Big Island Legislators Hold Town Hall Discussion
Hawaiʻi State Sen. Russell Ruderman, House Rep. Chris Todd and County of Hawaiʻi Managing Director Wil Okabe held a Legislative Town Hall Discussion about a variety of topics that affect communities on the Island of Hawaiʻi.
The first topic of discussion was the transient accommodations tax (TAT)—a tax imposed on gross income from the rental of a transient accommodation and fair market rental value of a timeshare vacation in Hawaiʻi.
As of now, the revenue generated by the 9.25% tax is kept for the state and the monies are distributed equally between all Hawai‘i counties.
But the panel all agreed that the County of Hawaiʻi needs more of the funds as it expands in order to maintain that growth.
Another topic discussed was the Hilo revitalization project. Sen. Ruderman said there are currently five or six bills going through the Legislature addressing it. Although they all agreed that Hilo is in need of a coherent redevelopment plan, Sen. Ruderman was concerned about giving control to the state; he would rather have the county control the project.
Director Okabe added that he wants more hotels in Hilo to accommodate the many tourists visiting the volcano activity on the East Side of the island.
Highway 130 (Puna Highway) was another topic discussed. Sen. Ruderman said that it is the only way in and out of Lower Puna. If there is an accident, he said, the road closes for about six hours—if someone were to need emergency assistance, there is no route to the hospital.
But Sen. Ruderman said that the state Department of Transportation suspended expanding any highways for 10 years, leaving an alternative route for lower Puna an unsolved problem for the time being.
Sen. Ruderman and Rep. Todd also support the Hawaiʻi Death with Dignity Act (assisted dying), another bill circulating in the Legislature. According to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature website, this bill “establishes a medical aid-in-dying act that establishes a regulatory process under which an adult resident of the state with a medically confirmed terminal disease may obtain a prescription for medication to be self-administered to end the patient’s life.”
The panel also discussed the island’s agriculture. Rep. Todd said before we sell food to the U.S. mainland, we need to worry how we can feed our people here. Director Okabe wants to address eradicating fire ants, coqui frogs and rat lung disease. He said we can’t expect to keep or export our food here if we don’t.
Sen. Ruderman has been working toward creating an agriculture park in Puna that could be located on hundreds of acres of state land. It would provide more sustainability and food security while generating much-needed jobs for residents who live there.
This first-ever live Legislative Town Hall Discussion was hosted by Nā Leo TV on Feb. 23.
Nā Leo TV plans on holding more Legislative Town Hall Discussions in the future.