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Update from the Hawaii State Legislature

by Grace H. on Monday, March 10, 2014

Guest Blogger: Don Weisman, Hawaii Government Relations Director

This year has been a very busy year for us at the capitol and we wanted to give you, our advocates, an update on what has been going on.

Pulse Oximety

Critical Congenital Heart Defects are the number one birth defect in newborns. They affect 1 in 100 babies and account for nearly 30% of infant deaths due to birth defects. Legislation that would require all Hawaii birthing centers to perform pulse oximetry screening on all newborns prior to discharge is back on track after surviving a rocky start. Pulse Oximetry is a simple screening involving a small strap that goes around the baby’s foot to measure their heart rate and blood oxygen.  The bill, SB 2194, SD1,  appeared dead until the AHA, with the help of our advocates and backed by representatives of Hawaii Pacific Health, urged Senate Health Committee Chair Josh Green to request a re-referral of committee assignments which helped give it second life.

When it was finally heard jointly by three Senate committees, it passed unanimously with no opposition in testimony. Thank you to You’re The Cure advocates who responded to the AHA’s action alert and helped bring attention to this life-saving legislation.

AEDs in Schools

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. Less than 8% of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive because people around them don’t know what to do. The AHA commented on legislation (SB 2610, SD2) that would require all Hawaii public schools to be equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

As a result of our testimony, the bill was amended to include the formation of a state task force to develop recommendations for emergency response planning at schools and other related policy recommendations to state legislators prior to the start of their 2015 Legislative Session. The bill passed out of the Senate and will now be considered by the House.

Tobacco Issues

The AHA is also pursuing action on two tobacco-related bills moving through the state legislature. The first bill (SB 2493, SD3) would require wholesalers and retailers of e-cigarettes to obtain a state license similar to those needed to sell other tobacco products. We have argued that, following last year’s passage of legislation restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, licensing is needed to determine who sells these products and allows for more effective enforcement of the sales to minors restrictions. The bill also restricts the use of e-cigarettes to places where cigarette smoking is allowed. This measure is needed to protect non-smokers from the nicotine and other toxic chemicals present in e-cigarette aerosol.

The AHA is opposing HB 1849 that would reduce the tax on premium cigars, which are currently taxed at a rate of 50 percent of wholesale cost (an estimated average of $2.50 per stick) to a much lower rate of 50-cents per stick. The bill passed with considerable opposition in the House and is headed for the Senate. The Centers for Disease Control reports that while cigarette use has declined among youths, use of other tobacco products, including cigars, has increased. AHA argued that any reduction in costs of tobacco products makes them more accessible to youths. We also pointed out that cigars are similar to cigarettes in the cardiovascular risks that they pose.

As you can see we are very busy this time of year. Thank you for all that you do and please keep an eye out for our emails!

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