As a near-lifelong Waikiki resident, I, like may others, have witnessed reducing levels of safety. We have all heard of, or perhaps even seen, vicious crimes occurring unprovoked to our neighbors. The increasing frequency is unsettling, especially as current leaders have provided no reason to believe the issue will be getting any better. It is clear our criminal justice system is failing, while calls to dismantle the activities of law enforcement only work to speed up the effects of the decline. With increased emphasis on two areas -- deterrence and diversion -- we can make large strides in ensuring safety and allow the greatest number of citizens to be contributing, law-abiding members of society.
Jillian is Proudly Endorsed by Our State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers
To be honest, there are times it is hard to wonder why someone wouldn't commit a crime. We have all seen news reports discussing a recent offense, with the culprit having a record of dozens of prior convictions. Meanwhile, national coverage has spent countless hours reducing respect for law enforcement, and at times even siding with criminals rather than their victims. Law-abiding citizens deserve to know there are stiffer deterrents in place. With an understaffed police force and a jail in serious need of resources, it is no surprise conditions on the streets are becoming increasingly precarious, day and night. I struggle to understand why resources are being reserved for those who are being reintroduced to society following a crime and time served, if these same approaches could have stopped the crime in the first place. Why is it our citizens must first become victims before those in need of help are given aid to reduce the chances of reoccurrence, rather than deter the initial offense? We must have a fully operational police force and correctional facility, as well as treatment readily available for those with mental illness or addiction, in order to reduce the likelihood of crime and be able to respond with appropriate action shall it occur.
Our State’s largest jail is facing many problems, from severe overcrowding to a deteriorating facility beyond the point of repair. The stalemate over whether investment should be put into the immediate need of building a new jail or longer term needs of reforming the way justice and penalization is approached has resulted in our communities suffering from the consequences. To alleviate the strain on our jails without endangering public safety, as well as to increase the chances our troubled residents can be set back on the right path, I would support efforts having already reached the State Legislature, though not yet enacted. This includes expanding alternatives when it comes to assessing what occurs to an individual following a crime. If mental illness or addiction can be attributed to the motive rather than malicious intent, cross-agency cooperation could provide intervention which will better achieve long-lasting results, reduce our high rates of recidivism, and ultimately ensure a safer community. At the same time, we must provide our present incarcerated population and heroic staff with a useable facility, while exploring the implementation of approaches that actually correlate our criminal's problems with better-tailored solutions.
It breaks my heart to hear the financial burdens and barriers encountered by my peers. For those who pursued their college education on the mainland, a return to their beloved home state is nearly impossible, unless they move back into their childhood bedrooms and relinquish the independence young adults should experience. Meanwhile, for our State's countless working professionals early in their careers, hard-earned pay is largely spent on essentials, with it not being uncommon for an entire paycheck to be dedicated to rent. For their little disposable income, even a small splurge at the mall or a restaurant can be pricey, while contributions to a savings account in order to one day purchase major assets like a house or vehicle is superseded by debt obligations. There seems to be no way out of this vicious cycle, so it is no wonder some of our best and brightest are leaving their hearts in our islands as they reluctantly move to another State or country where their dollar can go further. Bankrupting our people as they simply try to live is robbing them of their futures and permanently transforming the makeup of our State. For these reasons, ways to remedy these concerns must be immediately addressed.
Taxes can be thought of as a necessary evil, where we are compelled to contribute part of our hard-earned wealth to fund the public good. But at what rate does this concept cross the line of theft? Hawaii residents suffer from the nation’s 2nd highest total tax burden, and the highest total sales and excise tax burdens. For taxation to be justified, we at a minimum must trust it will be used in our best interest. With problems compounding all around the State and cases like the rail showing blatant mismanagement, this essential trust is eroding. At least one, if not both sides, need to bend, as residents can no longer be overpromised when taxes rise and underdelivered when searching for expected results.
For the vast majority of us, the purchase of a home is the largest investment we will ever make. A house is much more than a shelter. It is a place of security, both physically and financially. It is one of the few constants in our ever-changing existences, where many of life's memories are made. Though the potential to own a home is becoming impossible for countless hard-working residents, as prices soar to unbelievable levels and available supply continues to shrink. Through the power of legislation and cross-governmental cooperation, these factors can be alleviated, particularly as it pertains to presently stiff regulations. With tight land-use and zoning requirements, as well as a permitting process that takes 3 times longer than the national average, housing supply is stifled, raising demand and by extension prices. Creating an environment more conducive to development is essential, while these steps must also be taken with a much more realistic definition of "affordability" in mind.
