2015 Hawaiʻi Legislature Summary

Senator Russell RudermanOn January 21st, the Hawaiʻi Legislature opened with a more subdued fanfare than previous Opening Day ceremonies. Most offices, already in working mode for a month or more, greeted various constituents and dignitaries with light refreshments as numerous photo opportunities presented themselves. As Chair of the Agriculture Committee, my staff and I hit the ground running after several months of drafting and fine-tuning bills for introduction to the 2015 Legislative Session.

For Puna and Kaʻu, the past year was unlike any other!

First we survived Hurricane Iselle, which was followed within weeks by the Lava Threat. We were fortunate in both events, as there were no lives lost or major injuries as a result of the hurricane, and Pele has spared our community from the major impacts that for a time we feared. In both cases we saw the strength of our community as we came together to help neighbors and find solutions.

As the Senator representing the Puna and Kaʻu District, our diverse constituency and economical structure requires distinct attention to the wide range of needs that our district possesses, and is part and parcel why I introduced or co-introduced approximately 120 bills relating to such concerns as homeowners insurance, invasive species, campaign finance, biosecurity, cottage foods, preservation of natural resources and diversified agriculture, public health, protection of Hawaiʻi origin products, natural disaster appropriations, government transparency, homelessness and privacy rights, food/tax credits for low income families, and medical cannabis dispensaries.

These measures were a result of my direct interaction with numerous residents of the 2nd Senatorial District. Many of these bills were signed by Governor David Ige and became law in Hawaiʻi and wouldn’t be possible without your input, testimony, and support of these bills in addressing these concerns.

Perhaps the most important single bill that passed with benefit to Puna is the Insurance Bill, SB 589 Relating to property insurance. This bill re­quires most homeowner’s insurance policies to be renewed and new policies to be issued during emergency declarations. This will allow home sales and property values to return to normal following a period when such policies were being denied.

We also established a Farm-to-School coordinator in the Department of Agriculture, a medical marijuana dispensary system, a commitment by DOA to begin a farmer hemp project, and a commitment by De­partment of Health to greatly expand the cottage food program, and insurance coverage for autism.

Other milestones include funding for albizia control; funding to fight the coffee berry borer and macadamia felted coccid; tax credits for those forced to convert cesspools to septic systems; a new alternate road in Puna; expanding the student laptop program to Pahoa and Mountain View schools; and restoration of Keonopoko for students to return to home schools.

We were able to secure over $22,397,723 in Capital Improvement Project funding including much needed planning, design and construction projects for several of our schools, laptop computers and related infrastructure for internet connectivity, community centers, highway widening and improvement,. These projects not only will help to improve our communities, but also will have a direct impact on our economy by providing additional jobs and local material vendor contracts.

I am especially happy to report that funding and planning has begun for a Puna regional library! This will be a major investment in our community and provide a much-needed resource for education, workshops and gath­erings. Input is desired for possible locations for the new library.

I was honored to be selected Legislator of the Year from the Hawaiʻi Friends of the Library, for my advocacy for libraries. I am also humbled by being named the State of Hawaiʻi Small Business Person of the Year 2015, by the US Small Business Administration Hawaiʻi District Office as President and Founder of Island Naturals, a group of natural and organic food stores on the Big Island known for its commitment to quality and creativity. As the only legislator with over 150 employees, I know firsthand how the effects of legislation can impact our small business that are the backbone of our economy here in Hawaiʻi, and is also why I support a livable wage for all. http://www.hawaiibusiness.com/sba-award-winners-2015/

During the year we also said “Aloha” to Uncle Robert Kelʻiihoʻomalu Sr., a true icon of our community. His legacy of aloha in action and his tremendous posi­tive influence will outlive us all. Video of his honoring on the Senate Floor:

2015 Hawaiʻi Legislature Concludes
On May 7th, the Hawaiʻi Legislature concluded the 2015 session by adjourning sine die, literally “without a day.” Bills that were adopted in the same form by both chambers were sent to Governor David Ige. Those bills that were not acted on at the end of the forty-day window automatically became law. Bills that did not make it to the Governor remain eligible for consideration in the 2016 Hawai’i Legislature.

Mahalo for your support throughout the year and for the valuable in­put that you have provided to help guide my actions in the Senate on behalf of Puna and Kaʻu.

Senator Russell Ruderman

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