Friday, May 30, 2008

Dealing with the Budget Crunch

by Rep. Kirk Caldwell - Majority Leader

The following was written by Rep. Caldwell for his upcoming Neighborhood Board meeting:

Dear Neighborhood Board and Community Members,

It's always been my policy to give you the bad news along with the good. In keeping with that policy, this letter to you carries some very tough truth.

As you may have heard, on Thursday the State Council on Revenues once again lowered the estimate of projected revenues for the current fiscal year and chopped it even further for next year.

Let me give you some perspective. In September of 2007 the growth estimate was 5.7%. It is now down to 3.3% which is a negative dip of about 42% in a nine month period. By the way, two of the five members of the Council actually wanted to drop the projection even lower, based on what is happening within the national and state economy.

The projections for the next fiscal year drop to 2.0% revenue growth, down from 4.1% in March. Combined, this means that the state is projected to receive $136.8 million less over a two year period; $14.4 million less in fiscal year 2008 (July 2007-June 2008) and $122.4 million less in fiscal year 2009 (July 2008-June 2009).

For some time now, the House of Representatives has developed a reputation for being tight with the checkbook. Indeed, there was a lot of criticism directed at the House during and immediately following the 2008 session for our restraint in spending taxpayer money. Most of the criticism came from the Governor and the state administration. The House Finance Committee, led by Representative Marcus Oshiro, made hard yet prudent decisions.

Yes it was a tough balance. We know very well that budget restraints affect programs and hurt people. We don't take it lightly. We also knew that what we were doing was necessary. We could see that the economy was slipping and that spending needed to be managed more tightly. The news from the Council on Revenues bears this out.

Because the legislature judiciously lowered revenue projections in calculating the budget, the state can effectively manage this fiscal year, with appropriate spending restraint by the executive branch.

When you take these losses in future years and compare them to our state's assumed financial needs, we face very stiff shortfalls in the future. 2009 will be what we call a biennium budget year. That's a year when we have to put together a budget for the following 2 years – fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

At this point in time, we anticipate a $242.5 million potential shortfall by June 30, 2010, ballooning into a $366.0 million shortfall by June 30, 2011. These are big numbers, which can change somewhat for the better if the economy improves. However, we cannot sit idly by and assume that will happen.

Managing our money ever more effectively and striving for policies that support a more resilient economy will be critical priorities in the near term and in the next legislative session.


Sincerely,

House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell
District 24
Manoa, Punahou, Moiliili & University

Cabanilla urges Gov. to release money for tunnel study

Rep. Rida Cabanilla wants the governor to release the money that was earmarked to study the feasibility of creating a tunnel under Pearl Harbor linking Fort Weaver Road to Nimitz Highway before the June 30 deadline.

The Hawaii Reporter published a post from Cabanilla's office manager outlining the benefits of an underground tunnel.


The U.S. Navy has told Rep. Rida Cabanilla that "So long as the portals are not on military land and the tunnel deep enough and strong enough to withstand an explosion, the military has no objections to working with the powers that be to advance the Pearl Harbor Tunnel Concept. My engineers inform me this is possible."
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People forget that when the second city (Kapolei) was being conceived, the Estate of James Campbell decades ago recommended the tunnel concept through Pearl Harbor as the logical solution to pursue to combat traffic expected/forecasted….and the military crosses numerous underwater tunnels on America's eastern seaboard on a daily basis…ever hear of one complaint in these operations?....
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Here in Hawaii, the tunnel concept was one of the most favored by Ewa Beach residents at the October 2005 Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting held at Asing Park and was to be included into the rail option debate with the Managed Lanes and No Build options for inclusion into the city's $10 million Alternative Analysis Study. However, at the 11th hour, the Mayor's administration team alone removed the Pearl Harbor Tunnel Concept (referred to as the Pearl Harbor Emphasis) to be evaluated alongside the rail option. This was done without public input, no public comment- it was just removed it.
The post also mentions success of tunnels in other cities, including Atlanta, Georgia and Brisbane, Australia.

During an Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee meeting in 2005, a few concerns surfaced regarding the tunnel. Although the tunnel would significantly reduce travel time for residents living in the Ewa Beach or Kapolei area, it would not benefit or reduce travel time for those residents in other areas. The tunnel would also impact the traffic flow on H1 at the merge near the Pearl Harbor/Hickam interchange and travel speeds would most likely be lower on the H1.

The study would estimate the cost and estimated time-line of planning, designing, and construction of the tunnel, estimate the tunnel's various impacts, including reductions in travel time, and obtain recommendations from the Department of the Navy. In 2005, the legislature allocated $200,000 for the study.

Capitol Website Down Time

The capitol website will be down on weekends, Fridays 4:30 p.m. to Mondays 7:45 a.m., due to electrical work being done within the building. Here are the affected dates: June 20 - 23, June 27 - 30, July 3 - 7, July 11 - 14.

Updated information on COR projections

House Finance revised its analysis on the Council on Revenues projections after receiving information on non-revenue tax figures and applying them to the equation.

