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Is the Business and Economic Climate Better?

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

The question often posed these days is has the economy turned around? It is certainly hard to deny that things seem better than they have been when compared to the last decade which people now call the longest slump in the history of the state.

Certainly it is hard to ignore all those glowing indicators: visitor count up, hotel occupancies in the stratosphere, unemployment down, construction activity hectic as evidenced by all the road repairs, and high consumer confidence as reflected in the general excise tax collections, the sales of homes and new cars. One would tend to lean toward the perception that the economy is doing better.

But there are telltale signs that government just hasn’t gotten the message that it has to get out of the way if the state’s economy is truly going to recover from this decade-long slump. While lawmakers and public bureaucrats like to tell us that they have reduced regulations and made it easier to conduct business in the state, new laws and rules that will go into effect with the beginning of the fiscal year, or are currently pending adoption, will, in fact, make it more difficult and more costly to do business.

One such measure will impose stiff penalties for revealing or making available medical information about an employee. While well-intended, this new law will create all sorts of havoc in the work place and could create all sorts of liability exposure for the employer and could possibly affect workers as well. In order to pass on or reveal any kind of information about an employee, the employer must first secure the permission of the employee. If not, then there are many sanctions and penalties although the law does not seem to specify what agency or department is supposed to enforce the law.

One possible scenario is that an employer may want his workers’ compensation insurance company to review the medical charges submitted for reimbursement. Unless the employee/patient gives permission for the release of the record of medical charges to be reviewed by a third person, the insurance company may refuse to pay any benefits. Thus, in this case, the person who would be adversely affected would not be the employer but the employee who then could not collect the benefits.

As for the employer, if the information is revealed without permission, the exposure might be that litigation could be brought against the employer under the provisions of this law. Thus, it is more than likely that employers and physicians will err on the side of caution and not release the information for fear of being sued.

So much for making it easier to do business in Hawaii.

In other cases, the state is literally driving people out of business with the adoption of rules. Take for example, the department of land and natural resources is on the verge of adopting rules that will in effect close down all commercial activity on the Hanalei River on Kauai. On one side is the concern for protecting the environment and preserving the natural resource of the river. On the other side, is the loss of livelihood for hundreds of workers and capital invested by enterprising businesses who saw an opportunity for sharing the resources of the river and surrounding coastline with millions of visitors.

In this case the state is opting for one extreme at the expense of the other. Instead of finding balance between the environmental concerns of protecting the river and the needs of the people of the North Shore of Kauai to support themselves, the state will, in one fell swoop, decide that no commercial activity on the river is more important than putting food on the table for hundreds of families on Kauai’s North Shore.

What happened to the state’s drive to revitalize the economy? Is putting businesses out of commission and people out of work a way to revitalize the economy? How does this action comport with a state that claims it supports businesses?

While commercial activity may have gotten out of hand in some people’s view, closing down all commercial activity is not the appropriate response. Balance is needed between preserving the natural beauty of the river and allowing others to share in the appreciation of that resource as well as providing employment.

If the state cannot find a balance between the concerns for preserving the river and preserving jobs for not only those who depend on the river but all the other businesses on the North Shore who depend on that economic activity, then it is quite obvious that economic recovery is still far from a reality.

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