Raising Hawaii's Minimum Wage and Making Kindergarten Mandatory — What Else Did Hawaii Legislators Do for You?

Photos: Odeelo Dayondon

May 1 is the last day of the 2014 Legislative session, or, as the wonky people who work in the square building call it, adjournment/sine die (And for some unknown reason, these otherwise well-educated people abandon all Latin pronunciation and say sigh-knee dye).

Now, incumbent lawmakers will be free to concentrate on their re-election campaigns. They’ll turn to telling you what they’ve accomplished since the Legislature convened in January, which  should help you decide whether to vote them back into office or seek change.

Here are some top accomplishments of the 2014 Legislature, as highlighted by the House Majority (Democrats) office:

  • Raising the minimum wage. This issue has been hotly debated across the nation. For the first time since 2007, Hawaii lawmakers decided to do something to help raise the standard of living for our lowest-paid workers. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. In a series of staggered increases, the minimum wage will first go up to $7.75 per hour on Jan. 1 and further increase each year until it reaches $10.10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2018. This will make Hawaii the fifth jurisdiction to approve a minimum wage above $10.
  • Making changes to public housing laws to help shorten the waiting list. If this bill becomes law, if a public housing resident who receives the Housing Choice Program voucher passes away, it needs to be returned to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority unless there is still a surviving minor or a full-time student up to age 23 living there. But they won’t be able to move their families in willy-nilly. The bill also ensures that the legal guardians who care for a qualified minor are not allowed to move into the unit unless they are also eligible for public housing.
  • On a related note, smokers will have to light up away from public housing projects, including senior citizen units, that fall under the Hawaii Public Housing Authority’s jurisdiction.
  • Protecting keiki. A number of bills are aimed at protecting children, particularly from sexual and domestic abuse. And there’s a move to allow young adults more time to report abuse. The statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse has been extended to eight years after the abused child—or the abuser—reaches 18. Those who recognize problems caused by childhood sexual abuse after age 26 have three years beyond the discovery to decide whether to file charges.
  • Cell phone safe zone? I learned the hard way from a police officer that it wasn’t legal to pull off the road, turn off my engine and take a call on my cell phone. But an amendment to that law will make it OK to pull out of traffic and use your mobile device in a completely stopped vehicle with the engine off.
  • Restructuring the Health Connector. In response to the troubled launch of the Hawaii Health Connector, a Connector Legislative Oversight Committee has been created and will restructure the board of directors in October.
  • Increasing the counties’ share of the transient accommodations tax (known mostly as the hotel room tax) by $20 million over the next two years, which is less than what the counties have long lobbied for, but better than nothing.
  • Making kindergarten mandatory for all children at least 5 years old by July 31 of the school year. (Raise your hand if you didn’t realize kindergarten was currently optional.)
  • Protecting seniors from financial scams.  Funding educational programs to teach them about annuities, ponzi schemes and other potential pitfalls.
  • Here’s an interesting issue for Hawaii—tanning by minors. Why do they need to pay to tan indoors in one of the sunniest states in the nation? It doesn’t matter, because they will no longer allowed to use tanning equipment before they turn 18.

What’s the common thread here? House Speaker Joe Souki said in a press release about the Legislature’s accomplishments: "Long-term financial obligations aside, we worked hard to respond to the needs of our kupuna and to raise the income of our families on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”

With no disrespect to the Legislature’s important work, as a long time Kailuan, one of my favorite legislative acts this year was a resolution by Rep. Chris Lee, who represents Kailua; and Nicole Lowen, who represents Kailua-Kona. Those of us Facebookers who live in either town know full-well whether we live on Oahu or the Big Island, but until recently there was no way to make the distinction between which Kailua Town you lived in on Facebook despite requests from individuals to correct this geographic injustice for years.

So the two representatives co-authored a resolution urging the social network to make a more clear distinction between the two towns. Did that non-binding move convince the social network to change? Turns out it only took a public hearing and Facebook made the change just hours after the resolution passed. So after years of informing people that I lived in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, now my Facebook contacts will know which island to visit me on. Small victories, my friends.


We’d love to hear from you about what important things you think the Legislature accomplished, as well as where they might have dropped the ball. Email us at politics@honolulumagazine.com or comment below.