Opening Day Speech by House Speaker Scott K. Saiki
Over the past two years, Hawaii has worked together to overcome great challenges. It is a reflection of the public's resilience and sense of community. It is also a reflection of your work here in the Legislature and in your neighborhoods.
I know that the past seven months have not been easy for you and your constituents. Just when we thought the pandemic was over, the surge overcame all of us. I know that you have worked in your communities to vaccinate and test thousands and thousands of people.
On September 17, 1959, one month after statehood, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Hawaii and spoke here in the House of Representatives. He spoke of his work in other states, and recognized Hawaii as a "noble example . . . in the area of racial harmony and racial justice."
It has been 62 years since that speech. As you know, Dr. King's teachings extended beyond race, and included economic and environmental justice. It is time to re-assess Dr. King's observation about Hawaii and to articulate what we can do to advance his call for justice.
In January 2020, we were prepared to enact a proposal that would have increased the minimum wage and provided more tax relief to working families. This proposal followed a report conducted by the Aloha United Way that found that 47 % of Hawaii's families were financially distressed and simply could not make it here. But six weeks later, the legislative session was suspended when the state was shut down, and we were forced to defer action on our ambitious agenda.
Since that time, I stated publicly that the House would re-visit a wage proposal when conditions improved. Well, conditions have improved and it is now time for us to act.
Through the work of Representatives Onishi and Sayama, the House will advance legislation to increase the hourly minimum wage to $18, increase the food tax credit, and make the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable and permanent.
This package will give a family an additional $33,600 in income.
But we know that wages alone will not lift working families.
Families cannot afford housing and need help.
And regrettably, the demographic group that has been hardest hit and most priced out of housing is Native Hawaiians.
We will appropriate $600 million to enable beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homelands trust to acquire their own homes.
Through Representative Holt and Representative Eli, who is the only Hawaiian Homelands beneficiary in the House, the Hawaiian Affairs Caucus will play a leading role on this historic piece of legislation.
It is time to give the Department of Hawaiian Homelands the resources it needs to fulfill its fiduciary duty.
Cultural justice requires the restoration of cultural practices.
The House will expand community-based efforts to restore fish ponds and lo'i; repatriate cultural artifacts; teach financial literacy; and provide cultural training to the military.
Related to this is the issue of tourism management. We need to take action now before our visitor count again reaches 10 million. We need to better incorporate culture into tourism because by doing so, this will also protect our natural resources. We will do this by relying on initiatives and organizations that can assist the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Last year, the House created a working group to propose a new governance structure for Mauna Kea. Through the work of Representatives Nakashima, Tarnas, Cullen and Eli, and 11 community members, the House will advance a proposal that will create a management structure that will care for Mauna Kea above the 6,500 foot elevation line, through an integrated culturally and environmentally-conscious approach.
When it comes to the environment, just two words exemplify the need for environmental justice: Red Hill.
In December, the House called for the defueling and decommissioning of Red Hill. We will reiterate that call for action. The House will not allow the military to put the aquifer that supplies water to all of Oahu's residents at risk.
Representatives Yamane, Lowen, Tarnas, Ohno, Ichiyama, Johanson, Ganaden and Matsumoto began work a few weeks ago to monitor state and military progress on Red Hill. We will continue that work through the formation of a Special Committee on Red Hill. Its emphasis will be the containment, remediation and prevention of contamination.
And we will continue to insist that the federal government must be responsible for Red Hill costs. State taxpayers should not be asked to pay for this clean up.
This year, the House is proposing unprecedented legislation that, taken together, will help over 100,000 households, provide homes, and restore cultural practices that ordinary people have fought for, and even died for, throughout their lives. As I have said before, the House of Representatives is a leader on policy. We must continue to be that force for needed change. Like Dr. King, we cannot hesitate to institute reform so that we can achieve justice. Thank you and have a productive session.
The full letter is attached.