Fall 2020 Legislative Update

Fall 2020 Legislative Update

By Lauren Zirbel


HFIA is working with other stakeholders in our business community, including Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Hawaii Restaurant Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, on a plan for the City and County of Honolulu to allocate some of the federal COVID-19 aid money to business landlords and tenants. The business closures and other economic impacts of COVID-19 are leading to many businesses being unable to pay rent, which in turn leaves landlords unable to pay property taxes. Distributing a portion of the federal aid in the form of grant money to those impacted by this aspect of the pandemic, will help reduce some of the negative impacts for our business community and state budget. We’re also advocating for a second round of PPP loans with flexibility in how they can be used. Keep an eye out for additional information on these programs in our Weekly Updates.

At the county level, most legislation throughout the islands has been focused on reacting to COVID-19. At the Honolulu Council, HFIA has supported a resolution to create a plan to safely reopen to visitors. In Hawaii County we’ve supported a measure to obtain funding for the Foodbank and another to fund the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation. Kauai Council is advancing a polystyrene ban. HFIA testified in opposition to a draft of the measure that would have also banned plastic and the measure was revised. We will continue to provide updates in the WU.


The State's 2020 Legislative Session was a year like no other. There were several stops and restarts, procedural adjustments, and big changes to the state budget due to COVID-19. When session officially adjourned on July 10, the vast majority of bills that HFIA opposed were dead. A few of the bills we had supported were placed on hold due to COVID-19, but we look forward to advocating for these programs again next year.


No changes to minimum wage were made this year. Throughout session HFIA testified on a number of minimum wage bills. At the beginning of session there was overwhelming popular support for a large minimum wage increase in the near future. Our testimony focused on the need to keep any wage increase to a reasonable level and implement it over a timeframe that will minimize negative impacts on businesses and the economy. We believe that keeping the minimum wage stable is the right choice at this time until we can better understand the full effects of COVID-19 on our economy.


House Bill 2148 passed and has been transmitted to the Governor; it will take effect when signed. It extends Hawaii family leave, to include care for employees’ grandchildren, and it defines ‘sibling.’ HFIA commented on this measure noting the potential issues of expanding leave this way. Senate Bill 2491 did not pass. It provided family leave insurance benefits and extends the period of family leave to 16 weeks for businesses that employ one or more employees who meet the hourly qualifications. HFIA testified in opposition.


No tobacco bills passed this session, but several flavor bans made it very far in session this year and we expect this to a big issue again in 2021. HFIA commented on the flavor bans, explaining why menthol should be excluded from the bans. 


All the bottle bills that HFIA opposed died. SB2720 would prohibit state agencies from buying beverages in plastic bottles. SB2727 would change the exemption distance between a beverage dealer and redemption center from 2 miles to 1 mile. This would unnecessarily require many more beverage dealers to accept deposit containers in high density areas. Unfortunately, SB2750, intending to remove an outdated and unnecessary law that prevents some local water bottling, also failed to pass. We will be working to get this through next year.


HB1819 passed with HFIA support. This measure legalizes the growth of hemp in the State through the United States Department of Agriculture hemp production program. It also allows the processing and sale of hemp products in the State through State licensing, and expedites the substitution of the USDA hemp production program for the existing industrial hemp pilot program as required by federal law. We are very glad to be supporting this growing local industry.


Another eff ort to place restriction on coffee labeling came up this year; HFIA opposed and the measure died.


opposed SB3150 to increase the tax rate to effectively set a price of an unspecified amount per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021; it did not pass.


HFIA supported Senate Resolution 125 to provide funding for water carriers to maintain routes and lines within the state, and the measure passed.


Finally, we were very pleased to support the Governor’s Message 641 confirming En Young to the Board of Agriculture. En has been a long-time member of HFIA, and we look forward to seeing his contributions to the DOA. While we enjoyed overwhelming success this year in many areas, we know that some of these battles have simply been placed on hold until next year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how essential our industry is, and we believe that now, more than ever, our industry must maintain a united voice to clearly advocate for our needs. Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with any questions.

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