasio said a recent survey showed some teachers are already being vaccinated for COVID-19 and part of her “immediate agenda is to “make sure we can help in any way possible.”

The Senate announced Thursday that Acasio will serve on the committees on Agriculture & Environment, Hawaiian Affairs, Human Services and Judiciary.

Acasio acknowledged signing a change.org petition to impeach Gov. David Ige, which was posted on her public Facebook page on July 19, 2019. She said she didn’t know if Ige was aware of that before appointing her to the Senate seat.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said in an email that Ige is aware of Acasio’s background but doesn’t know if he knew about the Facebook post when he appointed her.

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“The governor stands by his appointment and believes that Ms. Acasio’s broad experience and active community engagement would best serve the district,” Leong added.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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