Using 3.9% growth as a base, the lowering to 3.3% results in a loss of $14.4 million in FY08.

Using 3.5% growth as a base, which the legislature assumed, the lowering to 3.3% results in a gain of $3.9 million. (This is due to the non-revenue tax adjustment.)

For FY09, the lowering from 4.1% to 2.0% results in a loss of $122.4 million.

Rep. Magaoay applauds Kunia Plantation Village deal

Photo: Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Letter to the Editor - Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 5/30/08

To say that the majority of life-long residents of Kunia Plantation Village were relieved by the news that they will be able to stay in their homes would be a huge understatement. I grew up in a plantation village, and I understand the distress and heartache that these people faced when Del Monte shut down. The recently announced arrangement, which guarantees that the housing remains affordable in perpetuity, is one that deserves accolades for its creativity and cooperation among the parties.

I want to thank and applaud the James Campbell Co. which agreed to transfer their land for $1 to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, which will manage the property, and Mayor Hannemann, who found a way to save the housing in exchange for other ways that will benefit Kapolei. This is an excellent model of how the private and public sectors can work together if people put their minds to it.

Rep. Michael Magaoay
District 46 – Kunia, Poamoho, Kaena Point, Schofield, Mokuleia, Waialua, Haleiwa, Waimea, Pupukea, Sunset, Kahuku

Council on Revenues New Projection

The Hawaii Council on Revenues met yesterday and revised their economic projection for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. Mahalo to House Finance for providing the following analysis. In a nutshell:

The legislature assumed that the Council would lower its projection from 3.9% to 3.5% when finalizing the state budget for FY08.

Yesterday, the Council lowered the projection for FY08 even further from 3.9% growth to 3.3%.

Had we stayed at 3.9%, the loss would be $27.5 million. Using 3.5% as the base, the loss is $9.2 million.

The Council projected a downward turn for FY09, lowering the growth from 4.1% to 2.0%. This translates to an anticipated loss of $128.1 million.

As reported in The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin, the five member council was split, with the vote being 3-2. According to sources, members Paul Brewbaker and Rick Kahle voted no and wanted the FY08 adjustment to be even lower.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mililani Veterans Talk Story

Photo (Center Left to Right, Back to Front ): Reps. Ryan Yamane, Marilyn Lee, Cindy Evans and Marcus Oshiro met with veterans in Mililani yesterday, bringing an end to a statewide initiative aimed at getting feedback from Hawaii veterans on how to improve the quality of veteran services.

Lawmakers Urge Gov to Release GIA's

Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro points to some of Hawaii's nonprofits who will be negatively impacted if grant funding is not released by June 30th.

Concern is building around the fact that June 30th is just around the corner, and the Governor has not released the majority of grants-in-aid (GIA) appropriated last year. The GIA requests for operating funds will lapse if not released by this date.

House and Senate leaders gathered in the rotunda today to urge the Governor to release the funds. In 2007, about $10.1 million in grants for operating funds was appropriated by the legislature. So far, about $2.6 million has been released. As the funds have been accounted for in the current balanced budget, restricting these funds will not provide additional

In addition, the legislature approved nearly $26 million in grants for capital improvement projects (CIP). As of May 9th, the Department of Budget and Finance had released only $2.7 million. The CIP grants are funded through general obligation bonds and not general funds; as such, any unreleased CIP monies will lapse in June 2010.

While the urgency lies with the lapsing of GIA operating funds at the end of June, lawmakers would also like the Governor to speed up the release of CIP grants. This will not only help nonprofits with their physical infrastructure, but will pump more money into our local economy and create more construction related jobs as Hawaii fights against an economic downturn.

"There is no reason why the entire $10.1 million in operating grants-in-aid should not be released," said Finance Chair, Rep. Marcus Oshiro. "The money is already accounted for in a balanced state budget, and we're talking about a small fraction, less than 1/10th of 1%, of our $10 billion general fund budget. Yet, it's an amount that will make a world of difference to these non-profits who provide services to some of the most needy in our community. The Governor should release the funds and get the money out to these people."

In a public radio interview last week, Governor Lingle said that the administration is taking a careful approach in reviewing the grant applications. Specifically, she is quoted as saying that:

"We're dealing with those which are health and safety related first, and also using a set of criteria including how much money do they raise on their own, what results are they trying to achieve, what their past experience is. We're also looking at how many years have they been receiving this kind of government assistance."

Here is a list of grants from 2007 that have been released thus far in order of release date.