For decades, Hawaii has been one of the most marketed tourist destinations on the planet. Waikiki residents in particular have had a front row seat to the success, though it has since become impossible to find a community in the State untouched by the continued growth of the industry. The adverse impacts on our environment and our permanent residents is becoming unsustainable, while memories of the ghost town Waikiki became in the midst of the pandemic has made these affects even more evident. As a Waikiki resident, I am pleased to witness the Hawaii Tourism Authority's ongoing transition to turn their efforts from tourism marketing to tourism management, and as a Legislator would support them in pursuing such endeavors. I am also encouraged by the introduction, though eventual failure, of House Bill 1785 in the 2022 Legislative session, which intended to initiate a comprehensive study to identify and analyze alternative tourism governance systems in order for the State to be well-informed in developing a long-term plan that would put the satisfaction of our residents at the forefront.
I am in support of the Hawaii Tourism Authority's Destination Management Action Plans. An emphasis on educating responsible visitors, controlling overcrowding, and enhancing cultural and environmental respect is an approach that will positively impact our communities. By focusing on quality over quantity, visitors will feel more enriched by their experiences, while residents will enjoy more good than harm when it comes to the effects of tourism. Achieving the right balance between the demands of the tourism industry and the demands of our residents is not simple, but with proper resources and a wide array of input, I believe these plans will put our State on the right path to properly manage the overwhelming global interest in visiting our beautiful islands.
DETERMINING THE BEST STRUCTURE FOR TOURISM GOVERNANCE
When intending to move forward in an untried direction, it is imperative that comprehensive research is conducted and a firm framework be put in place from which to organize subsequent efforts. As an investment in the long-term potentials of approaching tourism in a slightly different form than Hawaii has past seen, House Bill 1785 of the 2022 Legislative Session sought to learn from what has been tried and tested in other destinations. As a Legislator, I would support efforts such as these in order for our State to be informed of both best practices and unexpected faults that others have already experienced. When applied to our long-term plans for sustainable tourism, we can ensure our resources are applied to initiatives with high potentials for success.
Though often overlooked, infrastructure is one of our State government's most important responsibilities. The gears that make our society run can be the difference between prosperity and catastrophe, yet these vital components are lacking attention and funding which in many cases are decades overdue. Some elements may bring about daily concern, such as pothole-ridden roadways responsible for vehicle damage that our residents are left paying the bill for, while others are less undetected, such as a dam with a high possibility of causing disaster. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, as of 2019 our State scored a D+ in terms of infrastructure condition, meaning many elements are approaching their end of life and are at a strong risk of failure. It is imperative that remedying such hazards is top-of-mind, as failure to prepare is simply preparing to fail. We must bring our core infrastructure up to satisfactory levels, and also plan for consistent maintenance and upgrades.
The future of Hawaii’s energy grid is at a pivotal point. Recent legislation has pushed strongly towards achieving our State’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2045, though it is important that we not sacrifice grid resiliency and stability in the process. I have heard jokes that our state bird is actually the crane, in reference to the continuous rise of new construction, which all relies on substantial power. But with our last coal-powered electrical power station set to close in September, there remains significant concern as to whether renewable energy sources will be enough to fill the gap that will soon be created. Our possible imminent increased dependency on imported oil and diesel is serious, especially as prices and supply face vast uncertainty. Meanwhile, the land necessary for an exclusively solar and wind-powered grid just doesn’t exist. As a Legislator, I would advocate for greater emphasis on securing grid stability and the ability to meet demands, while always considering the financial costs and lifestyle detriments decisions will create for our residents.
OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE CONCERNS
With a growing population and increasing density, we will only continue to see the effects of aging infrastructure accelerate. From bridges to dams and drinking water to wastewater, funding lacks by unspeakable amounts, making the determination of sustainable funding sources to ensure continued effectiveness a necessity. The same holds true for many of our schools, roads, and all else that underlies our very way of life. Seeking higher infrastructure grades (our highest as of 2019 was a C+ for bridges) should be a priority to assure the safety of our residents and reduce the likelihood of an unplanned disaster jeopardizing human lives and societal function.