The Hawai'i Oral Health Coalition (HOHC) has undergone significant development over the past five years.…
The 2023 Legislative Session ended in early May under unique circumstances. Several bills needed additional drafting time, including the state budget, and this pushed voting later than normal. The final vote on the budget was on the last day of the Regular Session of 2023 (May 4). In the House of Representatives, there was a lively discourse on the budget, with members weighing in on the integrity of the process and the scope of funding included within the budget.
HIPHI had several policy priorities to advance health policy in our state. Read below for some highlights on how HIPHI’s policy priorities fared at the legislature this year.
A stand-out win for HIPHI and tobacco control advocates from the legislative session was the passage of SB 975. The Federal Drug Administration and the state recognize e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, but they have not been taxed or regulated like other tobacco products. Since 2014, advocates have worked tirelessly to pass comprehensive regulations on e-cigarettes.
Beginning July 1, 2023, retailers must obtain the proper tobacco retail permits and licenses to sell these products. E-cigarettes and other tobacco products will no longer be accessible through online sales, and starting January 1, 2024, the state will tax e-cigarettes the same as other tobacco products. Governor Josh Green signed the bill into law on June 6, 2023.
Another win for our communities was HB 600, which appropriated the funding of up to $20M over two years to support the Safe Routes to School program. Too many pedestrians die on our streets every year. This bill will open a pathway for communities to access money to address their most dire road safety concerns around schools. To achieve safety, both community voice and funding need to be present. We are excited to support the next steps of community engagement and implement ideas to make our roads safer.
This year also saw its share of losses. Another bill that aimed to make our streets safer failed to advance. SB 160 would have lowered the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) from 0.08 to 0.05 to deter impaired driving. Lawmakers and community members plan to continue their work on this policy during the interim, and we hope to move the bill through the final steps in the 2024 Session.
All the bills that supported food access for those who need it the most did not pass. That includes funding for farmers to develop systems to get more local foods into our food banks for their customers (SB 430), food banks to purchase food at discounted rates to feed our communities (HB 314), and a SNAP incentive program (DA BUX) that offers a 50% discount when buying local produce (HB 1248). All of these bills would have strengthened our food system. As we learned during the pandemic, the health of our food system is precarious, and we must ensure that it relies more on our local farmers to fulfill our community’s needs. Furthermore, legislation to support farm-to-school infrastructure (HB 310) and a sustainable local food system (HB 247) were left on the table.
Finally, oral health had a win and a loss. Following last year’s reinstatement of adult dental Medicaid coverage, a new policy to increase oral healthcare providers passed. SB 162 allows qualified graduates of accredited Canadian dental schools to apply for service licenses to practice in specific settings, including community health centers. These changes will add capacity to serve vulnerable populations, helping to reduce health disparities. However, developing an oral health office under the Department of Health (HB 617) failed to move.
As always, the dedicated people who comprise a diverse system of advocates and supporters continued to do remarkable work. They continued showing up for both their priority bills as well as the priority bills of their partners to make their voices heard.
Many other policies were considered this year, and we hope our 2023 Legislative Recap will be a useful resource (it will be available online on July 3). Mahalo to all of you who stay involved, connected, and committed to advancing these critical public health policies. You are the reasons we feel the excitement to continue our work. We saw how far we can go together. Our voice is always magnified when we work cooperatively.