State lawmakers cleared longstanding frustrations over tourism in Hawaii today by overriding Governor David Ige’s veto of a bill that challenges the fate of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and dramatically alters how Hawaii’s main tourism agency is funded.
Members of the House and Senate voted by a two-thirds majority to override Ige’s veto on the updated version of Bill 862, while complaining about the way tourism is being handled while the islands are seeing a post COVID-19 tourism rebound that is generating complaints of overcrowding and other issues across the state.
Ige had announced his intention to veto 28 bills and ended up vetoing 26 of them by today’s deadline – two records for his two terms.
Lawmakers in both chambers then took the unusual step of overriding several of Ige’s vetoes. The last time Ige had even one of his vetoes overturned was in 2016.
The Senate and House voted today to override Ige’s vetoes on five bills: House Bill 862, the HTA bill; Senate Bill 263, related to economic development and the “Hawaii Made” program; SB 404 regarding election communication; SB 811, which requires the Department of Education to submit weekly reports on COVID-19 cases in schools; and SB 1387 regarding pet microchips.
The House also voted to override the vetoes of three other bills, killing Senate Bills 639 regarding cases in state appellate courts; SB 807 which includes new planning and tracking requirements for the state Department of Education; and SB 1409 which requires Native Hawaiian training for newly appointed members of certain state boards, councils, and commissions.
The House and Senate also proposed amendments to three bills in response to Ige’s concerns. Both houses must vote on the three Thursday.
>> HB 54, which earmarks funds to cover fixed costs and replenish the state’s rainy day fund. A modified version replaces federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act with general funds to ensure compliance with federal rules.
>> HB 1299, which removes certain special funds and trust funds and deposits balances in the general fund. Ige vetoed the measure, saying parts of it were unconstitutional. An amended version of the bill restores some funds, including the Milk Control Special Fund, which was created to administer the Milk Control Act, a law intended to protect the local dairy industry from market fluctuations.
>> SB 589, which brings structural changes to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. An amended version addresses Ige’s concerns about jeopardizing existing contracts and the method of appointing a director.
Ige has repeatedly said that the record number of bills he intends to veto was the result of post-legislative directives from the U.S. Treasury limiting how COVID-19 ARPA funds could be used.
“I am very concerned that Bill 862, as passed, would seriously impair HTA’s ability to (operate),” Ige said. “Now, more than ever, we need to balance a sustainable and respectful tourism industry with mitigating the impacts on our community.”
HB 862, passed in the last legislative session through an 11th-hour gutting and replacement effort, sought to eliminate the $103 million annual share of county revenue from the Transient Lodging Tax or hotel tax. Instead of sending the money to the counties, the state would have kept it.
The changes outlined in HB 862 would also remove the transitional lodging tax funding dedicated to HTA since its inception. The bill replaced HTA’s normal $79 million annual TAT distribution with $60 million in funding from this year’s American Rescue Plan Act.
“(HB 862) would make it very difficult to operate HTA as well as the convention center,” Ige said. “Furthermore, HB 862 would create an inefficient system to collect tax money for counties. The measure explicitly prohibits the state from assisting (in the process)”.
Ige also vetoed several bills approved by the legislature in uncertain times.
Subsequent U.S. Treasury guidance specifically prohibits the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds for things like debt service and teacher raises.
Ige also exercised his budget authority to correct inconsistencies in the state budget regarding the use of federal funds and obtained assurances from lawmakers that “budget holes” — specifically House Bills 53 and 54 — will be dealt with in the next legislative session, he said. .
Other vetoes were less technical and more “different from politics,” such as Ige’s veto of Senate Bill 811, which would require the Department of Education to release a weekly report on schools that reported cases. positive for COVID-19.
Ige said today that the bill risks violating students’ privacy and that there have already been cases of cyberbullying of students who test positive, particularly in rural communities.