Evans gives legislative update


State lawmakers are halfway through this year’s legislative session, more than 300 bills were sent from one chamber to the other for further consideration, and there’s still much more work to be done, Rep. Cindy Evans told West Hawaii residents Sunday.

During an afternoon tea and talk story session at the Waimea Senior Center, Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, gave an update on the status of several bills and proposed capital improvement projects that will benefit her district. She also expressed appreciation for her colleagues’ willingness to move forward some of her initiatives and the community’s ongoing involvement.

As House Water and Land Committee chairwoman, Evans spoke about the victory of repealing Hawaii’s heavily criticized Public Land Development Corporation, which was established two years ago to develop state land through public-private partnerships. She said it was right to get rid of the agency because of its overriding power to disregard community development plans, as well as county zoning and permitting laws.

Evans also spoke of her support for Senate Bill 215, which seeks to establish a Public-Private Partnership Authority, an agency that would collaborate with state agencies and private-sector developers on projects that could generated revenue for the state. The main difference between it and the Public Land Development Corporation is the new authority would have to abide by all existing development rules. If enacted, the agency would be able to start up to seven pilot projects to test if the model is working, she added.

Evans said the bill passed last week the House Water and Land Committee and was referred to the House Finance Committee. She thinks this idea could help generate income the state needs, especially since there’s no interest to raise the general excise tax or legalize gambling. Evan said the generated funds could be used to help improve public school facilities, of which many are 65 years old and the maintenance or repairs have been ignored because of limited budgets.

Education is a top priority for Evans. She highlighted several capital improvement projects pertaining to Big Island schools that were included in House Bill 200’s budget plan, such as the $6 million for constructing phase one of West Hawaii Community College at Palamanui; the $6 million for renovating University of Hawaii’s North Hawaii Education and Research Center’s nursing and culinary buildings; and the $12 million for constructing a special science and technology classroom building at Waimea Middle School.

She also mentioned Kanu o ka Aina Learning Ohana’s request for funding for its Kauhale Oiwi o Puukapu complex, which hosts a wide range of community education activities that promote economic development and community viability.

Evans is still hopeful that her bill relating to truancy will be heard by the Senate Education Committee. She said truancy is a problem that begins in elementary school and early intervention, with community involvement, is vital. House Bill 190 wants to establish a working group administratively attached to the Department of Education to study methods to prevent or control truancy in elementary schools, including the creation of a community truancy board.

After reviewing the list of capital improvement projects for the Kona and Kohala Districts, one man pressed Evans for more details about the costs associated with the shooting range within the state’s Puuanahulu Game Management Area and why such a facility is needed. She explained that hunting has long been a part of the island culture and people have asked for years for such a facility.

Evans mentioned a bill that seeks to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 in January, $8.75 in 2015 and $9.25 in 2016. She is now seeking input about how such a measure would impact affected residents and businesses.

Other topics Evans spoke about include the Waimea district park, geothermal, renewable energy, Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, Kahilu Theatre and Kawaihae Harbor.