With all the excitement, poi pounding, chanting, singing and sign waving going on outside the Capitol on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 16, one couldn’t help but think that community needs might be more efficiently realized if every day of the legislative session was like opening day.
Inside, the Senate ceremony took place before a full house. Legislators sat at their desks, draped in ti leaf regalia. Above them, the benches were packed. People sat on the floor at both sides of the chamber. Some even stood in the back. Attendees used their ceremony programs to fan themselves in the stifling, stagnant air. The sound of the rallying crowds outside echoed through the Capitol Rotunda. Their vocal rises could be heard clearly from within the House and Senate chambers.
“Listen, that’s the voice of democracy outside,” said Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom to his colleagues as he gave his characteristically candid remarks.
The Hawaii State Legislature has new leadership in both the House and the Senate. Newly elected Senate President Donna Mercado-Kim talked of education, and her hopes for a hub on top of the Hawaii Convention Center for showcasing Hawaii’s music and dance to visitors. The new Speaker of the House, Representative Joe Souki, spoke of “enhancing our revenue stream.” Souki mentioned tax credits for the film industry, but he’s also been a long-time advocate of legalized gambling in Hawaii.
It seems this session’s legislative leadership has aspirations for Waikiki and will work for the continued stoking of Hawaii’s main economic “export,” which is tourism. But other important issues will undoubtedly be grappled with, including genetically modified organisms, solar tax credits, the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) and the construction fast-tracking legislation that stalled in last year’s session and will likely be revived this year.