8/14/07 Asia Pacific Exchange and Development (APED) - $25,000
11/20/07 Pacific and Asian Affairs Council - $130,000
12/06/07 T.J. Mahoney and Associates - $95,273
12/26/07 Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council - $100,000
1/03/08 Bishop Museum - $450,000
1/24/08 Parents and Children Together – Weed and Seed - $400,000
2/14/08 Waikiki Community Center - $50,000
3/2/08 Aloha Medical Mission - $75,000
3/2/08 Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders – Aloha Chapter - $50,000
3/2/08 Kapahulu Center – $67,338
3/10/08 Ohana Makamae Inc. - $83,315
4/21/08 Hawaii High School Athletic Association - $150,000
4/23/08 Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Honolulu - $134,000
4/23/08 Hui Malama Learning Center - $150,000
4/24/08 Read to Me International Foundation - $100,000
4/25/08 Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council - $552,227
4/28/08 Family Promise of Hawaii - $40,000
5/27/08 Ke Ala Hoku Community Integration Partnership - $200,000

By the end of the legislative session in 2008, the Council on Revenues had lowered its projection from 4.9% to 3.9% growth, which translates to about $50 million less state tax revenue. Due to the fact that the great majority of grants appropriated in 2007 had not been released, the legislature found it difficult to justify appropriating more funds for grants on top of funds that were being held up by the administration.

Today, the Council lowered its projection to 3.3% growth.

If the funds are released prior to June 30th, the non-profit organizations of Hawaii will be able to provide critical services over the upcoming year. If the money is not released, the funds, which are not needed to balance the state budget, will be lost.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rep. Marcus Oshiro appears on "The Business of the Arts"

Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro will appear on Bob Sandla's public radio show, "The Business of the Arts", airing Sunday, 6:00 p.m., on 88.1 KHPR-FM.

Tune in to a frank discussion on why the legislature was unable to fund grants-in-aid in 2008, and why Oshiro is frustrated by the fact that so many nonprofit organizations are still waiting for the Governor to release grants from 2007. What does this mean for the arts in particular?

On a related matter, the Senate and House leadership will join together to hold a press conference on Thursday, May 29th at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda. They'll be urging the Governor to release the 2007 grant-in-aid monies before the lapse date of June 30th. The legislature appropriated $10.1 million in operating funds as nonprofit grants. Only about $2.6 million have been released.

Reps Lee and Takumi win "Shining Light" Award

The Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans have named their 2008 Shining Light Awards, and they include two House members, Rep. Marilyn Lee (District 38 - Mililani, Mililani Mauka) and Rep. Roy Takumi (District 36 - Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades, and Manana). Two Senate members were also named - Senator Les Ihara (District 9 - Palolo, St. Louis Heights, Maunalani Heights, Kaimuki, Kapahulu, West Diamond Head, and Waikiki Gold Coast) and Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland (District 13 - Sand Island, Kalihi, Liliha, Nuuanu, Pauoa, Puunui).

Marilyn Lee serves as Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee. Roy Takumi is the Chair of the House Education Committee.

The awards were given for their dedication to the needs of the elderly, and outstanding compassionate service. Congratulations to all!

Veterans talk to lawmakers in Kapolei

Representative Cindy Evans, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs, and Vice Chair Rep. Sharon Har recently held a veterans "Talk Story" session at Kapolei High School on Saturday, May 17, 2008. The meeting was part of a statewide initiative to talk with Hawaii veterans about issues that are important them and ways that lawmakers can improve the state system and its veteran programs. Other meetings have been held on Maui and Mililani.

Photo (from left to right): Merry Logan, Ernest Delacruz, Salome Calderon, John Condello, Cynthia Stine, Reginald Alexander, Representative Sharon Har, Ron Schaedel, Henry Ahlo, Representative Cindy Evans, Glenn Stang, Caz Ross, and Luis Parker.

Photo: Rep. Evans (left) and Rep. Har (right) listen as Hawaii veterans discuss the issues they have with the quality of veteran service in Hawaii during a "talk story" meeting in Kapolei.

Two Joes and a Highway

The big news on Maui yesterday was the dedication of the final phase of the Mokulele Highway widening project, finally completed after years of funding requests and construction impacts. The total project cost $87 million and involved widening and realigning 6.5 miles of highway from Puunene Ave. in Kahului to Piilani Highway in Kihei. The old, two-lane highway was considered dangerous to travel and would flood during rain storms due to its low elevation.

The new, widened highway is four lanes and elevated with drainage structures. The Maui News story quoted Rep. Joe Souki, Speaker Emeritus and House Transportation Chair, who recalled that the initial funding was requested in the late 1990's when he was still Speaker of the House. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin story is here.

There is also a parallel bikeway and pedestrian pathway that are separated from the main road. Bikers and walkers seem pleased with this arrangement, although Rep. Joe Bertram, noted bikeway and trailway enthusiast, said he had mixed feelings about spending millions on highway widening.

“I hope this is the last four-lane road built on Maui. We don’t need any more four-lane highways,” he said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brower and Mizuno at lantern ceremony


Reps. Tom Brower and John Mizuno joined more than 30,000 people at Ala Moana Beach Park for the 10th annual Lantern Floating Hawai'i ceremony yesterday to release more than 1600 lighted paper lanterns toward the ocean horizon to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away.

The lawmakers also presented a certificate to Na Lei Aloha Foundation, commending the non-profit organization for its work in the community and dedication to Hawai'i.

