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"operating within the confines of a capitol closed to the public amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic"

It has been almost two weeks since the legislature concluded “sine die.” In that time there have been a handful of news stories that attempt to sum up this year’s session. For my part, as the conclusion of the 2021 legislative session recedes in the rear view, I’ve contemplated my own assessment of the session.

While there are certainly bright spots worth highlighting, from my perspective the legislature was as it always is. A colossal disappointment.

Legislators, operating within the confines of a capitol closed to the public amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, were largely sheltered from a public that usually would be bustling around the building. Though there were arguably exceptions, legislators did “the people’s work” while ignoring them.

I’ll get to that. First, the highlights.

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The effort to move on these two pieces of legislation has nothing to do with ousting Speaker Saiki.

Anyone who pays attention to local politics of the legislative variety is aware of efforts to force House Leadership to come to the aid of working families.

Civil Beat reported earlier this week that a number of labor leaders sent a letter to Speaker Saiki urging him to take swift action on two bills currently stuck in committee. SB614 would exempt unemployment benefits from the Hawaii income tax, while SB676 would raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour at the start of 2022.

Many unions and advocates for working families have been pushing for these bills since January, with little effect. But with the end of session fast approaching, time grows short for these bills to advance.

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xkcd voting

Earlier this week, ballots began to arrive across the island of Oʻahu as the 2020 election season finally reaches the closing stretch. Though nearly all the attention this year has been on the handful of high-profile races for Honolulu Mayor and Prosecutor, I’ve also been focused on a number of state legislative races.

But when my ballot arrived, I realized there were four Charter Amendment questions included that I’d given no thought to. So now I am doing the work of learning about them and, hopefully, providing some useful information to help folks make their decision on how to vote for these:

  1. Shall the Revised City Charter be amended to establish for the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu a term limit of two consecutive full four-year terms, the same term limit as is applicable to the Mayor and Councilmembers of the City and County of Honolulu?
  2. Shall the Revised City Charter be amended to establish a Youth Commission under the Managing Director?
  3. Shall the Revised City Charter be amended to allow the Honolulu Ethics Commission to control its own budget after it has been enacted?
  4. Shall the Revised Charter be amended to require the ethics commission staff to be appointed based on merit principles, but exempt from the civil service position classification plan, and to have the salaries of all ethics commission staff set by the ethics commission, subject to specified limitations?
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Again?

As is so often the case, this post is inspired by conversations I’ve had over the last several days. The first was with my mother, in Kansas City, who was telling me about a news story in which a man had saved for years and years to start his own business. Only to see that business destroyed during recent riots.

She bemoaned the cruelty of it. She felt bad for the man and decried the rioters. Burning a police station was one thing; she didn’t condone it, but understood. But private businesses? My mom was upset by it and didn’t see what purpose it served or what destroying private property and people’s livelihoods accomplished.

I’ve had similar discussions since then.

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This week Honolulu saw the results of the first two scientific polls for local elections this year. The first, a poll on the Honolulu Mayor’s race, was published earlier last week. The other, on Honolulu’s race for Prosecutor, was released this past Friday morning.

In both cases, there is a fairly high number or respondents who hadn’t decided, or indicated they don’t like any of the candidates.

There’s no denying we’ve all be more than a little preoccupied with the impact of COVID-19 on our families and our communities. Rightly so. So while all the candidates will do their best to spin the results, we should keep in mind the current circumstances when viewing the results.

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