We're talking politics in tonight's Civil Beat segment, few things make Chad Blair happier.

The legislative session is now open.

Paula Akana: Chad, they already had a pretty full slate. Now, we throw a false nuclear alarm into the mix! How much could this shake things up?

Chad Blair: House Speaker Scott Saiki says their main role is oversight. He reasserted the legislature's role in holding the executive branch accountable. But he did not have any particular bills in mind, unlike GOP Rep. Gene Ward who has introduced a measure mandating duck-and-cover drills in public schools. 

Paula Akana: The session also opened while thousands were marching to commemorate the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Do you see Native Hawaiian issues getting more attention this year?

Chad Blair: Sen. Brickwood Galuteria was one of the main speakers at the Onipaa Kakou. At one point he and the other Hawaiian members of the House and Senate shared the stage. Galuteria said that, as elected officials, it was important for them to have civic engagement with the Hawaiian community to impact state policy for everyone.
Paula Akana: A couple big-money topics are getting attention this year: sea-level rise and cesspools. Both are getting to the point where they need to be addressed and that could get expensive
Chad Blair: Incredibly expensive, but experts say it will only be more costly down the road. A major study in December said that cesspools are impacting fresh drinking water supplies in places like upcountry Maui and Kahaluu on Oahu, and threatening coral reefs. The Health Department estimates it would cost $1.75 billion to replace all 88,000 cesspools in Hawaii. Another study shows how sea-level rise threatens Hawaii's coastlines, infrastructure and properties.

Paula Akana: Cost of living and homelessness are big issues that haven't gone away, what do you see happening on those fronts this year?

Chad Blair: Republicans in the House have again introduced bills to exempt food and medical services from the general excise tax to reduce living expenses. That hasn't gotten much traction in the past and probably won't this year either under Democratic leadership. Homelessness and affordable housing will be a major focus of the Legislature. Saiki and other top lawmakers said they're looking at investments in rental housing funds, transitional centers, increased outreach efforts and other approaches.   

Paula Akana: Finally, same-sex marriage and medical marijuana have been polarizing issues in recent years, anything like that lurking this year?

Chad Blair: There may be some tweaks to Hawaii's medical marijuana law this session, like changing references about "marijuana" to "cannabis," but nothing major is expected. There is talk that the medical-aid-in dying may be revived, which passed the Senate but died in House committee last year.