Opening Day of the 2016 Legislative Session was January 20, and it was great to see so many of you stop by the office. Be sure to check out the photos on my Flickr and Facebook photo albums. We served out over 100 plates of the Gabbard's renowned, delicious, homemade Hawaiian Toffee Treasures, along with oatmeal cookies and tea. Thanks to all of you who took the time to come by and say hello.
My next "Listen Story" community meeting is on February 27, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Ewa Mahiko District Park, 91-1161 Renton Road, Ewa Beach.
This session will be my first as Chair of the Water, Land, and Agriculture Committee (WLA). My focus will be on local food production, the conservation of our land and oceans, industrial hemp, and fighting invasive species. A few of the 61 bills I'm introducing this session are:
Nutrient Cycling (SB 2138)
This bill appropriates $1 million in Fiscal Year 2016-2017 to the Department of Agriculture (DOA) for the establishment of a nutrient cycling center pilot project on Maui, including costs for program operations, equipment, regulatory compliance, land development and leasing, administration, personnel, and contaminant testing. Nutrient cycling fosters agricultural production by building soil health and fertility. Without nutrient cycling, nutrients flow from farmland into aquifers and shorelines, which depletes nutrients in the soil and forces farmers to use commercial fertilizers; decreases soil health and species diversity; increases pesticide use; and reduces the nutrient density of food. Nutrient cycling benefits local agriculture by lowering production costs, increasing yields, and leaving soil in a revitalized condition.
Community-based Marine Management (SB 2139)
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. After participating in several site visits with DLNR staff and my colleagues, I saw first-hand the important work they're doing and where we need to focus our energies. I've been working with The Nature Conservancy 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.
Industrial Hemp (SB 2659)
In 2014, I introduced 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 (SB 2799)
I co-hosted an informative briefing with the Hawai‘i Invasive Species Committee (HISC) January 13 on the invasive species' impact on Hawai‘i. Invasive species continue to wreak havoc on our āina. Although many of these species are illegal here, these pests tend to thrive due to our year-round temperate weather. Hawai‘i has a responsibility to our keiki and the islands that we cherish, to be diligent with our response to invasive species. During the briefing, we heard from state departments and organizations tasked with implementing programs for the prevention, control, research, and outreach related to invasive species. Some of these groups included: The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii Invasive Species Council, DOA Plant Quarantine Branch, DOA Plant Pest Control Branch, Invasive Species Communities, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, DLNR division of Aquatic Resources, and the Watershed Partnerships. 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 HISC.
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