Education bills revived in rare conference at State Capitol

KHON2 has been following several education bills at the State Capitol. Some have passed to a final vote while others have been shelved. But some of the bills that didn’t make the cut got a rare second chance Monday.

Last Friday was the deadline set by House and Senate negotiators to settle their differences in conference committee sessions. But so much attention was paid to a high-profile measure that apparently some bills were overlooked – including 14 education measures. One would have funded early childhood education (HB2276), a bill that was heavily promoted by the Governor.

The high-profile measure was a bill to fund the deal that settled years of fighting over plans to expand Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. An agreement to preserve more than 600 acres of the resort’s property for conservation in perpetuity was signed in the Governor’s office earlier this month, but lawmakers struggled to come up with the $40 million in state funds to close the deal.

Oahu's North Shore
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“This time it got convoluted because of the North Shore, Kahuku bill that came about,” said Rep. Joe Souki, House Speaker. “There was a lot of discussion to come to that (funding) agreement.

“You can be assured that in the future we are not going to look forward to things coming in at the last minute and expecting us to vote on it,” he added.

The House and Senate did come up with a plan to fund the deal — by restructuring the payment on bonds that funded the Hawaii Convention Center — but at the cost of overlooking other measures that needed attention. Caught in the crossfire were 14 education measures that did not meet the Friday deadline set by House and Senate negotiators.

Lawmakers overseeing those education bills sat patiently in their assigned room and were never told what was happening as funding for all remaining measures were being settled in another room.

KHON2 came across two documents, the conference committee room assignment schedule and the agenda for education bills, that stated House and Senate negotiators on education bills were assigned to Room 329.

“When it comes to the conference, every subject matter is assigned a specific room,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, Senate Education Committee Chair. “That way, advocates for a specific bill know where to go, especially in the last days of conference when we reconvene every hour.”

Tokuda went on to say that “people need to know where to go so they can watch the bills’ progression, hear the deliberations taking place. So for education, we were assigned specifically to Room 329.”

Mindful of what happened, the House and Senate leadership on Monday signed a special agreement to have negotiators reconvene in a special conference session late in the afternoon on four measures: three education bills (HB1745, HB1796 and HB2257) and one bill that would grant tax incentives for manufacturers (HB2626).

“Reopening conference committee after the deadline is an extraordinary action,” said Rep. Scott Saiki, House Majority Leader, “but it was done because members of the House and Senate wanted to fix this.”

The special conference committee session reconvened at 4 p.m. Monday in Room 329. All four measures were subsequently approved.

The four will be placed on the agenda for final passage in the House and Senate on Thursday, the day the Legislature is set to adjourn.

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