Guest Column — Sen. Russell Ruderman’s Legislative Priorities

By Senator Russell Rudeman

In the upcoming legislative session I look forward to working on a variety of issues important to Puna and Ka’u, while supporting several statewide efforts.

My main focus will be on food sustainability. I will be convening, for the first time, a Local Food Caucus, bringing together people with a wide range of food-related perspectives to develop and support a package of bills aimed at increasing our production of food in Hawaii. This includes both agriculture and value-added food manufacturing. For example, I will be proposing the Cottage Food bill, which allows for home production of low-risk foods such as banana bread, cookies, granola, etc. in home kitchens, after taking a food safety class and agreeing to keep kitchen up to standards. This bill recently passed in California. Granny’s Banana bread, often sold at farmer’s markets and fundraisers, would now be legal! Another bill would allow for the sale of raw milk products, such as cheese and yogurt. This will allow small farms to produce and sell such products, which are currently rarely made in Hawaii.

Another bill will continue the development of a new UHH Distance Learning Center to help farmers and food producers in Puna and Ka’u. Other bills in this package were introduced by fellow legislators and organizations, such as Ulupono Initiative, Farmer’s Union, Farm Bureau, and the Department of Agriculture.

In order to be successful with this package of bills, I am including participants from the whole spectrum of Hawaii food producers. I will also be excluding divisive issues such as GMOs and pesticides, and also excluding purely exported ag products such as flowers. The focus will be on food that can sustain Hawaii. As many of you know, we import about 90% of the food we consume in Hawaii, while exporting about 85% of our agricultural products! If we can reduce our import ratio by 10%, we will be keeping over 300 million dollars per year in our state, while improving our health, supporting our ag economy, and creating jobs.

Also this year I hope to starting the planning for a Puna Regional Library, which already has the support of the Library division of Board of Education. This need is evident, due to Puna’s population growth, along with the fact that Pahoa’s library, small as it is, is the third most-used library on the island! There is a move statewide to take public libraries out of schools, where they experience use conflicts, and create stand-alone libraries, which are modern and comprehensive. I will introduce a bill to fund a feasibility study, the first step in this multi-year process.

There will be an effort at the state level to undermine Hawaii County’s recent ban on new GMOs through state-level pre-emption. I believe in home rule and the need for counties to protect themselves as we see fit, so I will be watching for this and working to prevent such pre-emption of county sovereignty. Likewise there will be some effort to undo our recent bill granting marriage equality to gays and lesbians, which will not get far, but requires vigilance. We will also see a re-introduced of the much-maligned PLDC in some form, for which I will also be watchful.

Relating to geothermal, I will propose a bill that restores the county permitting process for new geothermal plants, which was removed in Act 97 of 2011. I will also introduce a fracking ban, similar to Hawaii County’s bill, to protect our clean freshwater supply.

I will be proposing an increase in minimum wage; decriminalization of marijuana; a dispensary system for medical marijuana; a sustainable living bill to allow multiple residences on large rural parcels; support for fighting a new agricultural pest, the macadamia felted coccid; and request for funds for a feasibility study for a new keiki swim area at Pohoiki. I will continue to work with the Department of Transportation to expedite improvements to Highway 130, which up until this year was the most dangerous highway in the state. I will propose a bill to require health insurance providers to include coverage for naturopathic physicians.

Much of my work has been outside the legislative process itself, and this work continues year-round. For example I have visited most of the schools in our district, and advocate for their needs, including more funding for charter schools and safe streets around schools.  Recently we started on the demonstration project for albizia control in and around Black Sands subdivision.  This is a model that brings local community volunteers together with professional resources from the Big Island Invasive Species Council, US Division of Forestry, DOT, County DPW, Helco and others to control albizia in one area. Hopefully we will replicate this model and get many areas of Puna free of albizia. Albizia, the fastest-growing tree in the world, endangers homes, causes power outages, damage to roads and water lines, destroys native forests, and ruins views.

My office and I also work year-round to resolve a variety of issues that our residents bring to our attention. I hope you will contact us with any state government concerns and stay involved to help get some of these initiatives passed. Please send us your email address and we will send you our newsletter, and notify you when urgent action is needed. Happy New Year, and Mahalo!

Sen. Ruderman can be reached via email at, or phone, (808) 586-6890.

2 replies
  1. Amy Lou
    Amy Lou says:

    I love the idea of raw milk being available on the Big Island! This is one more step toward making the Big Island COMPLETELY sustainable! (don’t you think it is crazy, that most of the food here is imported???) On an island that can grow food 12 months a year???)

  2. Jen
    Jen says:

    Thank you Senator Ruderman, you are fantastic. Thank you for proposing a cottage food bill. That would be of enormous benefit to my family! Looking forward to attending the Local Food Caucus.

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