Reps. Tom Brower and John Mizuno (front center) with the thousands of participants, including many from Japan, of the 10th annual Lantern Floating Hawai'i Memorial Day ceremony.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro to Host Post-Session Forum

If you're interested in state issues that affect Wahiawa, Whitmore Village or Laulanai Valley, Rep. Marcus Oshiro invites you to attend a community forum on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008. Come early, at 6:00 p.m., for socializing and networking. The forum discussion starts at 6:30 p.m. and will go to around 8:30 p.m. It will be held at the Wahiawa District Park, Hookipa Room, which is located next to the swimming pool. If you have questions, call Rep. Oshiro's office at 586-6200. Click here to view the flyer.

Monday, May 26, 2008

News from Rep. Tommy Waters

Both The Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin ran stories this morning on Rep. Waters' decision to not seek re-election this year. Speaker of the House Calvin Say issued this statement of appreciation:

"I want to thank Rep. Waters for the years he served in the Hawaii House of Representatives - years that were productive and distinguished. He was willing to take on tough assignments, which he performed with integrity, character, honesty, and very often with a good sense of humor.

Personally, I will miss him, but he has a young family and a law practice, and I understand his priorities at this time. He cares deeply about Hawaii and about his community, and I know that he will continue to contribute to the public good outside of politics."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lawmakers honor Lanakila graduates

Legislators recognized the outstanding accomplishments of the Lanakila Workforce Development Service graduates today and celebrated the inclusion of people with disabilities into the workforce.

The Lanakila Rehabilitation Center's Workforce Development Service, a non-profit corporation, held their second graduation ceremony in the Rotunda of the State Capitol for 18 students. Two distinctions follow these extraordinary individuals; each graduate has a disability and almost every graduate has already been placed with an employer.

The graduates have completed course training in areas such as food service, manufacturing, grounds maintenance, custodial services, shelf stocking, cashiering, clerical support, delivery driving and warehouse services.

"It's important that our labor leaders and employers are informed of the outstanding pool of graduates from programs such as Lanakila Workforce Development," Representative John Mizuno said. "We should also honor, recognize and commend these fine graduates who prove that people with disabilities can succeed in the workforce."

Photo: Rep. John Mizuno hands a graduate a joint Senate-House certificate that recognizes the accomplishments achieved by the graduates of Lanakila Rehabilitation Center's workforce development program.

Members in the News

Rep. James Kunane Tokioka provided an overview of the 2008 legislative session to the Lihue Business Association with Senator Gary Hooser. Here's the story in the Kauai Garden Island.

Rep. Jerry Chang talked about the importance of HB2978, a bill that provides a funding formula for the University of Hawaii system, today in the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

"In the past, the UH-Manoa campus has pretty much taken the bulk of the funding. Whether UHH grows or not, the funding stays level or decreases," said Rep. Jerry Chang (D-Hilo, Waiakea, Kaumana, Keaukaha), the bill's author. "Having a funding formula is a good step to ensure that funding allocation is fair throughout the entire system."

Rep. Ken Ito, Rep. Clift Tsuji, Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Rep. Pono Chong signed the letter to the editor below, which was published today in The Honolulu Advertiser. It's on SB2646, the Important Agricultural Lands bill.


Tough controls are in important ag lands bill

The Advertiser's editorial position on the Important Agricultural Lands bill fails to recognize two major issues.
The first is that it has been 30 years since the people of Hawai'i amended the state Constitution to mandate the conservation of productive agricultural lands.
If we wait until we get the perfect bill, with no compromise among the stakeholders, farmers will become a dying breed in Hawai'i.
Little has been done in the past 30 years to get our best lands growing food and renewable energy fuel sources. Look at what is happening around the world in terms of food shortages and starvation. The time to get our agricultural lands producing again was yesterday, not in another 30 years.
The second point is that the regulatory controls in this bill are extensive, and they are tough. There is no free ride for urban development.
The bill does not provide for automatic reclassification of the 15 percent to urban, rural or conservation.
In addition, a party other than the landowner may petition the state for a contested case hearing, which is open and evidentiary. The Land Use Commission has the discretion to grant or deny in both instances.
The Hawaii Farm Bureau, the Maui County Farm Bureau, the Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, the dean of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and the state Department of Agriculture and the Land Use Research Foundation testified on behalf of the bill.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro Takes Issue with Director Koller on TANF Spending

There is an on-going debate between the legislature and the administration on spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. Lillian Koller, the Director of Human Services, wants to spend down the reserve in order to service beneficiaries and programs. She wrote an op-ed for The Advertiser on May 22nd - view it here.

The Finance Chair, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, disagrees with that strategy. He believes Koller's policy to spend down the TANF reserve fund is irresponsible and leaves welfare families without a safety net by the year 2010. (At which point, the current administration will be out of office and a new administration will have to deal with any fallout.)

Here are the major discrepancies from the legislature's perspective:

Koller says: "In attempting to justify their misguided actions, the Senate and House budget committee chairs — Sen. Rosalyn Baker and Rep. Marcus Oshiro — claimed they had to impose severe spending cuts or the TANF reserve would be depleted in a year and a half.
This is simply untrue."

