HONOLULU - Democratic and Republican lawmakers gathered at the Hawai'i State Capitol Wednesday morning for the start of the 2019 Legislative Session. 

After a year of devastating natural disasters for the state, Senate President Ron Kouchi said during Wednesday's opening ceremony that the Senate will work toward helping Hawai'i Island and Kaua'i residents recover from the historic flooding and lava eruptions. Senate Majority Leader Sen. J. Kalani English said the goal is to develop a statewide plan on how to respond to natural disasters.

He explained, "Right now we have about 13,000-15,000 what we call internal displaced persons or internal refugees. Those are people who lost their homes on the Big Island, people who no longer have a place to live because of a natural disaster; the 3,000 people who were displaced on Kaua'i. So we'll be looking at the big picture and how we can set up a system and react immediately when the next natural disaster hits."

Legalizing recreational cannabis, minimum wage and addressing the homeless crisis will also be top priorities for the Senate. "Living wages will be on the agenda," said English. "And how do we balance the need for a living wage and how it impacts small businesses? So these are the top line issues.

English added, "Homelessness is also going to be a big part of our discussions. How do we help people who are on the edge of becoming homeless to make sure we give some support so they don't lose their apartment or lose their home? So these are some of the big issues."

Updating election laws, reforming the prison system and promoting sustainability will also be key issues this legislative session.