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Session Update – We Continue to Fight for a Healthier Hawaii

We’ve passed the halfway point of the 2018 state legislative session and we still have a number of priority bills and resolutions alive and moving forward. However, as we head into the home stretch, your voice as a You’re the Cure advocate will become even more important in keeping those key issues at the top of legislators’ minds.

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Here’s an update on the status of our priority issues:

Making healthy beverages the default option in restaurant kids’ meals: Senate Bill 2056 passed out of the Senate and is making its way through House hearings. The intent of the bill is to require all restaurants that offer “children’s meals” to offer healthy beverages (milk, water, 100% fruit juice in serving sizes of 6 ounces or less) as the default. Parents who so choose, could still request less healthy options for their children.

Secure State supplemental funding to expand SNAP “double-bucks” programs: Both SB 2398 and House Bill 2670 continue to move through the hearing process with little opposition. The HB version would allocate $300,000 to support SNAP “double-bucks” programs which currently rely solely on federal and private grant funding. The bills would allow SNAP recipients to receive twice the value, up to $20 per month, on their SNAP dollars for the purchase of fresh produce. It would encourage healthier eating for families who have the greatest disparities of access to healthier foods, support local farmers and retailers that participate in the SNAP program, and support the local economy.

Farm to School programs: There are two different versions of Senate farm to school bills now moving through the House and are each awaiting final hearings in the House Finance Committee. One bill, SB 2387, would provide funding to the State Department of Education to hire two full-time Farm to School coordinators to support Farm to School programs in schools. The other, SB 2928 would establish and appropriate funds for a farm to school grant pilot program within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to provide grants to schools, early care and education centers, nonprofits, soil and water conservation districts, and food producers participating in the Hawaii farm to school program. Both bills would expand efforts to teach students how to produce and prepare healthier food options in their diets.

E-cigarette regulation and tobacco taxes: SB 2654 awaits its final hearing by the House Finance Committee. The bill would require e-cigarette merchants to obtain a license to sell (like other tobacco products) to allow for better monitoring and education about illegal sales of those products to minors. It would also restrict online sales to only wholesalers with a valid permit to sell the products. That would close a loophole in the law that currently enables minors to easily purchase the products online. It would also tax e-liquid at a rate similar to other tobacco products to make those products less attractive to minors. Recent State Department of Health data indicates that over 25% Hawaii high school students and that almost 16% of middle school students are regular users of e-cigarettes, and that over 42% of high school students and 27% of middle school have experimented with the products. An increasing body of research indicates that use of e-cigarettes can lead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

In addition, a cigarette tax increase has been proposed in SB 2654 and in SB2843, both of which await final hearings in the House Finance Committee. Both proposals would raise the tax on cigarettes to $4.50 per pack. The last cigarette tax increase in Hawaii was enacted in 2006, and since that time inflation has reduced the relative value of that tax and its health impact by 15%. Tobacco taxes have been proven as effective means of reducing youth smoking and smoking among the lower socioeconomic populations targeted by the tobacco industry, which spent over $25 million in Hawaii last year marketing its products to those most vulnerable demographic groups. The AHA is recommending that a significant portion of any new tax revenue be earmarked for public tobacco prevention, control and cessation program.

CPR and stroke awareness education in schools, and Physical Education resolutions: The AHA is also strongly supporting two legislative resolutions. House Concurrent Resolution 236/HR 204 requests that the Department of Education design and implement in Hawaii public high school health or PE classes curriculum that would teach students CPR and stroke awareness. Adding that training to classes required for graduation would result in approximately 10,000 new potential lifesavers entering Hawaii communities every year.

HCR 15 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 requests the Department of Education to report to the legislature on the status of physical education in Hawaii’s public schools. SCR 25 passed out of the Senate Education Committee and is awaiting approval by the full Senate. HCR 15 is scheduled for hearing in the House Education Committee and then would need hearing in the House Finance Committee. Providing quality PE in the nationally-recommended standards for minutes of instruction per week are priorities for the AHA. PE can play a key role in providing students with life lessons on how to maintain physical fitness throughout their lives and helps to establish lifelong fitness habits. PE is currently not required in Hawaii middle schools and is often taught in elementary schools by classroom teachers who aren’t specialized in PE which can result in substandard instruction. Hawaii’s PE minutes at all grades fall below the nationally-recommended standards.

Please monitor your e-mail for AHA advocacy alerts on these issues for opportunities to support them as they move forward in legislative process.

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