Legislature Opens With New Leadership, Entertainment
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by Dave Smith
The Hawaii State Legislature reopened for business today.
The Legislature has two new leaders, including Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who represents the 14th District in south-central Oahu, and House Speaker Joseph Souki of Maui.
Kim replaces former Senate president Shan Tsutsui, who was named lieutenant governor to replace Brian Schatz. Gov. Neil Abercrombie had appointed Schatz to fill the vacancy left by the death of US Sen. Daniel Inouye.
This is Souki’s second go-around as speaker; he returned to the post 14 years after being ousted by Rep. Calvin Say. Souki is leader of a dissident faction that has been trying to gain control of the House for the past eight years.
The back-and-forth wrangling included alliances forged with Republican House members two years ago by Say and this year by Souki. The latter includes several vice-chairmanships for the GOP.
The opening ceremony also was marked by the return of festivities cancelled by legislative leaders at last year’s opening day because of the state’s ongoing economic doldrums.
Because “the economy shows positive signs of recovery,” as the Senate said in a statement issued Tuesday, this year’s events included entertainment from Brother Nolan, Manoa DNA, Danny Kaleikini and others.
The only Big Island legislator in a leadership role in either body is Sen. Gil Kahele, who serves as one of two Senate majority whips. Persons filling those positions typically ensure that lawmakers in the ruling coalition attend important votes and cast them in keeping with the majority’s wishes.
Big Island senators in committee leadership roles for the 2013 session include Sen. Malama Solomon as chairwoman of the Committee on Water and Land and Sen. Josh Green as chair of Health.
Newly elected Sen. Russell Ruderman is vice chairman of the Committee on Energy and the Environment , Green serves as vice-chairman of Human Services and Kahele is vice-chair of the Committee on Higher Education.
On the House side, there has been a shakeup of committees and their leaders, especially when it comes to Big Island legislators. (The makeup of committee leaders is so new it was not reflected on the Legislature’s website on opening day.)
According to information released by Souki on Tuesday, Rep. Clift Tsuji is no longer chair of the Committee on Agriculture but heads a newly formed Committee on Economic Development and Business Affairs.
Rep. Cindy Evans is chairwoman of another new committee, Water and Land, which will have newly elected Rep. Nicole Lowen of Kona as vice chairwoman. Rep. Faye Hanohano will head the newly formed Committee on Ocean Management and Hawaiian Affairs, and Rep. Mark Nakashima will be chairman of a redefined Committee on Labor.
Newly elected Rep. Richard Onishi has been named vice-chairman of the Committee on Agriculture formerly headed by Tsuji and now chaired by Rep. Jessica Wooley of Oahu.
Rep. Denny Coffman, who in 2012 headed the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, has apparently been left out of leadership positions this year.
Adjournment for the 2013 Legislature is scheduled for May 2.