Legislative Session’s Dramatic Finish

Oh my! A Senate president deposed, the advice of the Legislature’s only M.D. rejected on a health issue, the extension of the excise tax surcharge for rail passed … the list goes on. Thus, a relatively dull legislative session ended in drama.

Let’s start with the 19-6 vote that ousted Donna Mercado Kim from the presidency of the state Senate. Aside from its timing, why should anyone be surprised? Kim was always, in the parlance of sports, playing out of position.

Allow me to extend the metaphor. Asking Kim to do no more than stand at the podium and occasionally bring down the gavel is like Detroit Tigers manager Brad Asmus racing out of the dugout, stopping all-world slugger Miguel Cabrera on his way to the batter’s box and whispering in his ear: “Bunt.”

House members close the session with a circle and singing of ‘Hawaii Aloha’.  CRAIG T. KOJIMA / HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

House members close the session with a circle and singing of ‘Hawaii Aloha’. CRAIG T. KOJIMA / HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

A waste of talent in both instances. In the state House, on the Honolulu City Council and in the Senate, Kim made her mark in committee. As a chairwoman or a mere member, she had no peer when it came to grilling those who came to testify. And woe unto those who came unprepared or, far worse, with intent to deceive.

That made her enemies, but it also garnered her respect. It’s what she does.

So when Senate president Kim exercised her presidential prerogative to take part in committee hearings, she invaded the fiefdoms of the Senate chairs. We all do what we think we do best; in this instance, it cost Kim a gavel.

Sen. Josh Green thought he was doing what he did best, as well. As chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Green pushed a medical marijuana dispensary bill that would have allotted licenses on a first-come, first-served basis.

His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Della Au Belatti, and her committee preferred a merit-based system of licensing. Green held his ground and lost his chairmanship. Au Belatti’s bill passed and moved on to the governor.

Now what constitutes merit in selling marijuana, so-called medical or street? Perhaps a white jacket and stethoscope in the first instance, a furtive “What do like? Kona Gold or Maui Wowee?” in the latter?

People have been dispensing marijuana in Hawaii for as long as this gray beard can remember, and price, not merit, always has been the primary consideration. But get the state involved and licenses, merit, taxes and higher prices will follow.

House and Senate bills on extending the excise tax also differed. The House opted for a reduction of .25 percent; the Senate for the current .5 per- cent for five more years, giving it life until 2027. House mem- bers argued that the proposed cut was necessary to put pres- sure on the city to assume more of the financial burden of rail.

The bill that emerged from the conference committee looked like the Senate’s. Said a Capitol regular: “The extension of the rail surcharge at .5 for 5 was always going to pass. The House talk was theater.”

Speaking of theater, Gov. David Ige now gets the bill. During the session, Ige said he wasn’t sure it was yet time to extend the surcharge. Now he says he will study it before signing, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto.

The governor will do one of the first two. Why? Because he can read. Last Thursday’s Star-Advertiser headline read “Ho‘opili Gets Green Light.” The City Council had voted unanimously to approve the proposed 11,750-unit housing project that will stretch from the Ewa end of Waipahu to Kapolei.

For gridlocked Leeward Oahu, that means more traffic — much more.