2017 legislative session summary

As many of you have probably heard, it was an interesting legislative session, to say the least. Our Constitutional Amendment made it far, and because of all of your action as members, these bills that would have created an additional funding source of revenue for our public schools in Hawaii, SB 683 and SB 686, passed through three committees in the Senate and three committees in the House, making it to conference committees, where unfortunately they ultimately died when they were not signed off by the House Finance committee chair.  That was a sad day for all of us, but we will continue to fight for all of you. We will keep advocating every way we know how because we need more funding for our public schools and our teachers.

We did have some wins that we should celebrate. The passage of HB 957 will allow the DOE to use $46 million in green-energy loans to continue to fund the expansion of air conditioning in our schools and other heat-abatement measures, while also funding the installation of energy-efficient measures to continue to cool our schools while also keeping our electric costs the same. SB 423 will prohibit denying a student a meal for failure to pay within the first 21 days of the first semester of a school year. That means the student will continue to receive in-school meals while his or her application for free or reduced lunch is being processed or seven days after the student’s meal fund account balance reaches a zero or negative balance.

SB 917’s approval was very important since this bill funds HSTA’s new contract, and another we want to mention is SB 410, that solidified that our union and others may continue to bargain for agreed to items, since there have been cases of employers misinterpreting the law and trying to not bargain for certain items that are allowed. We also blocked and effectively killed SB 739 that would have weakened the licensing requirements for some of our providers who support us, as teachers, with our students with special needs, especially those in the autism spectrum. We need to make sure that our students and teachers have the support they need from board-certified behavior analysts, when identified in IEPs.

Lastly, there were big wins for Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) for our public schools that include about $488 million in the state budget for new construction funds for the Department of Education including $77 million for a new East Kapolei Middle School; additional funding on top of $12 million for planning and design last year, another $27 million for design and construction of a new classroom building at Campbell High School; $63 million to complete classroom spaces in a new High School in Kihei, Maui; $500,000 for the initial phase to construct a new gym for Kapaa High School, Kauai; $1.4 million for plans, design and construction for building renovations, ground and site improvements for Lanai High and Elementary School, as well as many other public school projects on each island.

We appreciate all of your continued action and look forward to hearing more from you when our Government Relations Committee sends out our next survey about your needs for our legislative priorities next session. Keep fighting!! You are worth it!

Mitzie Higa

HSTA Government Relations,

Teacher Lobbyist