Hawai'i State News

Hawai‘i Island lawmakers talk priorities ahead of the 2024 State Legislative session

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The recovery of Maui following the devastating wildfires last August will be the focus of the Hawai‘i State Legislature’s 2024 session, however, Hawai‘i Island lawmakers are committed to ensuring that Big Island’s needs don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Sen. Dru Kanuha

The 32nd legislative session opens on Wednesday. Many of the proposed bills include statewide efforts to address emergency preparedness, housing and wildfire management, precipitated by the Aug. 8 wildfire that decimated Lāhainā’s Front Street and left nearly 100 people dead.

Sen. Dru Kanuha, the Senate Majority Leader, convened a Senate Majority Retreat in November 2023, where members agreed that assisting Maui was a top priority for the upcoming session.

House of Representatives Lāhainā Wildfire Interim Working Groups published a report in December that also addressed topics related to the deadly blaze. The final report is available for public review on the Hawaiʻi State Capitol website.

Kanuha does plan to push for priorities to improve his district, which encompasses portions of Kona, Kaʻū and Volcano. His top priorities this session include affordable housing, strengthening the healthcare workforce and facilities, as well as improving the quality of public schools.

Kanuha will introduce a bill where he hopes to secure funding for facility improvements and expansion of Ka‘ū Hospital.


The senator also wants to build momentum on a site selection for a new hospital in North Kona, which was funded by the legislature in 2022.

Additionally, Kanuha wants to address issues facing school-aged keiki by ensuring they have transportation to school with enough bus drivers, healthy food options for keiki, and the safety and security of students and teachers on campus.

  • Rep. Jeanné Kapela
  • Rep. David Tarnas
  • Rep. Mark Nakashima

Rep. Jeanné Kapela, who represents portions of Kea‘au and Kurtistown, Mountain View, Glenwood, Fern Forest, Volcano, Pāhala, Punalu‘u, Nā‘ālehu, Wai‘ōhinu, Hawaiian Ocean View and Ho‘okena, plans to propose a water catchment tax credit as well as a child tax credit.

“The fear is Maui will be at the forefront,” Kapela said, adding while the devastating crisis needs to be addressed, lawmakers can’t allow it to get in the way of also funding issues on Hawai‘i Island, particularly the aging health care facilities.

“We’ll be able to find pockets of funding,” she said. “There’s still a lot of hope.”


Kapela also plans to introduce a bill requesting $25 million for fire alarm systems at schools on Hawai‘i Island as there are campuses that don’t have functioning systems.

Rep. David Tarnas, who represents Hāwī, Hala‘ula, Waimea, Makahalau, Waiki‘i, Waikōloa, Kawaihae, Māhukona, said his constituents want him to focus on ensuring a responsible state budget as well as how Maui will be assisted.

Outside of wildfire and emergency preparedness topics, Tarnas said he’s working on a bill that would set up a pilot program for behavioral health crisis centers in the state.

“We need to try to change how we respond to those having a mental health crisis,” Tarnas said.

Tarnas cited instances where police officers are called to public disturbances where someone is yelling, and clearly having a mental health crisis.


“We need treatment instead of incarceration,” Tarnas said.

Tarnas is also looking forward to bill proposals from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

Tarnas will continue his work to get a library built in Waikōloa. This session he plans to request additional funding for construction.

“If I can secure funds, we could move into construction,” he said. “The community has been waiting for 15 years.”

Rep. Mark Nakashima, who represents portions of Hāmākua, areas of Hilo and Kaūmana, is going into the session with the following priorities: insurance availability for different housing types, insurance alternatives for farm structures and shoring up the Hawai‘i Hurricane Relief Fund.

Click here for the House of Representatives’ priorities for the 2024 session.

Click here for the State Senate’s priorities for the upcoming session.

Senators Lorraine Inouye, Joy San Buenaventura, Tim Richards as well as Rep. Chris Todd were also contacted for this story and didn’t respond by press time.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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