Washington, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono today met with Lieutenant General Vincent Brooks, incoming U.S. Army Pacific commander at Oahu’s Fort Shafter. Brooks will assume command of the U.S. Army Pacific in July.
“It was a pleasure to meet General Brooks and congratulate him on his confirmation to command the U.S. Army in the Pacific and his promotion to four-star general,” Senator Hirono said.
“I am looking forward to working closely with General Brooks on important issues facing our armed forces like the military’s rebalance to the Pacific and stopping sexual assaults in the military.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the third day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of immigration reform legislation, the committee adopted Senator Mazie K. Hirono’s measure that would cut government red tape that makes it more difficult for tourists from Hong Kong to come to Hawaii. The measure is identical to a bill Hirono introduced earlier this year with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (UT).
“This small change to the visa waiver system could have a big impact on Hawaii’s economy,” said Hirono. “Right now, people in Hong Kong can visit more than 140 countries and territories without visas, but these potential Hawaii tourists must still endure a time-consuming visa approval process in order to come to the United States. By fixing the visa waiver process for visitors from Hong Kong, we can make it easier for thousands of tourists from this region to come to Hawaii.”
This measure adopted by the committee fixes a technical problem that prevents Hong Kong from joining the Visa Waiver Program. Under current law, only “countries” are eligible for the program. Hong Kong is not a sovereign country but is a self-governing region of China, so a special provision needs to be added to the law to make Hong Kong eligible.
Jim Reddekopp, a tour operator on the Big Island, said Hirono’s bill could bring more visitors to his business.
“We’ve been waiting for new business from Asia. This is an excellent opportunity for all of the state to benefit — from hotels and restaurants to all of the tour suppliers in Hawaii, especially on the Big Island,” Reddekopp said when Hirono first introduced her bill this year. “We thank Senator Hirono for introducing this bill.”
Lisa Simon of the National Tour Association (NTA) also said Hirono’s legislation would increase tourism from Hong Kong, both in Hawaii and across the country.
“We applaud Senator Hirono’s leadership in presenting this legislation that would open the way for increased visitors from Hong Kong to the United States. NTA supports this bill and any other endeavors that serve to increase international visitation, particularly from sizeable Asia markets. We anticipate this legislation would have an immediate and profound impact on increased travel from Hong Kong, which would have a positive impact on our economy and jobs creation.”
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Hong Kong visitors spent on average $230 for each day they stayed in Hawaii, almost 20% more than the average visitor. Visitors from Hong Kong also tend to stay in Hawaii longer than the average visitor. In 2012, only a little more than 4,000 visitors from Hong Kong visited Hawaii and the absence of direct flights doesn’t help. This bill aims to increase that number.
The Visa Waiver Program is an essential tool for promoting travel and tourism. Instead of having to go through the process of getting a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, participants in the Visa Waiver Program can get a travel authorization online instantly and visit multiple times for stays of up to 90 days.
Hawaii’s visitor industry has a long history of benefitting from more streamlined visa laws with Asian countries. Last October, Taiwan was added to the Visa Waiver Program. Just a few months later, Hawaiian Airlines announced plans for direct flights from Taipei to Honolulu in part because of the projected increase in demand from Taiwan’s participation in the waiver program.
The legislation has already received support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Travel Association, American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Association of Counties, National Retail Federation, International Franchise Association and National Tour Association.
Washington, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono today took to the Senate floor to urge her colleagues to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, legislation that would help level the playing field for Hawaii small businesses. Hirono, a cosponsor of the legislation, argued the bill would help local merchants compete with online retailers operating on the mainland.
In her speech, Hirono discussed how this legislation would benefit local businesses like Kona Stories, a bookstore in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
“Small shops like these are places that can teach visitors about the unique characteristics of our communities. They also help bring local people closer together around shared experiences and values. Unfortunately, these small businesses are the ones that are hurt most by the advantage that online merchants currently have because they don’t collect Hawaii’s sales and use taxes.”
Watch her speech on the Senate floor here: http://youtu.be/inkbtqlGeNQ
The full text of her address reads below:
Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act.
This legislation will put businesses in Hawaii on an even playing field with their out-of-state competitors. It does this by giving the States the authority to require out-of-state merchants to collect the same taxes that local merchants have to collect when they sell goods to a customer in Hawaii.
This is only fair.
I want to be clear about what this bill does and what it does not do. This bill does not impose a new federal sales tax. This bill does not require States to do anything. In fact, if this bill becomes law, nothing would change unless a State passes its own legislation.
What this bill does do is give States a choice. It lets each State choose whether or not to level the playing field for its local businesses.
In addition, this legislation provides a framework that ensures that States can exercise this authority in a way that ensures fairness for businesses of all sizes. For example, it requires any State that chooses to exercise this new authority to streamline its sales and use taxes, and to provide free software to calculate these taxes to out-of-state sellers.
