The 2022 legislative session is running at full speed, and as usual, issues from birth to death and everything in between, are in its crosshairs.
Two positive life bills actually got some traction this year. One would extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum depression to 12 months. Unfortunately, the second was deferred in committee. That bill would have allowed parents of stillborn babies to receive, upon request, certificates of stillbirth. It is good to see our legislature moving bills that enhance the dignity of life. It is rare, but truly welcome.
On the other hand, supporters of assisted suicide are again pushing for an expansion of the law. One critical and scary part would allow physicians to waive the waiting period if they think a patient would not survive long enough. We believe this opens the door to the abuse of our elderly.
Catholic Charities Hawaii (CCH) and HOPE Services Hawaii are dealing with many issues respective to housing and homelessness. There are numerous bills dealing with funding to build more affordable housing, and bills ensuring that units already built remain affordable.
Bills they are tracking include an ask for $600 million to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to build housing for native Hawaiian beneficiaries. CCH supports this bill as a social justice issue. In its testimony the agency said that, “at statehood, the State promised to house native Hawaiians following the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. The Native Hawaiian community needs affordable housing.”
Citing the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians among the homeless, they conclude that this unfortunate need could have been prevented if stable and affordable housing had been made available.
While it’s important to ensure there is more affordable housing, there are already many barriers to housing and housing assistance. One of the big issues that has received a lot of attention is the discrimination by landlords afraid or unwilling to rent to households with Section 8 government rent vouchers. Current bills prohibit discrimination, including in advertisements, based on participation in a housing assistance program. Honolulu remains one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States that does not prohibit this practice.
Other issues being tracked by CCH includes extending the Ohana Zone pilot program and providing additional funding, as well as making it permanent, as long as it does not impact funding for other ongoing proven homeless services.
Another bill extends the availability of the State Earned Income Tax Credit. The current bill extends it to 2028 but CCH is asking for it to become permanent.
Many Hawaii families are still struggling because of the pandemic. St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii (SFHS) has been on the forefront ensuring that families in quarantine receive food and assistance.
Finally, while our social services organizations work to meet the needs of people in our community, there is a bill moving that would create a feasibility study for legalized gambling in Hawaii. Testimony on the bill submitted by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands reported that millions of dollars are spent every year subsidizing gambling addiction in our community. The strange dichotomy in the push to support gambling is that the revenues raised (which advocates claim come from outside of the state) are needed to help pay for the social ills that come with gambling (which are inside the state).
These same arguments are being used to legalize recreational marijuana.
We are tracking other bills and, as they move, will update you. In the meantime, we pray you will continue your support of CCH, HOPE Services and SFHS. Many people in our community are receiving support and services because of their hard work and dedication.
Eva Andrade is director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.