Oshiro says: A memo dated April 7, 2008, signed by Koller herself, shows a negative $16.1 million balance on June 30, 2010. Here is Oshiro's request to the department. Koller's response is here. (Negative balance is on page 4 spreadsheet.)

Koller says: "Every October we receive an infusion of nearly $99 million for our annual TANF block grant."

Oshiro says: Director Koller fails to mention that she was proposing to spend $137.6 million every year, or $38 million more than what the state receives.

Koller says: "The truth is welfare cases are dropping every year — regardless of economic conditions — as needy parents transition from welfare to employment or exhaust their five years of TANF eligibility."

Oshiro says: According to recent data, welfare cases across the nation are starting to rise. Here's a link to a May 5th USA Today articles which reports: "State welfare rolls, which declined for more than a decade after a 1996 overhaul of the nation's cash-assistance program, are beginning to rise, due in part to the struggling economy."

Koller says: "Compounding this problem, the Legislature denied more than $46 million in grant-in-aid requests from nearly 140 nonprofit groups."

Oshiro says: "When we saw how many millions had not been released from LAST YEAR, it was difficult to justify spending more money that would probably just sit there and not be released either. The Lingle/Aiona administration is hypocritical to say that we don't care about the needy. Just look at all the money that they are holding up, and you have to ask for what purpose? How does this serve the poor, the sick and the needy of our state? The money is there, we have accounted for it in the budget, and it just needs to be released."

For more information, here a link to the department's TANF financial plan.

Maui News Poll on Publicly Funded Elections

The Maui News is currently running a poll on whether Maui residents favor publicly funded elections for the Maui County Council, similar to the recently passed legislation for Hawaii County. Here's the link.

The poll question is: "The state Legislature passed by a wide margin a proposal to publicly fund some Big Island elections as a pilot program. Would you favor a law that would establish publicly financed elections in Maui County?"

As this is being written, the majority of respondents do not favor publicly funded elections with 17% checking YES, 53% checking NO, and 30% checking DEPENDS on how the pilot program works.

The bill, HB661, awaits Gov's signature.

VOG Debate

Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna takes issue here with Rep. Herkes' statement that the VOG constitutes a natural disaster. She writes:


Well, OK, some of the crops can't handle the sulfur and some people can't handle the sulfur, but calling it a natural disaster? Those tend to be catastrophes that can't be outrun or negated by a hotel suite with air conditioner.


Lee presents an interesting dilemma for those promoting Hawaii as a visitor destination, but Big Island residents who have lost their entire crop of protea, or who depend upon water catchment systems which are turning acidic, may not take it so lightly.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rep. Bertram in the news

Rep. Joe Bertram was on the Maui TV News this week talking to reporters about plans to clean up Charley Young Beach, a popular beach park in Kihei that has become "the party spot" for several groups.

"It's been about 5 years since a Brazilian group came in and set up, actually, a permanent post to do this volleyball, and it was just like every weekend and stuff like that, but it's been a real problem in the last couple of years. All of a sudden it just started increasing to like every single day," he said in an interview with reporters.

According to residents, daily raucous parties, sometimes involving drugs and alcohol, can last until the wee hours. There have been property damages to the area, including trash and human waste.

Local, county and state leaders recently took action, blocking off an area between the residential property and the ocean to clean up and clear the vegetation that separates the beach from the condos, and to restore native Hawaiian plants around the park. In the news broadcast, the fence was supposed to be removed today.

This is what Bertram added during the interview:

"This is actually a very unique park…the beach and the land belongs to the county. The state deeded it over…there's a line that goes, basically, through the middle of the beach and that's county land, so it gives the county a lot more latitude in dealing with this problem because they actually – they are the ones responsible for the beach as well."

"… block off an area, clean up all the stuff from the peeing and the pooping and the stuff that they've done, and clear it [vegetation] out so that they couldn't hide anymore because there was all kinds of drug-taking and all that kinds of stuff, and then see if that would prevent them from setting up the net for a little while and then see what we can do in the meantime."

Mass Layoffs

As expected, the news from the Department of Labor today was not good. They released data on the impact of five mass layoffs in April of 2008, which includes a loss of 1,583 jobs for at least 31 days. Included were the high profile closings of Molokai Ranch and Aloha Airlines. A mass layoff is defined as 50 or more claims for unemployment insurance from one employer during a five week period.

Compared to a year ago, there were only three mass layoffs and a loss of 185 jobs in April 2007.

Good time to remind folks about the legislature's passing of SB69 which temporarily expands the Keiki Care health insurance coverage for the children of any Hawaii based corporation that ceased doing business between February 29 and September 30, 2008. The bill is awaiting the Governor's signature.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Donation drive and yard sale for Koa Paka Miles

On Maile Shimabukuro's blog Monday you will have found a post about a donation drive and yard sale to raise money to cover medical and funeral costs accruing for the Miles family, the survivors of Koa Paka Miles, the 3-year-old who died last week in a tragic traffic collision.

