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Hawaii lawmakers leave many bills in the dust

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hawaii lawmakers are preparing to vote on the final bills of the legislative session after a heated week of negotiations, but some advocates are disappointed several initiatives failed in the final hours after gaining momentum earlier.

As debate ended Friday, lawmakers killed a bill that would have gradually reduced solar energy tax credits. The current tax credit is set at 35 percent, but critics say it is sapping too many government dollars.

"It's one of those really, really frustrating times where there's an opportunity, but it just didn't come together," said Jeff Mikulina of the Blue Planet Foundation, an organization dedicated to ending the use of fossil fuels. The lack of certainty about how lawmakers might change the tax credit next year could discourage investment in the industry, he said.

State Finance Director Kalbert Young said the legislation's failure means administrative rules will go into effect that will decrease tax credits more sharply than the gradual rate proposed in the bill.

Lawmakers also didn't pass a bill to raise the minimum wage, disagreeing mainly about how the wage should be adjusted for employees who also receive tips.

The bill's failure means that low-income residents of Hawaii will continue to struggle with low wages, said Victor Geminiani from the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

The director of the nonprofit advocacy organization said he's also disappointed that proposals to decrease the tax burden for people living in poverty didn't survive.

Another bill that bit the dust would have created a state-funded preschool program in 2015, provided that voters passed a constitutional amendment to allow public funding of preschools in 2014.

Despite the measure's failure, advocates say they are glad that the Legislature did move forward a bill for a new school readiness program for the 2014-15 school year. They plan to revisit the proposal in the future.

Advocates for same-day voter registration and publicly funded elections were also disappointed when both measures died Friday, minutes before the Legislature's deadline.

Carmille Lim from Common Cause said the advocacy group is disappointed but not discouraged. Kory Payne from Voter-Owned Hawaii said the organization is already regrouping for next year.

A proposal to create a task force to study the potential impact of privatizing state hospitals also didn't survive Friday's negotiations. In addition, lawmakers discarded highly criticized proposals to expand geothermal energy development and create a new state agency called the Public-Private Partnership Authority.