State Dems unveil joint Hawaii package


HONOLULU — Democrats in the Hawaii House and Senate presented a joint package of bills for the 2014 session on Thursday, with priorities including funding for seniors programs and addressing climate change and invasive species.

Party leaders in the chambers said the bills address issues that are big concerns to many people across the state.

One bill appropriates $4.2 million for an elderly care program that connects seniors with community programs and health care and social service agencies. Another bill maps out a strategy for planning for climate change, declaring the issue “the paramount challenge of this century.”

The legislative package has sufficient support in both chambers, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said. The House and Senate are dominated by Democrats.

“We are starting off the session in the spirit of collaboration between the House and Senate,” Kim said.

Majority members in both chambers last presented a joint package in 2008.

Sam Slom, the Senate’s lone Republican, said he believed the joint package was presented so Democrats could take political advantage of talking-point themes of collaboration and harmony.

“Part of it is driven by the fact that this is an election year, so we have more politics than usual,” Slom said.

One of the bills gives $5 million to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, which attempts to thwart threats to the state’s fragile environment, such as snakes. Invasive species are problematic in Hawaii because of a high number of endangered species and landscapes that can change dramatically if disrupted.

“Our environment is fragile and constantly changing and increasingly threatened by outside forces,” said Rep. Henry Aquino, majority policy leader in the House. “We need to be aware of these threats and develop a concerted effort to protect our people, environment, agriculture and economy from them.”

The seniors bill also puts $500,000 toward an awareness campaign to educate the public on long-term care, including how to finance potential care.