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2024 Mid-Session Policy Update

March marks the halfway point in Hawaiʻi’s legislative session. On March 7, bills that passed all of their assigned committees in one chamber “crossed over” to the other chamber, where they will begin the process again. Fewer than one-third of bills that start the session make it to this milestone. At this point in the calendar, we have seen wins and losses of bills that support health.

Tobacco Prevention & Control

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i (CTFH) identified policies that will prevent tobacco use and encourage users to quit: 1) Ending the sale of flavored tobacco products; and 2) Restoring county authority to regulate the sale of tobacco products.

HB 1778, a bill that would both end the sale of flavored tobacco and restore county authority, received broad support from advocates, the Youth Council, legislative champions, and a majority of community members. The bill was first heard by the House Committee on Health & Homelessness, where it was amended. This change removed the section that would end the sale of flavored tobacco, converting it solely to a bill that would restore county authority to regulate tobacco sales. The bill also passed through the House Committee on Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs.

Unfortunately, HB 1778 died as it did not receive a hearing in the House Committee on Finance before the deadline. HB 1778 was the only 2024 CTFH policy priority bill moving this session.

Despite this setback, one “last chance” bill can be resurrected from the 2023 legislative session – SB 1447 – that would restore the counties’ authority to regulate tobacco products. Hawai‘i’s state Legislature works in a biennial (two-year) legislative cycle, beginning in the odd years. This means that bills from the 2023 legislative session that did not pass can be “carried over” into the 2024 session and considered again for passage into law. SB 1447 has passed the Senate and two House committees and needs to be heard by the House Finance Committee before the “second decking” deadline on April 5.

Healthy Eating, Active Living

The statewide Healthy Eating + Active Living (HEAL) Coalition identified three priorities this session: 1) Expanding funding for the DA BUX SNAP incentive program with $2 million in state funds; 2) Universal free school meals for all public school students; and 3) Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which helps to cover employees’ paychecks when they are unable to work because of specified familial or health reasons. 

HB 2771, which would provide funding for the DA BUX program, enjoyed broad support through the House hearing process and has crossed over to the Senate. The DA BUX program provides a 50% discount on Hawai‘i grown produce for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. This program is a “triple win” for Hawai‘i, making healthy food more accessible for families in need, supporting agriculture and farmers, and keeping money within the local economy. 

HB 1775, which would make breakfast and lunch free for all public school students, continues to advance through the legislative process. Many House members have made students receiving free meals at school a priority, and the bill received strong support, including moving testimony from Castle High School students. HB 1775 now awaits hearings in the Senate. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) is a HEAL Coalition priority for the first time this year. PFML allows workers to take time off to care for their health,  support a family member’s health, or bond with a new child, all while still receiving a portion of their income. SB 2474, which aims to establish a paid family leave insurance program, successfully cleared all committees in the Senate and now awaits hearings in the House.

We have also been supporting other measures to increase food access. HB 2137, which has passed its final committee in the House and will now move to the Senate, would provide state funding via the Department of Agriculture for food banks to purchase locally sourced foods. HB 2430 would require the State to administer the program and allow families to apply for funding. The bill successfully passed the House with support from the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services, which would both be essential to the program’s implementation. HB 1661 and SB 2135 sought to increase SNAP income eligibility to 300% of the federal poverty level, allowing for a tapering off of benefits. Unfortunately, both bills were deferred in their initial committee hearings.

In addition, we have been supporting SB 2630, which would prevent pedestrians from being stopped by a law enforcement officer, fined, or subjected to any other penalty for jaywalking (unless there is an immediate danger of a collision with a moving vehicle). SB 2630 continues to advance through the legislature. This is part of a national “Freedom to Walk” movement to decriminalize jaywalking. By decriminalizing jaywalking, we remove a barrier that discourages people from incorporating walking into their daily routines. 

Oral Health

The Hawaiʻi Oral Health Coalition’s (HOHC) 2024 policy priority, HB 1777, would allow qualified dental hygienists to apply dental sealants in school-based settings. This measure helps to increase access to care, particularly for keiki in rural settings or neighbor islands, where dentists do not practice, or access is extremely limited.  HB 1777 has crossed over from the House to the Senate.

Additionally, HOHC strongly supports HB 2744, which creates an oral health task force and establishes two dedicated oral health positions in the Department of Health. This measure passed all House committees and is in the Senate for further consideration. This measure is critical to assessing the oral health landscape in Hawai‘i and developing recommendations to improve care systems that support the recent reinstatement of dental coverage for adults with Medicaid.

Farm to School

The Hawai’i Farm to School Hui’s priority was to fund a P-20 Agriculture Education Coordinator position within the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH CTAHR). Unfortunately, HB 2138 and SB 3301 did not receive hearings and are dead for this session.

However, the Hui is supporting several bills that are still moving through the legislative process. HB 2083 establishes an incentive program to encourage schools to develop a plan to reach the Department of Education’s goal to serve at least 30% locally sourced food by 2030. HB 1969 enables public schools to cultivate shade trees on campus, adding shaded areas for gathering and play and increasing the overall tree canopy in communities. Two other bills still moving are HB 2774, which resolves some of the discrepancies between the locally sourced food benchmarks for the Department of Education and those of other state entities, and HB 2620, which addresses procurement rules within the Department of Education to make it easier to purchase locally produced foods in a complex area.

Alcohol Policy

For several years, the Hawai‘i Alcohol Policy Alliance (HIAPA) has worked to lower the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for operating a vehicle from 0.08 to 0.05. Lowering the BAC from 0.08 to 0.05 serves as a general deterrent to impaired driving and will significantly reduce the number of non-fatal crashes and related consequences. SB 2384 passed the Senate and is awaiting a House hearing.

What happens next for these and other measures? The bills will eventually “cross back” to their original chamber, and the originating chamber will consider any amendments made. If the House and Senate agree to the changes that have been made over the course of session, the bill goes to the Governor’s desk. If there is disagreement about changes made, additional meetings between the House and Senate members take place to reach an agreement, and if they can find common ground, then the bills can go to the Governor. 

Our coalitions have been hard at work and will continue to push for these important issues until the close of the 2024 legislative session in May.

It is still possible to get involved! You can access our bill tracker to view the progress of bills throughout the session and sign up for our action alerts to receive hearing notifications and talking points and to learn more about making your voice heard at the State Capitol.

Peggy Mierzwa

Peggy Mierzwa

Policy & Advocacy Director

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