In the last week of June KCFA’s Legislative Committee sent questionnaires with 3 coffee-related questions to candidates for West Hawaii legislative offices and to candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor. [Note–questions to candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor were slightly modified to reflect administrative, rather than legislative offices.] Responses were requested from candidates by July 24. Below are the 3 questions, followed by the responses (“YES”, “NO”, or “OTHER”) and then the “COMMENTS”. Please take time to review the comments. We hope that the responses (and especially the comments) will assist KCFA members and supporters of Hawaii coffee farmers in making decisions for the August 11 Primary Election and for the November 6 Final Election.
- Truth-in-Labelling for Hawaii-Grown Coffee
Current state law (HRS 486-120.6) permits the use of Hawaii origin names on packages of Hawaii coffee “blends” (for example, “Kona”, and “Maui” and “Ka’u” coffee blends) containing as little as 10% coffee actually grown in the named region. No other state in the U.S. and no other place anywhere in the world (other than Hawaii) authorizes this type of deceptive misuse of the regional identities of agricultural products. Both the Hawaii County Council (Resolution 501-14) and the Democratic Party of Hawaii (Bus/AG 2016-03) have adopted resolutions asking Hawaii State Legislators to enact (1) a minimum of 51% genuine content for labeling or advertising blends of Hawaii-grown coffee, and (2) a requirement that the origin of all coffee in such blends be identified on the package.
Question: If elected, will you introduce and vigorously support a bill to enact these two reforms to current coffee labeling laws?
- Fair Labeling of “Ready-To-Drink” [RTD] Coffee Drinks
Currently there is no Hawaii State law requiring marketers of ready-to-drink (“RTD”) coffee products that are sold to the public in cans and packages as Hawaii coffee blends (for example, Kona Red Cold Brew Kona Blend) to disclose on the label what percentage, if any, of the content is from Hawaii-Grown coffee. For example, the labels of “Kona Red Cold Brew Kona Blend” and “Royal Mills Hawaiian Kona Premium Coffee” do not disclose what percentage of the contents is from Kona-grown coffee.
Question: If elected, will you introduce and vigorously support a bill to require label disclosure of the percentage of genuine Hawaii-grown content in RTD coffee products labeled as Hawaii-grown coffee or Hawaii-grown coffee blends?
- Video Conferencing for Legislative Hearings
As a practical matter, the current State Legislative system of short-notice for hearing testimony in Honolulu on proposed legislation disenfranchises ordinary citizens from the Neighbor Islands. Short-notice travel to Honolulu for in-person testimony by Neighbor Island residents is often not possible because air reservations are not available and/or costs are prohibitively high. The current system too often leaves the floor at Legislative hearings to lobbyists for special interests and effectively silences the voices of ordinary citizens (such as Kona Coffee farmers) from the Neighbor Islands. As demonstrated by video systems used by the Hawaii County Council and by the State of Alaska, video conferencing for citizen testimony is feasible and cost effective.
Question: If elected, will you affirmatively work for implementation of a system for remote video testimony from the Neighbor Islands? If yes, what do you pledge to do?
CANDIDATE RESPONSES TO QUESTION 1/QUESTION 2/ QUESTION 3
State Senate, District 3
State Representative, District 5
State Representative, District 6
State Representative, District 7
Tom Belekanich—Did Not Respond
John Carroll—Did Not Respond
Will Espero—Did Not Respond
Kim Coco Iwamoto—Did Not Respond
State Senate, District 3
Question 1: NO OTHER U.S. STATE ALLOWS ANY OF THEIR AG PRODUCTS NAMED FOR THEIR STATE OR A REGION IN THAT STATE TO CONTAIN LESS THAN 75% (WINE) OF THE PRODUCT FROM THAT STATE. IT IS FALSE ADVERTISING TO ALLOW COFFEE BLENDERS TO USE 10% KONA, KAU, MAUI OR ANY OTHER HAWAIIAN REGION’S NAME AND THEN CLAIM THAT THE PRODUCT IS FROM THAT REGION. I SUPPORT A MINIMUM OF 51% IN A BLEND BUT I PREFER 75% AS A MINIMUM. THE TERM “BLEND” SHOULD BE PROMINENT ON THE FRONT LABEL IN THE LARGEST FONT. I HAVE POINTED OUT TO BUYERS IN STORES THAT THE SO-CALLED KONA COFFEE IS A BLEND OF ONLY 10%. MANY VISITORS ARE IN SUCH A HURRY THAT 10% IS FREQUENTLY VIEWED AS 100%. IT IS DECEPTIVE VISUALLY. IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE THAT EVERY REGION FROM WHICH COFFEE IS PROCURED FOR A BLEND BE NAMED IN DESCENDING ORDER ON THE FRONT LABEL OF THE PRODUCT. THE PUBLIC NEEDS COMPLETE INFORMATION TO MAKE AN APPROPRIATE BUYING DECISION.
