4/26 • NewsHawaii

A Flurry Of Deal-Making At The Hawaii Legislature As End Of Session Looms

Hawaii lawmakers on Thursday moved on bills to tax short-term rentals, reform the bail system and require automatic recounts in close elections.

But many controversial bills have been postponed until Friday, the last day of conference committees.

They include bills decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, establishing a prison oversight commission, increasing the state minimum wage, allowing automatic voter registration and ranked choice voting, and taxing real estate investment trusts.

One of the most significant bills to die Thursday would have required county police departments to disclose to the Legislature the identity of an officer upon suspension or discharge beginning in 2021, and to allow for public access to information about suspended cops.

Lawmakers sought to make last-minute amendments to House Bill 285 but ultimately decided they were rushing things and running out of time. The bill can be taken up next year.

But lawmakers agreed to provide $350 million in bond funding to build a new stadium on the site of the old Aloha Stadium in Halawa.

House Bill 1586 would allow the Hawaii Community Development Authority to develop the new stadium as well as a surrounding stadium district. Sen. Glenn Wakai has long championed funding for a new stadium. He said Thursday that he’s tried for over a decade to secure funding.

House members said during a floor session in March that building a new stadium would be Hawaii’s next big public works project after construction wraps on the Honolulu rail line.

Taxing Vacation Rentals

Legislation that critics say could encourage the growth of short-term rentals in the state while permitting the government to profit off it is still in play.

Senate Bill 1292 would require operators of short-term rentals to pay transient accommodation and general excise taxes, with hosting platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway acting as tax collectors on behalf of the state. It would cover rentals that last up to six months.

Owners who fail to register with the state Department of Taxation would face citation and fines ranging from $500 a day for the first violation up to $5,000 a day for violations that have occurred three or more times.

Under the bill, the information would be kept confidential.

Late Thursday on the Senate floor, members voted 18-7 to accept SB 1292, but only after several senators spoke passionately about the negative impacts of short-term rentals on their districts.

Sen. Laura Thielen compared illegal vacation rentals to a crime that prevents local people from being able to own and rent homes. She said other neighborhoods would be destroyed, just as she said has happened with her childhood home of Kailua.

Sen. Kurt Fevella of Ewa Beach said, “We are debating something we shouldn’t be debating on … this is not legal.”

Sen. Gil Riviere of Oahu’s North Shore said the bill gives “tacit approval for illegal activity.”

But Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, supports SB 1292 because “it has $46 million attached to it … I understand people have concerns, but we need to pass a balanced budget.”

The bill awaits a final vote that is expected Friday evening. It needs 13 votes to pass.

Read more from the Honolulu Civil Beat here.

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