"Our hearts go out to the Miles 'Ohana of Wai'anae, especially Kamu and Erica Miles, who lost their 3-year-old son, Koa Paka, in a tragic traffic accident in Nanakuli on May 15, 2008," said Rep. Shimabukuro.

Shimabukuro also expressed her hopes for quick recoveries to all those who were involved in the collision.

If you would like to donate money or items for the yard sale, please see the following contact info:

If you wish to contribute, please make checks payable:

Koa Paka Miles
P.O. Box 298
Wai'anae, HI 96792


You can also walk into one of the West O'ahu Federal Credit Union branches, located in Wai'anae Mall, Kalaeloa and Ewa Beach, to contribute.

Yard Sale:

June 7 and 8
8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
86-024 Glenmonger St., Waianae (corner of Pokai Bay St. & Glenmonger St.)


If you would like to donate items for the yard sale or would like more information, please call 696-4677.

Photo provided by maile45.blogspot.com

Speaker appoints Special Committee on VOG Effects

Speaker of the House Calvin Say today established a Special Committee on VOG Effects and appointed Rep. Robert Herkes to serve as Chairman.

Rep. Herkes represents District 5 on the Big Island covering Puna, Kau, North Kona and South Kona, which has been severely impacted by VOG related problems. The Speaker appointed the following House members to serve on the committee:

Rep. Robert Herkes, District 5 – Puna, Kau, North Kona, South Kona
Rep. Dwight Takamine, District 1 – North Kohala, South Kohala, Hamakua, North Hilo, South Hilo
Rep. Jerry Chang, District 2 – South Hilo, Waiakea Kai, Kaumana, Keaukaha
Rep. Clift Tsuji, District 3 – South Hilo, Panaewa, Puna, Keaau, Kurtistown
Rep. Faye Hanahano, District 4 – Puna, Pahoa, Hawaiian Acres, Kalapana
Rep. Josh Green, District 6 – North Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona, Honokohau
Rep. Cindy Evans, District 7 – North Kona, South Kohala
Rep. Lynn Finnegan, District 32 – Lower Pearlridge, Aiea, Halawa, Hickam, Pearl Harbor, Moanalua Gardens

The purpose of the Special Committee is to examine the effects of VOG from the eruption of Halemaumau on the public's health and safety, agriculture, water quality, pets and animals, wildlife, and other areas. Chair Herkes may designate other committee members to serve as leads on specific issues.

"What is occurring is a natural disaster, but unlike a tsunami, hurricane, twister or major earthquake, it is not viewed as one," said Rep. Herkes. "The legislature needs to focus on the impacts on Hawaii residents such as health and safety, loss of agricultural crops or the impact on tourism and jobs, and explore all avenues of relief."

The Special Committee may invite Senators from the Big Island to participate on a non-voting basis. A report on the committee's findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives is due at least twenty days prior to the convening of the Legislature's 2009 Regular Session.

Members in the News

Rep. James Kunane Tokioka was quoted in The Honolulu Advertiser and KHON-TV2 on the UH Athletics Department decision to allow UH employees an opportunity to reimburse the school for Sugar Bowl trip expenses. The decision was prompted by the upcoming release of names of those who received expense-paid trips to New Orleans in response to a Freedom of Information request from Hawaii media.


"I know we can't go back and change what happened, but I think it is an embarrassing situation now for the athletic department at that time not to think about what the policy was or was going to be," state Rep. James Tokioka, D-15th (Lihu'e, Koloa) told KHON yesterday. "I feel sorry for the employees who, in my mind, were innocent in the whole process."


Rep Cindy Evans was interviewed by Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News, at a meeting held with Windward veterans. Rep. Evans, Chair of the House Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs, is holding statewide meetings this month to talk with veterans about the quality of services, especially medical services, in Hawaii. Hear the entire story here.


"When there's cuts in personnel, it's the neighbor islands that have suffered the most. Maybe you have to have a roaming counselor, someone to come out and provide services based on appointments, medical care, scheduling appointings, all of their services - it's kind of inconsistent and sometimes very difficult for them, and very frustrating for neighbor island people."

"Showing the respect for veterans will go a long way with young people. It's like, why would you want to enter the service if that's how they are going to treat you when you get out?"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Case for Wind Power

You may not have heard of Rock Port, Missouri, but it will go down in history as the first city in the U.S. to be totally, 100%, powered by the wind. In fact, the wind power generated is more than the city needs, and it exports 23% to nearby towns.

The Loess Hills Wind Farm is built on agricultural lands, with four 1.25 Megawatt Suzlon turbines, producing about 16 million kilowatt hours per year, more than enough to serve the entire communtiy of Rock Port - population 1,395.

The turbines need wind of at least 9 miles per hour to begin production and the maximum output of power is achieved at 14 miles per hour.

While the wind energy will not lower energy bills, it will hedge against rising energy costs in the future. One report claims that Rock Port residents will see stabilized energy costs for the next 25 years.

