OHA’s 2021 Legislative Package Focuses on Issues Highlighted by the Pandemic

0
139

In this upcoming legislative session, our state legislators will have the immense kuleana of addressing the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the lessons that the post-COVID-19 world have taught us. OHA’s 2021 legislative package is accordingly tailored to focus on essential issues, highlighted by the ongoing pandemic, by:

  • Maintaining the decades-long partnership between OHA and the state to fund programs serving our Native Hawaiian beneficiaries who have been significantly impacted from this public health crisis;
  • Supporting Hawaiʻi’s critical sustainability and food security goals through the establishment of a diversified agriculture model on OHA’s Wahiawā lands;
  • Tackling Hawaiʻi’s continuing cycle of houselessness and the criminalization of people experiencing houselessness; and
  • Addressing data collection and governance practices that have impeded efforts to address COVID-19’s impacts on Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

Developed through internal and targeted outreach with key stakeholders, experts, and community leaders, an intensive vetting process and discussions with OHA leadership and the Board of Trustees, OHA’s Board-approved 2021 legislative package includes the following:

OHA-1: OHA Biennium Budget Bill Fiscal Year 2021-22/2022-21

OHA’s budget bill would request $3,037,879 in state general fund appropriations each fiscal year, to support OHA’s budget plans for the upcoming biennium. This request reflects the same “base budget” in general funds that was appropriated to OHA in FY 2017-2018 and FY 2019-2020. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its uncertain impacts on state revenues, OHA’s budget bill requests $940,000 per year less than what OHA most recently requested in FY 2019.

As in prior budget proposals, this bill will also continue to commit OHA trust funds to match requested state general funds for community grants and programs in the areas of social services, legal services and education improvement. This measure would reaffirm the longstanding partnership between the state and OHA to serve OHA beneficiaries, and allow OHA to meet pressing critical community needs while furthering innovative programs to benefit OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries and Hawaiʻi as a whole.

OHA-2: Supporting Sustainable Diversified Agriculture, Cultural Protection in Wahiawā

This measure would request the issuance of state general obligation bonds to raise $3 million in capital improvement funds for the development of water storage and distribution infrastructure on OHA’s lands in Wahiawā, Oʻahu. COVID-19 has clearly highlighted the need to enhance our islands’ food security and self-sufficiency through adoption of diversified and sustainable agriculture models and the utilization of agricultural lands left fallow after the end of the sugar and pineapple era.

OHA’s plans for its Wahiawā lands can help contribute to these goals, and will require the construction of water storage and distribution infrastructure as a critical first step. This measure will enable OHA to move forward with its plans for culturally and ecologically compatible diversified agriculture in Wahiawā, and will help contribute to our islands’ food self-sufficiency and resiliency for present and future generations.

OHA-3: Clearing the Path Home for People Experiencing Houselessness

This measure seeks to address the barriers people experiencing houselessness may face when seeking employment, services or housing, due to criminal records arising from laws that have effectively criminalized houselessness.

The bill provides a way for individuals to expunge or clear their arrest and conviction records for non-violent offenses that are typically, if not exclusively, enforced against those experiencing houselessness, such as laws against sleeping in a car overnight, obstructing sidewalks or remaining in a park after hours. Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts may only lead to a worsening houselessness crisis, and further exacerbate the cycle of houselessness and its criminalization.

Accordingly, OHA hopes that this measure can play a pivotal role in helping Native Hawaiians and others who may experience houselessness navigate their way off of the streets and into a brighter future.

OHA-4: 21st Century Data Governance for Fact-Based Policymaking

To best understand, combat, and recover from COVID-19 and its impacts, timely, clear and detailed information is required – particularly regarding communities whose prior socioeconomic circumstances may have rendered them most vulnerable during the pandemic.

Notably, existing indicators suggest that Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities may have been significantly impacted by this pandemic, albeit in unique ways. Unfortunately, challenges in obtaining data about these communities have highlighted longstanding concerns regarding data collection and governance practices by state agencies, which have now stymied fact-based policymaking and intervention efforts to address these impacts. This resolution urges the enhancement of data governance practices within state agencies, including the disaggregation of information on Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

In addition to advocating for the passage of the above measures, OHA’s Public Policy staff and in-house experts will review, track and testify consistent with the position and manaʻo of the Board of Trustees on the hundreds of other measures directly impacting the Native Hawaiian community that will likely be introduced in the 2021 session.

As always, the success of these efforts may ultimately rest in the willingness of Native Hawaiians and other vigilant community members to engage in the legislative process by contacting their legislators and submitting testimonies voicing their support for, or opposition to, the bills and resolutions of importance to them

To learn more and to sign up for updates on OHA’s legislative package and other important measures this 2021 session, visit www.oha.org/legislation.