Question 2: I’VE BEEN SUPPORTING SUCH A LAW FOR YEARS.
Question 3: WITHOUT REMOTE VIDEO TESTIMONY, THE PUBLIC IS DISENFRANCHISED BUT SPECIAL INTERESTS ARE NOT. REMOTE VIDEO TESTIMONY IS NECESSARY FOR THE PUBLIC TO TESTIFY ON LEGISLATION BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE. I WILL WRITE OR CO-SPONSOR LEGISLATION FOR REMOTE VIDEO TESTIMONY.
Question 1: Hawaiʻi’s coffee is the best in the world, and the world should not be cheated out of the Hawaiʻi-grown coffee experience due to misleading labeling. If the visitor industry were to market Hawaiʻi vacations where you only spend 10% of your time in the islands, there would be an uprising – why should we accept any less from the coffee industry? I voted for Resolution 501-14 when it came before me on the Hawaiʻi County Council and will champion truth-in-labeling initiatives for Hawaiʻi-grown products as Senator.
Question 2: I will include ready-to-drink coffee drinks in the legislation I will champion on truth-in-labeling for Hawaiʻi-grown coffee.
Question 3: Offering neighbor island residents the opportunity to participate in their state government through technology is not only the right thing to do, it’s inexcusable that we haven’t done it yet. The County of Hawaiʻi has been leading the state in this regard with council members in two chambers holding committee and council meetings in real time with constituents at six sites islandwide. More recently, we’ve added a live web stream for viewing anywhere in the world. I am happy to lend whatever assistance I can in bringing this effort to the Legislature, and will introduce a measure to do so. Transparency and participation in government is not a nice-to-have, it’s our responsibility to the people we represent and serve.
State Representative, District 5
Question 1: I have introduced or supported bills for this issues consistently during my five years in the legislature. While I have been Chair of the Agriculture Committee I have sponsored bills clearly supporting these positions and vigorously supported them by pointing out that the Hawaii Island County Council has unanimously supported these positions and by lobbying my fellow legislators. To give these bills the best possible chance I have placed them on the agenda of my very first Agriculture Committee hearing during my past two sessions as chair to allow the time to get the bills through subsequent committees. My colleague in the Senate Mike Gabbard who is the Chair of Agriculture in the Senate also supports these positions. My staff was instructed to prioritize these bills in gathering signatures of co-sponsors. I recently spoke with Bruce Corker about these bills and in addition to introducing them, hearing them promptly, and encouraging my committee to pass them (which they have done unanimously in the past), we will work on strategies to get past the roadblocks in the Senate.
Question 2: As with the truth-in-labelling, we introduced and passed in our Agriculture committee a bill crafted with the help of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association supporting this issue, and gathered sponsors. This bill sailed through the house and seemed poised to actually pass through the Senate. Unfortunately, it ran into the same roadblock, the CPN committee, and written requests to the chair of that committee to hear that bill, pass it or to waive off fell on deaf ears. I am cautiously optimistic that by carefully applying the pressure of individual and groups of coffee farmers we can get this bill passed in the next session, and I will assist in that endeavor.
Question 3: I pledge to 1) first find out what has been done to lay the groundwork for remote video testimony 2) find out what is left to be done to accomplish this goal 3) see if at least a pilot program could be set up this coming session. This need intersects with a developing problem. Way too many bills are introduced every year given the very limited amount of committee hearing time. This means that many bills are never scheduled for hearings, so remote testimony won’t help that problem and could exacerbate it. You can’t testify on a bill if it isn’t scheduled for a hearing! During the last two years I have scheduled for hearings ALL bills referred to the house agriculture committee. This has meant starting our committee hearings very early and often having to schedule emergency time in the afternoons. We have come close to scheduling Saturday hearings as well. The solution to those problems is to extend the legislative session or have two sessions instead of one during the year. That is currently not palatable to the majority of representatives or with leadership but it needs to be addressed, because allowing remote testimony will put additional strains on an already overloaded system. Also, the more oral testimony allowed the shorter the window of testimony. In heavily attended hearings that might mean a limit of one-minute per testifier which is never well received. Written testimony is of course allowed and perhaps the lead times to submit written testimony could be improved so people get a chance to draft and submit powerful written testimony. Even if oral testimony from the neighbor islands is facilitated, that testimony should be backed up with written testimony. I do think a pilot program would be doable and reveal problems that need to be dealt with, and possible solutions e.g. extending the sessions or even having hearings on important bills on the neighbor islands. I do pledge to be proactive in figuring out what can be done in this arena, both short term and long term.
