Hawaii Legislature passes bills on renewable energy, sex trafficking, rail tax



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HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers passed dozens of bills Tuesday heading into the final days of the Legislative session, approving plans that could raise taxes, save energy and ban sex trafficking. A bill to set up a system of medical marijuana dispensaries is scheduled for a full legislative vote on Thursday.

Here's a rundown of some of the major bills that passed both chambers and are now heading to Gov. David Ige.

RENEWABLE ENERGY — Hawaii could become the first state in the nation to adopt a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio. A bill that passed the House and Senate Tuesday calls on Hawaii to use 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045. "This is going to be a game changer for the energy sector across the country," said Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the proposal. The University of Hawaii would be using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 under another of Lee's bills that's now heading to the governor.

SEX TRAFFICKING — The House and Senate unanimously passed a bill banning sex trafficking, moving Hawaii one step closer to being the last state in the nation to put a sex trafficking ban in statute. The bill calls for a victim-centered approach that treats those forced into prostitution as victims instead of criminals.

RAIL TAX — A tax to fund Oahu's planned rail transit project could be extended under a plan approved by the Hawaii Legislature. The tax is set to expire in 2022, but both chambers approved a bill Tuesday that would extend the half-percent surcharge on the state general excise tax for an additional five years. Neighbor islands could get in on the taxing action by increasing their general excise tax by a half-percent to fund transportation projects from 2018 to 2022.

HEALTH EXCHANGE — The Legislature decided to send $2 million to the financially troubled health exchange, which expects it could break even starting in 2022. All state-run exchanges operating as part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act must be financially sustainable this year, so lawmakers felt compelled to support the institution instead of potentially leaving it vulnerable to a partial federal takeover. Some lawmakers griped about giving the exchange more money, but Sen. Rosalyn Baker said the exchange has improved under new leadership.

STATE SPENDING — The Legislature approved the state's two-year $26 billion budget. House Finance Committee Chairman Sylvia Luke said her committee worked to limit growth in spending, but Republicans in the Legislature said they're worried about looming deficits in upcoming years. The state is spending more than it's taking in and is chipping away at a surplus that stood at about $665 million at the end of fiscal year 2014, but is expected to fall below $200 million at the end of fiscal year 2017, according to Wes Machida, director of the state's department of budget and finance.

AUTISM COVERAGE — Diagnosis and treatment of autism disorders would be covered by insurance for children up to age 14. The bill was named for Luke Pinnow, who has pushed the legislation with his family for years.

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