Aloha Maui Democrats!
My name is Josh Frost and I am the Co-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Legislation Committee. My Co-Chair Zahava Zaidoff, on the big island, and I have been working hard this session along with our committee members to advocate for the priority list which was approved by the State Central Committee last fall.
Before I begin my report on the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Legislative Priorities, I want to take a moment to thank Chair Lara for the invitation and opportunity to address your convention today. And I want to thank all the Maui Democrats in the room for helping to make the Party strong across the state.
For those of you who may not know about the Legislation Committee, its mandate, or the process we used for choosing the Party’s Priorities, let me first take a quick minute to share it with you.
The DPH Legislation Committee
The Legislation Committee is one of the Standing Committees named in our Party’s Constitution and Bylaws. Under the guidance of the State Central Committee, we are tasked with working to translate our Platform and Resolutions into legislation passed into law.
Starting last fall, the Legislation Committee began our process by reviewing all the resolutions that were approved by the State Convention in 2018. Committee members were given the opportunity to select a handful of resolutions which they wanted to potentially prioritize for the Party and on which they were willing to take the lead. Then the committee came together to discuss all the selected resolutions and begin to decide how to prioritize them. Which we wanted to propose and which, for whatever reason, we wanted to pass on this year.
Our process was collaborative and while some conversations may have been contentious, in the end, we all came together to agree and made our recommendations to the State Central Committee.
Those priorities, which were categorized into three tiers, were ultimately approved and they are as follows:
Minimum Wage/Living Wage Increased Funding for Public Education Recreational Cannabis Legalization
Graduate Assistants Union Veterans’ Treatment Court Remote Testimony for Neighbor Islands Single-Payer Health Care
Increased Access to Behavioral Health Criminal Justice Reform/Bail Reform Publicly Funded Elections
The Update: Part I, The Overview
It was an ambitious agenda, especially given our Committee’s limited capacity.
Some issues, such as Veteran’s Treatment Court and Single Payer Health Care, died relatively quickly, as either no bills were introduced, or no hearings were scheduled on these issues.
Any substantive funding increase for public education also eventually fell by the wayside, as did recreational cannabis legalization.
Other issues, like Graduate Assistant Union Organizing and Remote Testimony, and Publicly Funding Elections made it further but ultimately died in or shortly before Conference. Here I’d like to take a moment to recognize Donna Domingo and the ILWU for their hard work and support for the Graduate Assistants. Thank you.
Part II: Where We Succeeded
As I stand here and report to you today, only two of our priorities are poised to arrive or have already arrived, on the Governor’s Desk following the Legislature’s adjournment on Thursday, May 2.
On Bail Reform: I can happily report that Senate Bill 192 Relating to Bail has cleared the conference hurdle. Criminal Justice advocates, whose lead we followed, supported this bill which ultimately lowers substantially the bail threshold and allows for unsecured bail for certain defendants by allowing them to sign a promissory note saying they will pay the bail amount if they don’t show up for their court date.
House Bill 1552 Relating to Public Safety is also a positive development, as it codifies some of the Pretrial Task Force recommendations and establishes a Criminal Justice Research Institute housed within the Judiciary.
There were many bills introduced to address the dire need for increased access to mental health services in our communities, particularly on the neighbor islands. Among them included funding for drug treatment, parity for behavioral health conditions through insurance, suicide prevention training, expanding residential mental health services, and more.
Unfortunately, precious few of those measures remain alive today and those that are are not likely to affect any real change in the short term. However, on a more positive note, House Bill 330 Relating to Suicide Prevention, which appropriates $150,000 to fund suicide prevention initiatives is now sitting on the Governor's desk.
As a party, we will continue working during the interim and beyond with legislators and the public to raise awareness and build grassroots momentum to address this issue.
Part III: Our Greatest Disappointment
I’m am sorry to inform you that our Party’s top priority, increasing the minimum wage, failed yesterday to clear its conference committee.
House Bill 1191 Relating to Minimum Wage, which would have raised the State Minimum Wage to $15 an hour by 2024 was deferred indefinitely. While I hesitate to place blame on specific legislators, that this bill failed to advance is a colossal disappointment. While in other jurisdictions with Democratic majorities, $15 Minimum Wage bills are advancing across the country. In Hawaii, our Democratic Super-Majority legislature cautiously nodded toward business interests rather than giving minimum wage workers the raises they desperately need just to scrape by.
Part IV: The Water Bill
Relatively late into this year’s legislative session, at the request of the Legislation Committee, our State Central Committee voted unanimously to support efforts to put a stop to House Bill 1326 Relating to Water Rights. We followed the lead of those water protectors already in the fight to push back against Alexander and Baldwin and legislative leadership. Prepared to accept a compromise which ensured small farmers, ranchers, and energy utilities would continue to have necessary access public streams, we support the Senate Draft offered by Big Island Senator Kai Kahele. I want to applaud Senator Kahele for his work on this important issue and express my own disappointment with those Senators who refused to advance that reasonable compromise.
I will share with you that rumors persist that efforts are afoot to revive the egregious House Draft 2, which would extend Act 126 from 2016 for another seven years and provides no guidance or enforcement upon the Department of Land and Natural Resources to resolve the issue in a timely fashion. On behalf of the Party, I continue to work with our allies on this issue to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Conclusions & Lessons
In conclusion, let me say this; as a Co-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Legislation Committee and member of our State Central Committee, I am sorry we could not do more to advance our Party’s priorities which would have provided relief on a number of fronts to the most vulnerable among us.
It is clear there is a wide gap between the goals and values expressed in our platform and resolutions and the votes of many of our Democratic legislators. Neither the legislature nor the Party is doing a good job in bridging that divide to address the many serious challenges Hawaii residents face.
All of us in this room today hold the Democratic Party of Hawaii close to our hearts as an instrument for positive change for the working people of Hawaii. We need to do better at holding our elected officials accountable. And we need to do better to uplift them when they prove themselves true champions of our platform.
We all can and must do better.
Mahalo and Aloha.