Hawaii senators OK minimum wage increase


HONOLULU — Wednesday may have been the last day of recess for the full Hawaii Legislature, but for some lawmakers it was a marathon of voting on bills.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means advanced a host of proposals Wednesday on issues including gun control, health care and education.

The committee approved and sent to the full Senate a proposal to increase the state minimum wage despite strong opposition from the state’s business community. Proponents say an increase is necessary to help people keep up with the rising cost of living.

The panel also endorsed a measure intended to help improve health care management by allowing Hawaii’s regional hospitals to become private. Banner Health, an Arizona-based nonprofit health care organization, has expressed interest in running Maui’s main hospital.

Despite voting yes, several senators said they had reservations about the proposal’s potential impacts on neighbor islands. Many residents have said they are worried about what the change could mean for their jobs.

The Legislature has been on recess for the past five business days, but committees still held hearings during that time. Full chamber sessions will resume today.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee also advanced a proposal by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie for a statewide preschool program. The governor says the early childhood education program is his first priority this session.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom opposed the bill, which has been the subject of heavy lobbying by members of the education industry who say preschool would make a significant difference in children’s education.

“We’ve got tremendous costs and no real proof that there is an advantage to doing this,” said Slom, who is the only Republican in the 25-person state Senate.

Also regarding education, the senators voted in favor of reforming charter schools and increasing legislative oversight of University of Hawaii salaries. The university’s finances have been under scrutiny since officials lost $200,000 last year in an Internet scam.

The committee also gave its support to a proposal requiring background checks on people who register firearms purchased in other states. But the panel removed a provision to provide more extensive background checks for people with mental health problems.

A bill to expand and extend tax credits for the film industry also passed the committee. Sen. David Ige, the committee chairman, says Hawaii has the potential to grow a billion-dollar film industry.