Opening Day at the Legislature
Yesterday, the Hawai'i State Legislature held its annual opening ceremonies to kick off the 2022 Legislative Session. Despite being relegated to a hybrid format with an empty gallery, the leaders of both chambers spoke of their optimism and their respective legislative priorities over the course of the next several months which include everything from economic recovery to homelessness, mental health, and the connection between tourism and conservation. It is clear that they have an ambitious agenda, and we will have to be on our toes for both measures that we support and those that we oppose.
In his remarks before the Senate, our friend Senator Kurt Fevella stated plainly what we all know to be true: Hawai'i's economic recovery and health will continue to rely upon the hospitality industry. He made clear that getting Hawai'i's back to steady, productive work is a critical priority, and no industry can do that as quickly as the tourism industry. In the current political and community climate, where the target on our backs seems to grow daily, it was refreshing to hear an elected official reiterate the importance of tourism.
On the HLTA front, we have finalized our HLTA Government Affairs Position Statement for 2022. This document, which you can read in its entirety at the link above, details our legislative positions and priorities and will be distributed to each legislator in the coming days. Should you have any questions about the document or any of our positions, please feel free to contact my Vice President of Government & Community Affairs Jared Higashi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill 41 Testimony
Today, the Honolulu City Council's Committee on Zoning & Planning held a special committee hearing on Bill 41 (2021) and a proposed committee draft. These measures would set new regulations for short-term rental units with the original measure setting the threshold for the minimum length of stay at 180 days, the committee discussion resulted in a 90-day minimum which we had no issue with in our supportive testimony.
There were more than 200 submissions of written testimony and dozens of oral testifiers who came out both for and against this measure. I submitted testimony on behalf of HLTA, which can be read here, in strong support of both Bill 41 and the CD1 and Jared Higashi presented oral testimony. It is our position that Bill 41 is the next best step in reining in the proliferation of illegal short-term units around O'ahu, and this will have a significant impact on that effort.
The CD1 was ultimately reported out by the committee with slight amendments. Councilmembers Elefante, Kia‘āina, and Say voted aye while Councilmember Cordero voted with reservations. The measure will now go to the Full Council for second reading. In the meantime we will continue our dialogue with the councilmembers since the ball is in their court...
Free COVID Test Kits
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz alerted me to a free, at-home testing opportunity that anybody can take advantage of. Residential households in the U.S. can order one set of free test kits from USPS.com. There is a limit of one order per household, but each order contains four individual tests. The test kits will begin shipping in late January.
This is a great opportunity as we continue to feel the effects of the Omicron variant which has caused new cases in Hawai'i to soar in recent weeks. Having a rapid test on hand would allow you to quickly rule out the possibility of infection if you are concerned, have possibly been exposed, or just are quite feeling well.
To place an order, please click this link.
On Thursday, the Honolulu City Council will hold a special meeting of the Zoning & Planning Committee to hear Bill 41 (2021). As you may recall, this measure proposes new rules to regulate regulate short-term rental units in the City & County of Honolulu. These new changes were proposed by the Department of Planning & Permitting, and HLTA has strongly supported them through the hearing process at the Honolulu Planning Commission and before the Full Council.
We are all aware of the negative impacts that the illegal short-term rental market has on communities. From taxing municipal utilities and overwhelming parking to driving local families out of neighborhoods and severely curtailing the inventory of affordable rental units, STRs on the whole must be regulated and those operating illegally must be penalized.
You can submit written testimony and sign up to testify via video link here. You may also read our most recent testimony in support of this measure at the following link.
If you have any questions or concerns about the hearing, the bill, or how to testify, please feel free to contact us at any time.
On December 22, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, to his credit, announced his veto of Maui County Council Bill 148 which would have established a two-year moratorium on the issuance of building permits for transient accommodations on Maui. This was a measure that we had opposed before the Council, and I had previously urged Mayor Victorino to wield his veto powers.
Tomorrow, the Council will meet for its first Full Council meeting of the new year where they are slated to take a vote to override the veto. Since Mayor Victorino's announcement, we have been working hard to secure the necessary votes to sustain his veto. These efforts culminated in the issuance of a letter that we helped to craft along with MHLA which was sent to each of the Maui County councilmembers yesterday. Co-signed by representatives from hospitality, business, labor, and trade organizations, the letter clearly articulates our position on Bill 148 and urges the Council to sustain.
After the letter began to circulate, additional organizations and individuals reached out to me to express their support and ask to sign on. Sensing that the momentum was on the upswing, I reproduced the letter with the additional signatories and sent it to each of the Maui County councilmembers earlier this afternoon. You can read the letter and view the signatories here.
This latest initiative underscores the strength that lies in collaboration and partnership—something that HLTA has embraced through our diverse coalitions across the state and we have been able to demonstrate some success with this collaborative strategy. While we face an uphill battle to sustain the mayor's veto, we need to continue to send a message to lawmakers that we are united in advocating for a strong, resilient, and sustainable economy.
Prince Resorts Hawaii has announced the promotion of longtime hospitality executive Shigeki Yamane who will now serve as the company's president. The move comes after the departure of Kisan Jo who has assumed the role of executive vice president of retail markets and operations at Central Pacific Bank. Previously serving as Prince Resort Hawaii's vice president of planning, Yamane brings a wealth of hospitality and executive experience to the position having worked in Japan, Canada, and Singapore.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran a nice article in yesterday's paper announcing the move and lauding the company for the way they have supported their team members throughout the pandemic. If you have a minute, you can read it here.
We have always enjoyed a great working relationship with our friends at Prince Resorts, and I look forward to continuing this under their new leadership. I am excited to see where Prince Resorts goes from here.
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