And this legislation protects small online businesses by exempting any business with less than $1 million of annual sales.
The growth of the Internet has been one of the most significant drivers of innovation in history. More and more Americans rely on the Internet to run their small businesses, access educational and health resources, keep in touch with loved ones, and for entertainment. Expanding fast, affordable, and secure Internet access is an essential building block for a strong 21st century economy.
However, we must also be careful to ensure that while we’re promoting the economic potential of the Internet, we’re also being fair to local businesses and entrepreneurs.
These are the businesses that populate the Main Streets of towns across the country—hardware stores, clothing stores, gift shops, and many, many others. These businesses create jobs, pay taxes, and provide needed goods and services in our communities.
In fact, in Hawaii retail businesses employ nearly 25 percent of the workforce—about 128,000 people. In 2012 these businesses generated $30 billion in sales in Hawaii, as well as $1.2 billion in tax revenue.
Many of these entrepreneurs don’t just want to contribute economically—they want to contribute to the culture and character of their communities.
For example, my office received a call from the owner of Kona Stories, a small bookstore in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Kona Stories opened in 2006 and sells over 10,000 titles of all kinds. But Kona Stories doesn’t just sell books—it also hosts book clubs, supports local authors and artists, and also helps promote other local businesses. The programs and meetings that Kona Stories hosts focus on promoting the local culture and character of the community.
Small shops like these are places that can teach visitors about the unique characteristics of our communities. They also help bring local people closer together around shared experiences and values.
Unfortunately, these small businesses are the ones that are hurt most by the advantage that online merchants currently have because they don’t collect Hawaii’s sales and use taxes. This makes online products appear cheaper because their prices don’t include state taxes—even though these taxes are technically still owed. That’s not a real competition—it’s an artificial discount that’s unfair to local “brick-and-mortar” businesses.
And it puts businesses in Hawaii like Kona Stories at a disadvantage. As a small business, they have a hard enough time competing with the online giants that can offer lower prices—even if they were collecting state taxes.
In addition to allowing states to level the playing field for their local businesses, S.743 would also provide a boost for State and local governments by letting them collect taxes that are already owed. According to a 2012 Hawaii Tax Review Commission report, fixing this situation would mean nearly $160 million in additional revenue for the State of Hawaii in 2013.
I want to be clear: that money does not come from new taxes. It comes from taxes that are already owed but are just not paid. That’s money that should be going to keeping teachers in the classroom, fire fighters and cops on the beat, and fixing our roads and bridges so we all benefit.
Overall, the Marketplace Fairness Act is a good bill.
It balances the need to preserve a vibrant and innovative online marketplace with the need to ensure fairness for local businesses. It also ensures that everyone is meeting their responsibilities with regard to paying State and local taxes.
That is why this legislation has such a broad range of support from business, government, and labor organizations big and small from all across the country.
In fact, my home state of Hawaii has been working to try and address this issue on the state level for years. Passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act will finally give Hawaii the ability to address this disparity and put our businesses on an even playing field. That will be especially important to the 2,000 local businesses that make up the Retail Merchants of Hawaii.
Mr. President, I ask that a list of Hawaii and National supporters be included in the Record.
I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this important legislation.
I yield the floor.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After President Obama released a budget this afternoon that prioritizes creating jobs by investing in transportation infrastructure, early childhood education, and pursuing a clean energy future, Senator Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement:
The President’s budget has a number of provisions that would help create sustainable economic growth and jobs. His commitment to investing in transportation infrastructure is one that Hawaii is already benefitting from, as his budget includes $250 million to continue work on the Honolulu Rail Project. And the President’s plan to expand access to early childhood education is one of the smartest things we can do as a nation to secure our economic future. Under the President’s plan, Hawaii could apply for new federal matching funds to create and strengthen state early childhood programs.
The increased funding that the President requested for construction on Hawaii’s military installations is good news for our state, especially considering the fiscal realities our country faces. It is a sign that Hawaii is in a key position to play a major role in the military’s rebalance to the Pacific. The Asia-Pacific region is vitally important to our nation’s strategic interests, and I’m glad to see the President’s budget reflects that national security imperative.
In addition, I’m encouraged that the President has outlined several initiatives that will support jobs and innovation in the clean energy arena, including continuing the progress on alternative energy and energy efficiency being made at the Department of Defense. These are forward-looking investments in our people and communities that will generate the long-term economic growth that will help Hawaii and the nation for years to come.
I do not, however, support his plan to institute what is known as “Chained CPI,” which would change how Social Security, Veterans’, and other benefits are calculated. I understand that President Obama has been pushed hard to include this change by Republicans, however, it amounts to a benefit cut to Hawaii seniors and veterans that I cannot support. Undermining the vital lifeline that these programs represent for many of our kupuna and veterans is not the way we should go about getting our fiscal house in order.
