Aloha e friends,
The 2016 Legislative Session kicked off on January 20th. It’ll be my first session as Chair of the Water, Land, and Agriculture Committee. I plan to focus on local food production, conservation of our land and oceans, and fighting invasive species. I encourage you to participate in the political process. You can track bills, sign up to receive committee hearing notices, and submit testimony at the Capitol website: www.capitol.hawaii.gov. Some of my legislative priorities for the 2016 Session are:
Community-Based Marine Management
One of the biggest challenges the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) faces is the lack of funding it receives to carry out its responsibilities in protecting our state lands and waters. During the last several months, I participated in site visits with DLNR staff and my colleagues to see up close the important work they’re doing and where we need to focus our energies. I’ve been working with the Nature Conservancy on a bill to increase staffing at DLNR for community-based marine management. Marine and coastal ecosystems provide food, shoreline protection against storms and floods, and help with water quality maintenance. Unfortunately, many of these ecosystems have become degraded. Working with communities living in and around these resources is the best approach for long-term success.
I’ve been working with the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) on legislation focusing on fresh water. HCF was a key player in launching the Hawai‘i Fresh Water Initiative in 2013 with the goal of increasing water security. Both Rep. Ryan Yamane, the Chair of the House Water and Land Committee, and I are introducing bills focused on this effort.
In 2014, I pushed through legislation which resulted in a two-year study to determine the optimal hemp strain for growth in Hawai‘i. (No, uncle, you can’t get high smoking hemp!) Now, we’re poised to establish an industrial hemp program under the Department of Agriculture (DOA) enabling farmers to register with the DOA to grow hemp for agricultural and academic research, including the commercial sale of hemp for marketing and industry development. My vision is to develop a cottage industry, offering “Hawaiian Hemp Shampoo,” “Hawaiian Hemp Granola,” “Hawaiian Hempcrete” (a building material used instead of concrete…), etc. This would be a wonderful thing for Hawai‘i! Check out the excellent documentary “Bringing It Home”.
Invasive species continue to wreak havoc on our āina. I’d like to see us dedicate $10 million each biennium for invasive species efforts. I’ll be working with my colleagues to supplement the $4.75 million we appropriated last session. I’ll also be supporting the Governor’s efforts to create the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Authority—an agency attached to the DOA, aimed at strengthening the work of the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Council.
Sustainable and Organic Agriculture
I’ve been working with the Hawai‘i Farmers Union United to introduce two bills focused on soil health: one establishes a “Nutrient Cycling” center on Maui to demonstrate an alternative path to cycle food and other organic waste back into our food system by turning it into fertilizer. The other establishes an “On-Farm Mentoring” program to teach and train farmers to utilize a whole farm systems approach to agriculture.
Listen Story Meeting
I invite you to join me at my next “Listen Story” meeting, February 27 at Ewa Mahiko District Park meeting room from 9am to 10am.
Senator Mike Gabbard