What Weighs on Legislators’ Minds Is Frequently Revealed in Resolutions

posted in: September 2021 | 0

Legislative resolutions don’t carry the weight of law, but they do provide clues as to what statutory changes might be given serious consideration in years to come. 

This year, the resolution that received the most publicity was probably Senate Concurrent Resolution 44, Senate draft 1, House draft 1, “Declaring a climate emergency and requesting statewide collaboration toward an immediate just transition and emergency mobilization effort to restore a safe climate.”

As the resolution states, a “climate emergency” isn’t the same as a state of emergency declared by appropriate authorities. Still, there is value in the Legislature’s acknowledgement “that an existential climate emergency threatens humanity and the natural world” and its request that “entities statewide … pursue …  climate mitigation and adaptation efforts and mobilize at the necessary scale and speed.” 

Other resolutions lacked the sweep of this one, but nonetheless merit attention. Here’s our take on a few of them.

Sea Level Rise: Senate Resolution 127, Senate draft 1, calls on the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development to identify state facilities and infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and other effects of sea level rise. In addition, it is to assess what can be done to mitigate the likely impacts, “including flood-proofing and relocating the facilities and infrastructure.”

In doing so, the office should give priority to “nature-based disaster resilience, climate change adaptation solutions, and actions that enhance disaster resilience and climate change adaptation efforts,” while also ensuring that the recommended actions “protect the state’s most vulnerable populations.”

A report to the Legislature is expected by the start of the 2023 session.

Coffee Pests: How did the coffee berry borer, a tiny beetle, become established in Hawaiʻi, threatening the state’s second-most valuable export crop? Inquiring legislators want to know.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 258/Senate Resolution 217 notes that the borer was first detected in Hawaiʻi in 2010 in the coffee-growing districts of Kona and Kaʻu. Since then, it has been detected on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Lanaʻi. In Kona, the resolution states, “over 90  percent of coffee farms in the … region are affected by the coffee berry borer,” and every coffee farm in the region has seen yields – and crop prices – drastically reduced.

Legislators are just as curious about how another coffee pest, the coffee leaf rust, was able to enter the state a decade later, spreading since then from Holualoa, in the heart of the Kona coffee region, to Maui and Lanaʻi.

Coffee leaf rust.

“It is imperative,” the resolution says, “that this body [the Legislature] be provided with a clear understanding of how they [these two pests] were introduced so that the costs of mitigation can be fairly shared among the responsible parties.” In an effort to arrive at that understanding, the resolution urges the state Department of Agriculture to pinpoint when and how the beetle and the rust were introduced “and determine what role the importation of green coffee … played in the introduction of these pests, and what risks the continued importation of green coffee poses to the ongoing viability of Hawaiʻi’s coffee industry.”

Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Board of Agriculture, said her department supported the intent of the resolution. However, she said, the DOA “lacks adequate staffing, training, and expertise for conducting the comprehensive investigations necessary to accurately determine the origin of these two invasive species.

“Further, as this represents a likely foreign pathway, this falls within the expertise and broader jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” When the borer was first detected, the DOA asked the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to help it track down the origins of the coffee bean borer in the state. “While that investigation was inconclusive,” she said in her written testimony, “it was not linked to the importation of green coffee from foreign sources.” Her department has asked APHIS for assistance with similar research as to the introduction of the coffee leaf rust.

Testimony in support came from a number of coffee farmers as well as the Hawaiʻi Coffee Association and the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.

In addition to reporting on how the pests got here, the DOA is tasked with determining, among other things:

  • What existing measures were intended to prevent their introduction;
  • What new monitoring and quarantine strategies might allow for early detection;
  • What outreach strategies should be developed to inform coffee farmers of these new measures; and
  • The extent to which the new measures could “protect those living in Hawaiʻi’s coffee growing regions from the cumulative impacts of ongoing exposure to pesticides.”

The concurrent resolution crossed over to the House, where it received a favorable hearing from the Committee on Agriculture. It was referred then to the House Finance Committee, which failed to hold a hearing on the measure. But certified copies of Senate Resolution 217 were sent on June 21 to the chairperson of the Board of Agriculture and the dean of the University of Hawaiʻi College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

Honokohau Management: As readers of Environment Hawaiʻi are aware, one of the more troubled assets of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is Honokohau Harbor. The facility is the largest recreational harbor on the Big Island, with more than 260 moorings in the marina, dozens of services and shops, a restaurant, and more than 300 acres of vacant state-owned land.

In 2012, an Atlanta-based developer proposed a large hotel-commercial-marina project for the vacant land and an adjoining large parcel owned by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. After that fell through, the DLNR has struggled to come up with new proposals.

Three years ago, Senate Concurrent Resolution 227/Senate Resolution 187 notes, DOBOR established an informal working group composed of harbor users, recreational boaters, commercial operators, “key state legislators,” and government agency representatives, “to discuss potential uses and revenue generating strategies for vacant lands” at Honokohau. This group “has greatly assisted” DOBOR, the resolution goes on to say, and DOBOR “is requested to formalize the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor Working Group to function as the management authority” for the harbor.

In addition, it is “encouraged” to comply with Chapter 92, Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes, the state’s Sunshine Law.

Suzanne Case, chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources and head of the DLNR, testified in opposition. She noted that formalizing the working group “would subject it to the requirements of Chapter 92,” the so-called Sunshine Law. The law’s meeting requirements “may inhibit the Working Group’s effectiveness” and could result in “difficulties in meeting the quorum, bi-monthly meeting requirements, notice, and reporting requirements,” she added.

She said the department had serious concerns with the proposed group’s authority to “develop marine management rules for the department to adopt, undertake duties of harbor management, and review departmental contracts relating to the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor” – tasks that may only be conducted by state employees.

“[I]f the Legislature intends to transition the State out of managing the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor, the Department recommends that the Legislature instead allow DOBOR to conduct a pilot program for (public-private partnership) management of the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor,” she argued.

Testimony from the union representing state workers, United Public Workers, Local 646, also stated that should the working group take over management, “we hope … that they take into account the role that our members play.” UPW members provide custodial services at the harbor.

The resolutions were sponsored by Sen. Dru Kanuha, whose district includes the harbor, and Sen. Michelle Kidani, and cosponsored by Sens. Mike Gabbard, Lorraine Inouye, and Glenn Wakai.

The only committee to hear the resolution, Inouye’s Committee on Water and Land, voted it down.

— Patricia Tummons

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