Question 1: As someone who grew up on a small coffee farm, I am eager to introduce and support laws that require coffee blends that include and advertise Hawaii-grown coffee to incorporate at least 51 percent of their content from the region used on their labels, as well as mandating disclosure of the origin of all coffee in such blends on their packages. When elected, I will also work with the Hawaii’i Lodging and Tourism Association to increase the use of 100 percent Kona coffee in visitor accommodations state wide. Finally, will champion legislation to protect the Kona and Ka’u Coffee industries from predatory mainland-financed farming operations like Kona Hills, whose business practices would economically disadvantage West Hawaii’s’ hard working coffee farmers and jeopardize their iconic, world-renowned products.
Question 2: I will sponsor and strongly support legislation requiring ready to-drink coffee products to disclose the percentage of Hawaii-grown content on their labels. Kona Red and Royal Mills are, in my view, exploiting the global distinction of Kona’s coffee farmers, whose coffee is known throughout the world. In so doing, they are stealing the hard work and reputation of West Hawai’i’s most notable product. I will not tolerate such theft of our community’s heritage or economic success, as a lawmaker, and will do everything in my power to regulate those who seek to illicitly abuse Kona coffee farmers’ labor and fame.
Question 3: I wholeheartedly support implementation of a remote video testimony system for neighbor islanders. Too often, neighbor island residents are left out of political decision-making, leading to “Oahugarchy,” a system of governance that disproportionately favors the interests of Oahu residents. Establishing a remote video testimony system would ensure that neighbor island residents, including the people of West Hawai’i, are fully enfranchised in the legislative process and are empowered to make their voices and their issues heard.
State Representative, District 6
Question 1: I have always and will continue to support protection of region-of-origin labeling and the protection of the Kona Coffee name. I support 51% (or higher) requirement, because if a product is labeled as “Kona Coffee,” I believe it should be Kona Coffee. Allowing lower quality products to be mistaken as real Kona Coffee through deceptive labeling will damage the reputation of Kona Coffee in the marketplace and hurt farmers over the long term.
Question 2: YES, the same protections should exist for the Kona name for these products as those that in place for coffee beans and ground coffee.
Question 3: I have worked harder than any other legislator currently in office to establish videoconferencing for neighbor islands at the state legislature. Due to my efforts, we have held hearings with video conferencing in the committees where I have served as Vice Chair, including for the Committee on Energy and Environment and the Committee on Water and Land. Right now what we have in the house is a pilot project which I am working on expanding. At this time, any chair in the House could choose to allow videoconferencing in their hearing if they wanted to. Unfortunately, only a few have done so. However, because we do have so many hearings going on at the same time on any given day while the legislature is in session, if every chair chose to participate at the same time, we would not yet be prepared with adequate equipment or bandwidth to accommodate this. So, there is still work to be done, and I am continuing to work with House clerk’s office, tech support, and leadership to figure out our next steps.
State Representative, District 7
Question 3: work with leadership to develop a budget and plan for implementation. voice strong support. vote yes if legislation is required.
Question 1: I am a long-time supporter of this legislation. When I was in the legislature twenty years ago, I introduced legislation to implement this requirement. If I win this election, I pledge to continue this support by introducing and supporting legislation to enact these two reforms to current coffee labeling laws.
Question 2: I support “truth-in-labeling laws”. I pledge to introduce and support legislation to require the disclosure of the percentage of genuine Hawaii-grown content in “ready-to-drink” coffee beverages labeled as Hawaii-grown coffee or Hawaii-grown coffee blends.
Question 3: Neighbor island residents are at a considerable disadvantage when testifying at the legislature. I would be a strong advocate for establishing a system for remote testimony by introducing changes to statutes, regulations and legislative rules, as well as advocating for sufficient budgetary resources to implement it.
Tom Belekenich-Did Not Respond
Question 1: YES. The ige Administration’s HDOA has always vigorously supported the statewide coffee industry in Hawaii, including the Kona region. HDOA has consistently viewed the 10% blend from different regions as a commodity group marketing decision. Under the Ige Administration, the DOA, along with the various stakeholders in the coffee industry, have been moving closer to consensus to increase the percentage of coffee origin from 10% to 51%. The Ige Administration has and will continue to support the industry in answering this marketing question.
Question 2: Yes. However, this is a nuanced question that will need to be parsed out. A coffee drink product like Kona Red is manufactured in Arizona where the HDOA has no jurisdiction. Curtailing the production of this product outside of Hawaii is extremely limited. The Ige Administration has continually supported additional financial resources for staff and programs at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. The current leadership of the Legislature has not been supportive of those asks. The HDOA would need significantly more inspectors in its Quality Assurance Division if it were going to take on this regulatory task. The Ige Administration will always support a fair marketplace for its agricultural producers, and in this case would look to be supportive of the coffee industry in this matter.
