- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The Hawaii Senate made short work of heap of bills Tuesday, passing more than 300 measures to send to the House.

Proposals aimed at curtailing invasive species, preparing for climate change and addressing aging in Hawaii sailed through the chamber as lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol debated a host of bills in advance of a major legislative deadline.

The Senate proposals were part of a joint majority package prioritized by Democratic leaders there and in the House.

Thursday marks the last day an originating chamber can send a bill across to the other. Any amendments to bills need at least 48 hours for review. So Tuesday amounted to crunch time - a final, realistic shot at becoming law for most bills.

Lawmakers came to the floor sessions with a thick agenda. The Senate passed more than 300 bills before adjourning. In the larger and more divisive House, the session was expected to last into the night.

In the Senate, where 24 Democrats outnumber a single Republican, most bills passed easily on virtual consensus. Some of the most pointed debate Tuesday morning came as lawmakers passed a bill to make the ukulele the state instrument. Several senators objected, saying the steel guitar more readily evokes Hawaii’s identity. Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat representing Makawao and Waiuku, called the Pahu drum more appropriate, “symbolic of the native peoples of this land.”

The discussion led to what passes for a nail-biter of a vote in the lopsided chamber: 17 for and seven against.

Sam Slom, the Senate’s only Republican representing Hawaii Kai and Kalama Valley, voted against SB2531, which would create a state-level position to help prevent and treat falls by elderly people, part of a joint majority package of measures aimed at aging issues.

“I think I’m going to go no on this bill,” he said on the floor. “The idea of a fall coordinator, I was getting a little woozy.”

Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, a Democrat representing Nuuanu and Dowsett Highlands, replied that falls are a leading cause of hospitalization and fatalities in Hawaii. The bill states that every five hours in Hawaii, an elderly person is hospitalized with injuries resulting from a fall, costing the state $65 million in hospital costs each year. The measure succeeded.

Bills that could affect veterans made it through the Senate, including a SB2131, a measure to provide in-state tuition rates for U.S. veterans at the University of Hawaii, and SB2603, which would allow bonds to be issued for a long-term care facility. The Senate also passed bills that would ban flavored tobacco products and establish an environmental court.

Among the scant few bills the Senate did not send to the House were three that would have affected development in Honolulu’s up-and-coming Kakaako neighborhood.

Other bills covered a spectrum of issues. The House passed HB2116, which would forbid the state from sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole. The House also passed HB14, which would make kindergarten mandatory, and SB2424, which would set aside money to install air conditioners in schools.

Lawmakers say Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country, but it’s the ninth poorest state. Proposals aimed at raising the minimum wage are on the agenda. One bill, SB2267, would set aside funds for the development of micro-housing units contained in 220 to 320 square feet in a state known for expensive housing.


Sam Eifling can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/seifling. Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.

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