Hawaii is in good position to encourage similar alternative energy projects. The legislature passed HB2863 this year which establishes a renewable energy siting process designed to expedite the permitting process for facilities that generate at least 200 megawatts of electricity. It establishes a renewable energy siting special fund, with an initial appropriation of $100,000, for an energy resources coordinator in the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, to implement, staff, and manage the project.

Where are the windiest places in Hawaii? Check out this site which provides wind data with facility siting in mind. Seems like every major island has capacity for wind power, and the areas with the best potential are the south and north shores of Kauai; Oahu's mountain ridges; Molokai's west end; the south shore of Maui's middle; the north half of Lanai; Kohala mountain (north end) of the Big Island; and the southern tip of the Big Island.

Veterans invited to talk story with lawmakers

The Hawaii House of Representatives' Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs invite all veterans and concerned community members to a "Talk Story Session" with lawmakers to discuss how the state can improve services and address veteran concerns, including but not limited to homelessness, job retraining and employment, post traumatic stress syndrome, domestic abuse and access to healthcare for disabled veterans.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 28
10:00am – 12:00pm

WHERE: Mililani Recreation Center III
95-281 Kaloapau Street
Mililani, Hi 96789

The meeting is part of a statewide initiative called upon by a resolution introduced by Rep. Cindy Evans, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs, to address the concerns of Hawaii veterans on all islands and to commence dialogue on ways that state and private agencies can be more effective in meeting the needs of all veterans.

Read a past post here about one of the meetings on Maui.

Please call the Office of Representative Cindy Evans at 808.586.8510 for more information.

Rep. Lee gets community service award

Rep. Marilyn Lee received a community service award from the Healthcare Association of Hawaii's Home Care and Hospice Division for "demonstrating a deep understanding of the value of home care and hospice values and issues, and providing sound public policy aimed at the preservation of independence, dignity, and autonomy of clients."

U.S. House expected to vote on Filipino Veterans bill Wednesday

Anticipating that the U.S. House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on S.1315, a bill that restores promised benefits to Filipino veterans who served in World War II, Rep. John Mizuno urged members of Congress to vote yes.

"Filipino veterans were promised benefits given to other WWII veterans, but in 1946 Congress enacted the Recission Act, which denied our World War II Filipino Veterans benefits equal to those enjoyed by other veterans," said Rep. Mizuno. "We need to correct this injustice to our Filipino veterans who served our nation courageously in the fight for freedom and democracy; so that they may spend their golden years enjoying benefits owed them for their sacrifices to our country."

He also referred to two resolutions that he introduced and were passed this year:

HR91 REQUESTING CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO ENACT THE FILIPINO AMERICAN VETERANS EQUITY ACT OF 2007 OR SIMILAR LEGISLATION PROVIDING VETERANS BENEFITS TO FILIPINO VETERANS WHO SERVED OUR NATION IN WORLD WAR II.

HR22 RECOGNIZING THE COURAGEOUS CONTRIBUTIONS AND SERVICE OF THE FILIPINO VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II.

Over 470,000 Filipinos fought for the United States and defended our country during World War II. Many of these soldiers are in their 70's and 80's today, and many more have already passed away. It is estimated that only 20,000 Filipino Veterans are still alive today.

Waters and B. Oshiro consider jail terms for negligent drivers

Rep. Tommy Waters, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Blake Oshiro, Judiciary Vice Chair, told The Advertiser that they will consider mandatory minimum jail terms for drivers found guilty of negligently killing pedestrians. In the third part of a Rob Perez series, they say:


"When there's a loss of life, it's not unreasonable to expect mandatory jail," said Waters, the Judiciary chairman. Waters and Oshiro, the vice chairman, said the Legislature historically has been reluctant to impose mandatory minimums because that infringes on the discretion of judges, who can evaluate all the evidence in a case and decide an appropriate sentence.

"Justice isn't a cookie-cutter process," Oshiro said. "It's not a one-size-fits-all for every situation."


Further:


The Judiciary vice chairman said he intends to introduce a bill next session that would establish a mandatory minimum jail term and prohibit the issuing of deferred-acceptance pleas. Such a bill likely would face difficult odds, based on the Legislature's past reluctance to erode judges' discretion in deciding sentences.

One of the few times in recent years that the Legislature successfully has delved into that arena was in 2006, when law enforcement officials lobbied for mandatory jail time for people convicted of electronic enticement of minors. The sex-crimes bill, which was signed into law, established a mandatory minimum of one year in jail. This year, the law was revised to require a 10-year prison term without probation. Oshiro said legislators adopted the original measure after prosecutors produced data showing people convicted of such crimes overwhelmingly were getting no jail time, indicating a systemic problem in the courts.

Oshiro believes the newspaper's fatality findings likewise suggest a systemic problem. But others expressed reservations about adopting mandatory minimums. While Waters said it's not unreasonable to expect jail time in negligent homicide cases, he questioned whether changing the law would prompt drivers to alter their behavior. He said he has seen no behavior changes since the Legislature in 2005 passed a law requiring drivers to stop rather than yield whenever a pedestrian is in a crosswalk in the driver's side of the road. In 2007, legislators upped the fine for first-time infractions to $150, from less than $100.

