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The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii to Introduce Pro-Business Bills at the Legislature

Instead of just trying to block anti-business legislation, the Chamber is introducing its own agenda

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Other Changes at the Chamber

New CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara is not the only new face at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. Much of the rest of the executive team is also new, and policies at the chamber reflect those changes.

“It’s an exciting time,” Menor-McNamara says. “This is a prime opportunity to really shape Hawaii’s future and lead the effort, not just at the chamber, but in the community in general. I can’t stress enough the importance of being engaged.”

In fact, if you’re looking for a new byword at the chamber, it’s “engagement.”

A good example of this new focus is the first-ever Chamber Week, which will take place during the third week of January.

Every day, there will be different events and activities, Menor-McNamara says. On Monday, Jan. 13, CNBC reporter Scott Cohn will join a panel, via Skype, at 11:30 a.m. at the Plaza Club, to discuss why Hawaii has among the country’s highest costs of doing business.

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, the chamber will launch its new “Manufacturing in Hawaii Initiative.” Wednesday, Jan. 15 – the opening day of the state Legislature – will be Membership Appreciation Day at Tamarind Square. Thursday, the chamber will hold its traditional “Walk Around the State Capitol” and members and supporters are invited to participate. On Friday, the chamber will hold “Military Appreciation Day.”

That week the chamber will also launch a major new membership drive. “We have ambitious goals: 2,000 members by 2016,” says Menor-McNamara. “Right now we’re just shy of 1,000. To reach that goal, we’re going to have to be proactive in communicating to communities across the state – not only in Honolulu – about the importance and relevance of chambers of commerce.” That outreach includes the new “e-Voice of Business” electronic newsletter; fewer, but more focused, networking opportunities for members; and a new, more interactive website that should also launch during Chamber Week.

Details at cochawaii.org.

 


 

Wish Lists

Here’s what other business groups are hoping will happen at the 2014 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 15.

Retail Merchants of Hawaii
Sheri Sakamoto, newly appointed president at the retail association, wants legislators to take a careful look at loss prevention in her industry. Crimes such as fraud and theft cost retailers in Hawaii $3 billion a year, she says.

“We are victimized on the front end and on the back end,” says Sakamoto. “We get it from shoplifters stealing from our stores, but we also get it from hackers trying to break into our computer systems to steal sensitive information.” She believes both better enforcement and stiffer penalties will help to deter these crimes.

Another issue that Sakamoto hopes gets the attention of politicians is the Market Place Fairness Act, a bill passed by the U.S. Senate, though not the U.S. House. It would require online and catalog retailers to collect state taxes at the time of a sale, much like their brick-and-mortar counterparts already do. Many online retailers do not collect state taxes, which Sakamoto says gives them an unfair advantage over traditional retailers. The state Legislature passed HB 1694 in 2012 to require taxes from online retailers that have a physical presence in Hawaii, but broader online taxation will probably require federal enforcement.

Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association
George Szigeti, president and CEO of the HLTA, would like to see legislators proceed with caution on tax increases. The association’s  concern is well-founded: Proposals to raise the hotel room tax come up at just about every legislative session.

“They all want to be good policy makers,” Szigeti says. “My responsibility is to give them good and reliable information to do their job.”

Something legislators should keep in mind, he says, are the signs that Hawaii’s tourism boom is flattening or declining. The number of tourists traveling to the Aloha State decreased in September and October 2013 versus the same months in 2012 – the first drop in two years.

Szigeti also says his organization will support any bill that helps to reduce energy costs. “Anything that is sustainable and transitions us away from expensive fossil fuel will help our industry because electricity power is cost-prohibitive in the state,” he says.

Hawaii Solar Energy Association
Most trade associations have a wish list for new laws to be passed or proposed laws to be blocked. But the HSEA wants an existing rule to be retained: solar energy tax credits. “We want the discussion regarding solar tax credits to be behind us,” says Leslie Cole-Brooks, the association’s executive director. “Our goal is to have the Temporary Administrative Rules that were passed by the Tax Department become permanent.”

Eight solar tax credit bills failed to pass during the 2013 legislative session, leaving the Temporary Administrative Rules as the de facto protocol in Hawaii. Cole-Brooks concedes that the temporary rules took some getting used to at first, but that ultimately they worked. “Taxpayers have learned to work with the existing rules and we want to see them stay in place without the need for a legislative bill to get passed through,” she says.

Hawaii Tourism Authority
In October, HTA board members approved policy positions, including one that says it does not want increased taxes on visitors. In addition, the board believes that part of the taxes already collected from visitors should be reinvested into tourism initiatives, such as upgrading airports and other infrastructure.

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