As Congress works to develop appropriations and other legislation to address our nation’s fiscal challenges and keep our economy moving, I will be pushing for other ways we can responsibly reduce our deficit while keeping our promises to our kupuna and keiki.
Hirono has been a longtime advocate for early childhood education, both in state government and in Washington. One of the first bills she introduced as a U.S. Senator was her PRE-K bill, which would expand access to quality early childhood education across the country.
She has also championed Department of Defense research into alternative fuel sources. Just yesterday, Senator Hirono discussed military alternative energy research conducted in the Asia-Pacific with the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. Her first speech on the Senate floor fought back against Republican attempts to cut alternative energy initiatives in the military.
President Obama’s budget contained funding for important initiatives for Hawaii:
$250 Million In Rail Funding
$44 Million Increase In Military Construction in Hawaii
Early Childhood Education
Native Hawaiian Programs
Washington, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono questioned Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, Commander of the United States Pacific Command, about China’s engagement in the ramping up of tensions from North Korea during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Do you foresee some action on part of the Chinese either publicly or behind the scenes to stop or reduce the level of provocations from North Korea?” Hirono asked Admiral Locklear.
“Well, I think there’s been statements by both Xi Jinping and by their minister, I believe, of foreign affairs in the last day or two that would indicate that they have some concerns about any disruption — continued provocations or disruptions in this part of the world, or anything that would put a potential negative situation on their border,” Admiral Locklear answered. “I believe these are not as direct as we would like to see here but they are indications that the Chinese government is engaging.”
Citing her tour of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard last week, Senator Hirono asked Admiral Locklear about the importance of the shipyard to his area of command and efforts to continue to modernize the shipyard.
“I know of no plans to change the strategic direction we are headed with Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard,” Admiral Locklear told the committee. “I assume that the changes we are going to make in the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard will continue to make it competitive in nature but certainly what they produce for us from a military perspective… will continue to be important.”
Senator Hirono also asked how the high cost of fossil fuels factors into PACOM’s strategic planning in the region and the military’s development of renewable energy resources.
“It remains a critically aspect of the way we think through strategy and we are following DOD’s lead on looking at renewable energy sources…And I think there has been some success there.”
In an exchange with another Senator, Admiral Locklear called climate change a major, long-term threat to the Asia-Pacific region.
“If you go to USAID, and you ask the numbers for my PACOM AOR, how many people died due to natural disasters from 2008 to 2012, it was about 280,000 people,” Admiral Locklear testified. “Now, they weren’t all climate change or weather-related, but a lot of them were due to that. About 800,000 people were displaced, and there was about $500 billion of lost productivity. So, when I look and I think about our planning, and I think about what I have to do with allies and partners, and I look long term, it’s important that the countries in this region build the capabilities into their infrastructure to be able to deal with [these] types of things.”
Washington, DC—Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii introduced bills that will help expand the number of Native Hawaiians eligible for homeownership, grant additional options when transferring ownership, and provide more financial assistance tools to secure a home.
Senator Schatz introduced three amendments to the Native Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA), which will expand housing program eligibility and succession authority to those who are one-quarter Hawaiian. It also authorizes the Hawaiian Homes Commission to set interest rates on home loans based on market conditions. Senator Hirono is an original co-sponsor of the bill.
Senator Hirono introduced the Hawaiian Homeownership Opportunity Act, legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant. This bill provides an avenue for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries to secure financing to purchase a home on Hawaiian Home Lands. Senator Schatz is an original co-sponsor of the bill. Hawaiian Home Lands legislation has always been a priority for Hawaii’s congressional delegation. In January, Representative Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01) introduced this legislation in the House and Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) is a cosponsor of that bill.
“These bills allow a greater number of families living on Hawaiian Homesteads to transfer or pass on their homes to a brother or a sister,” said Senator Brian Schatz. “It would expand the threshold of eligibility and protect siblings of a homesteader from being evicted after the loss of a loved one. Our delegation urges Congress to move swiftly to approve these measures which will remove barriers for Native Hawaiians so that they can plan for the future of their families. Mazie has been working on this issue during her time in the House of Representatives, and I am proud to join her and our delegation in continuing to protect the interests of Hawai‘i’s native people.”
“I am proud to introduce legislation that helps the United States honor its commitment to Native Hawaiian families through accessible housing on Home Lands. This bill will help the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands continue to secure funds for the development of new areas for homesteads. It will also ensure eligible Native Hawaiians have access to the home loans they need. Fighting for Native Hawaiians has always been a top priority for me and the rest of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, and I’m pleased to once again join Brian and our delegation colleagues in this endeavor,” said Senator Hirono.
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