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MidWeek Staff

Navigating The New Normal At Big Square Building

Rep. Cynthia Thielen

Although disagreement and debate still flourished, this session couldn’t have been more different than the last. A change in leadership opened a new chapter in the 2013 State House of Representatives’ annual “battle of the bills.” Cooperation and transparency, nurtured by the newly formed bipartisan coalition, created an environment where honest dialogue and respectful consideration bloomed at the State Capitol.

We currently are in the first year of the legislative biennium, which means that bills deferred or failing to make deadlines can be moved forward during next year’s session. While conference committees still are negotiating bills with different House and Senate versions, some bills already have been sent to the governor for signature, such as the complete repeal of the problematic Public Land Development Corporation (HB1133 SD2). Others appear sure to pass this session, such as a “Green Financing Program” for photovoltaic and other energy-saving systems, and legislation which supports school readiness and early childhood education.

Testimony on two bills, HB854 (establishing a sugar-sweetened beverage fee) and HB916 (increasing the minimum wage), produced significant discussion not only at the Capitol, but in schools during our annual Legislative Roadshow. This interactive program gives Windward students the opportunity to participate in the legislative process in their classrooms. The two bills were debated by the students in a mock committee hearing. My staff and I represented the committee members, and the students gave written testimony for and against each bill. After testifying, the students verbally defended their positions when questioned by committee members. I love the enthusiasm these students bring to our “hearings,” and their thoughtful insights often contribute new perspective to the issues.

HCR129, a resolution that requests the director of Health to address the “data gap on air, surface water and near-shore effects of the pesticide atrazine,” unanimously passed the House and is pending Senate action. Questions about atrazine continue to arise, and the effects of this pesticide on our environment, health and water quality could be serious. Research indicates that atrazine exposure may be associated with reproductive problems in men, irregular menstrual cycles in women, and low birth weight and small head circumference in infants. In laboratory mammals, abnormal reproductive system development, impaired prostate gland formation, and abnormal breast tissue development also have been found. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that atrazine may have dangerous effects on fish.

HB154 HD2 SD1, the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project, flew through the House, was heard and passed in its first Senate committee, but did not make the final referral cutoff. Hopefully, it will be amended next year to include funding provided by private rather than public financing. Through this project, Hawaii can lead the nation in establishing the importance of hemp not only as a profitable crop, but for biofuel as well. Conducted through the University of Hawaii, this pilot project also will examine hemp’s potential for phytoremediation, or soil cleansing.

It is hard to believe that the final gavel will soon go down on the session. Once again, this year has proven that there is nothing ordinary about a normal day at the Capitol. I always appreciate and value your support, comments, testimony and emails, which help me make important voting decisions as we “navigate the new normal!”

Contact state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-District 50 (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay), at 586-6480 or repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov.

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