Question 3: YES. The hallmark of the Ige Administration is openness, transparency, and citizen and stakeholder inclusion in government. The Ige Administration supports teleconferencing for legislative affairs and will work with leadership in both the House and the Senate to make this a reality.
Question 2: Although this is a different means of selling coffee products, if a regional name is used like “Kona,” for marketing and representation purposes, disclosure should be made to consumers.
Question 3: Although this is not within the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch, this is a logical extension of the paperless initiative I started in the Legislature and provides greater transparency and participation. I hope my friends in the legislature would agree. I would wholeheartedly support a decision by the Legislature to implement such a system.
John Carroll-Did Not Respond
Question 3: In fact, I introduced HB 1734 that required each chamber of the legislature to establish rules that enable oral testimony through audio visual video conferencing technology. The Kona Civic Center already allows for this for county hearings and we should definitely have this capability on the State level.
Question 1: I will vigorously support these two reforms because I believe it’s important to strengthen the “Hawai’i Brand” for the future success of our State’s economy. We need to diversify our local economy if we want to become self-sufficient and sustainable. Agriculture is one industry that we can and should be working to grow and market both nationally and internationally. For these reasons, it only makes sense to protect the “Hawai’i Brand” for the betterment of local businesses and residents.
Question 2: I will vigorously support a bill to require label disclosure of the percentage of genuine Hawaii-grown content in RTD coffee products or coffee blends for the same reason as I mentioned in my answer for the previous question.
Question 3: I fully believe in representation and transparency; technology is what can help government achieve both. As Mayor of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau for the past 10 years, I will bring the Neighbor Island perspective to the State Capitol as Lt. Governor. That means making sure everyone across the state has a voice. I want the Lt. Governor’s office to be the people’s office. As Lt. Governor, I will work closely with the Governor and Legislature to implement a system for remote video testimony. Hawai’i should be utilizing technology to better include our Neighbor Island residents so they can participate in the legislative process.
Will Espero-Did Not Respond
Question 1: I absolutely agree we should strengthen the Kona Brand.
Question 2: This is an area that needs more brand protection and advocacy.
Question 3: There should be devoted resources to provide for real time streaming of all hearings and enabled testimony.
Kim Coco Iwamoto-Did Not Respond
Question 1: Yes, Hawaii agriculture products and local businesses must be protected and supported.
Question 2: Yes, I will support and encourage the Governor to sign a bill disclosing the percentage amount of genuine Hawaii grown products. Being naturally and locally owned produced products it sets us (Hawaii) apart from National and Global market. “Hawaii” branding sells by itself, it’s unique and Hawaii coffee business must be protected.
Question 3: Yes, 100% I agree with video conferencing technology. I’ve been in logistics transportation business for more than 30 years. I’ve been using video conferencing for at least 20 plus years. Legislative process via Video Conferencing is very important, it saves time, money, provide awareness in many ways especially when Legislators are introducing “crazy” regulations, regressive taxes and of course abusing their power while serving. Hawaii Democrat Supermajority Control Legislators have gone so long, getting away with a lot of things that are vital in civil and moral society. It’s time for these Legislators to be exposed and they must inform their constituents what are those “new and old” taxes they introduced, voted and why? who’s going to benefit and what’s the bottom line of having him or her to vote for more taxes? These Legislators must justify the needs and why? FYI- Hawaii State Employees Pension is unfunded approximately $25 Billion and it keeps growing. Their healthcare could be double and also growing.
Question 1: I have always been a strong supporter of our local coffee industry. I would be open to various proposals to ensure that our coffee brand, farmers and industry is protected. I will work with local farmers, your association and the industry to come to legislation that protects our vibrant industry.
Question 2: I am in favor of legislation that would protect the local coffee brands such as kona, ka’u and others. Moving forward would require extensive stakeholder input and involvement, including members of your association, coffee industry representatives, and government agencies. Critical to these discussions would be such issues as the Department of Agriculture or another state agency’s ability to enforce the provisions. My understanding is that most ready-to-drink coffee blend beverages are manufactured and packaged outside Hawaii where the state government, including the Department of Agriculture, has no regulatory authority. Furthermore, testing for labeling compliance of ready-to-drink beverages after importation to Hawaii may be problematic for the Department of Agriculture or any other state agency as content or origin cannot be determined once it has been roasted, blended or prepared.
Question 3: I believe that access is important at all levels of government. As the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, I was among the first to pilot and expand video conference testimony. During my time chairing both the Education and Labor committees, I have also utilized both video and teleconferencing to connect with neighbor islands and speakers from across the country as part of our Informational Briefings. If elected, I would work with the Office of Enterprise Technology Services and any other relevant state agency to implement video conferencing throughout the state executive branch.
More important is that I commit to you that I will be coming out to all the neighbor islands so we can hold in person meetings and build on our relationship to move the industry forward.