The 2022 legislative session mandated an economic impact study of the 10% blend law on Kona and other Hawaiian coffee farmers. Will you support the prompt completion of that study and a thorough airing of its contents? Will you support reform of Hawaii’s 10% blend law? And what will you pledge to do to support the change?
As the current representative for State House District 5, I am fully committed to ensuring that the economic impact study is completed in a timely manner. I also believe that we need to guarantee that the study is conducted by a qualified analyst, so that its results are not biased against the interests of local coffee farmers. Personally, I don't think a study was needed to reform Hawai'i's blend law. Such studies have already been completed. Prior studies have shown that reforms will not financially harm local farmers or our community. Nonetheless, I am fully committed to protecting Kona coffee farmers from commercial exploitation by expanding coffee labeling requirements to include ready-to-drink beverages, requiring coffee blenders to disclose the geographic origins by weight of each origin that their blends contain, and increasing the minimum percentage of coffee that is required to advertise a coffee product as being from a specific place (like Kona or Ka'u) to at least 51 percent. I have partnered with the Kona Coffee Farmers Association to introduce multiple pieces of legislation to accomplish these goals, including HB 461 in 2021 and HB 1535 in 2022. I look forward to continuing that partnership in the years to come.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has said repeatedly over the last number of years that its budget has been cut so drastically that it cannot perform the various tasks assigned to it by the Legislature. The HDOA’s share of the State’s annual budget is less than one-half of one percent (<.005). To strengthen support for Hawaii farmers, will you support measures to significantly increase funding for the HDOA?
I have steadfastly supported budget increases for the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture and will continue to do so. Adequate funding is necessary to ensure that the department is able to carry out basic functions, like controlling outbreaks of coffee leaf rust and addressing the coffee berry borer beetle infestation faced by Hawai'i Island farmers. Tax revenues have skyrocketed over the last year and are projected to continue increasing. It is essential that we use some of that revenue to increase funding for sustainable and regenerative agriculture, which will strengthen food security for our island home.
Because of COVID, the Legislature set up a system for testimony at committee hearings via Zoom. For neighbor island residents, this system for live virtual testimony (like what the Alaska Legislature and the Hawaii County Council have had in place for years) allowed Kona residents to give testimony in 2021 and 2022 without the expense or loss of a day resulting from travel to Honolulu. If elected, will you introduce and support a bill to require and make permanent the system for live virtual testimony?
I would be happy to sponsor legislation to make the State Legislature's remote testimony system permanent. This system is essential to ensuring that neighbor island residents can participate in our political process, as well as people who can't take time off from work to testify and individuals who are living with disabilities.
Please close by telling us a bit more about yourself and your commitment to agriculture. Mahalo!
Local farmers are the heartbeat of West Hawai'i. Our farmers grow some of Hawai'i's most iconic agricultural treasures, including Kona and Ka'u Coffee and macadamia nuts. Yet, the looming threat of climate change threatens to undermine food security for our community and wreak havoc on our farmland. I believe that we need to pass policies that preserve the economic well-being of local farmers and preserve our environment. In addition to the policies that I outlined above, I am proud to have sponsored HB 1534 this year, which would have provided coffee growers with funding to offset the cost of purchasing organic fertilizer to strengthen tree immunity against coffee leaf rust. I also sponsored HR 86, a resolution that was adopted by the State House that calls on the Department of Agriculture to assist coffee farmers in purchasing organic fertilizer. Finally, I am committed to improving food security for our state. In 2021, I introduced HB 8, which proposed the establishment of a Hawai'i food security initiative within the Department of Agriculture and called for strategic goals to guide our state's effort to increase local food production. Finally, I have sponsored multiple pieces of legislation to crack down on pesticide abuse, including HB 2268 this year, and will continue to oppose the expansion of industrial agribusiness corporations that endanger public health. Restorative agriculture uplifts both working families and the health of our land. I will always fight for the sustainable, small, local farmers on whom Hawai'i's food security depends.