"I don't think that's done a darn thing," Waters said. "People still don't stop."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rep. Belatti on the Hot Seat!

Rep. Della Au Belatti and Peter Kay, co-founder's of HawaiiConCon.org, will be on the Hot Seat Wednesday to discuss and answer questions on whether Hawaii should hold its next Constitutional Convention. They'll be online from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. to answer questions, but you can start posting questions before that.

The Hot Seat is a blog run by Editorial and Opinion Editor Jeanne Mariani-Belding of The Honolulu Advertiser. You can log on to the Advertiser website and post or email questions for Rep. Belatti and Peter Kay and get real-time answers. Make sure you get your questions in before the blog curtain closes.

House members in the news

Today, Rep. Hermina Morita in the Kauai Garden Island on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention:


“It is my personal belief that a con-con is not warranted,” Morita said. “I don’t believe there are any pressing issues that can’t be resolved on the ballot.”

Morita wondered what was so flawed with the Constitution to need a review in 2010. As an example, she pointed out that in the 221 years the U.S. Constitution has been around, not too many changes have been made to that document.

“I just haven’t heard too many compelling arguments as to what is wrong with our constitution,” Morita said. “We have to ask, ‘What needs to be fixed that goes beyond putting a question on the ballot?’ If it isn’t broken, what is there that needs to be fixed?”

Equality of rights and the right to privacy are articles in the constitution that Morita sees as “take away.”

“If we open the constitution for review at this time, it’s not to enhance any rights, it’s to take away rights,” she said. Other protections Morita is concerned may be taken away are term limits in the Legislature, education rights, Native Hawaiian rights, collective bargaining and water resources.

Morita said the state Constitution is a unique document and should be an enduring document of “what ought to be.”

“We should be proud of the document,” Morita said. “We need to look at the purpose of why there should be a con-con.”


Last week, Rep. Cindy Evans and Rep. Mele Carroll in the Molokai Times on their meeting with veterans in Kaunakakai:


“I introduced a resolution that said I want to go out, throughout the whole state, and I want to talk to the veterans,” said Rep. Cindy Evans, to the roughly 50 veterans at the meeting. “This is the third meeting; I’ve been to Maui, I’ve been to Hilo, and I’ve learnt so much.”

“I’d rather just talk story with the people, I’d rather the ideas come from the people,” said Rep. Carroll, who co-introduced the resolution. “So when I’m over there and advocating on your behalf … we push what you want us to do.”


Saturday, Rep. Blake Oshiro in The Advertiser on the signing of HB3040, the electronic enticement bill:


State Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-33rd ('Aiea, Halawa Valley, 'Aiea Heights), the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers were persuaded when they heard that many people convicted of electronic enticement were essentially getting a "slap on the wrist."

"By no means is this meant to be the panacea," Oshiro said. "I think what we really want to do is show that, you know, when we see all of these horrendous stories on the news, that these guys aren't going to be walking away with just one year or probation, they're going to be walking away with a really stiff penalty that fits the crime."

Rep. Carroll Holds Maui Meetings on Native Hawaiian Programs

Rep. Mele Carroll will wrap up her Maui island wide meetings on Native Hawaiian programs and resources today and tomorrow. Rep. Carroll joined forces with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), with the support of the Kellogg Foundation, to identify the most pressing issues in our Native Hawaiian communities and to review existing programs and funding sources that address the quality of life in Hawaii.

She started last Monday, May 12th in Kihei, and has been to Lahaina, Keanae, Haiku, Pukalani, Hana, and Nahiku. Tonight, Monday, at 7:30 p.m., Rep. Carroll will be holding a meeting in Kahului, at the Kahului Community Center. Tomorrow night, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m., the meeting will be in Wailuku at the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center.

Refreshments will be served. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement also provided support services.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mine the House Journal for Gems

I know it's not everyone's idea of interesting reading, but if you are so inclined, the House technology team has put the House Journal 2008 session online. There you will find the exact wording of the floor speeches, the rebuttals, the announcements, who was recognized in the gallery that day, and even the jokes. There you will also find submittals that were never spoken on the floor, but entered into the journal later as written comments.

How do you access the House Journal? Go the Bill Status page on the Capitol Website and scroll down to the box that says 2008 Regular Session Order of the Day, type in a specific date, and check off House Daily Journal. Simple.

Of course, you are going to have to guess which days are relevant if you are looking for something specific. Going to the Legislative timetable may help to narrow your search. Looking for what might have been said at first crossover? That would probably be the long day, March 4th. How about the end of session? Most of the bills were voted upon on April 29th, and about 30 more, and some of the more controversial ones, on May 1st. The Office of the Chief Clerk is still working on getting those two last days online, but everything else is up.

The House Journal also gives you a flavor of who speaks, how often, and the quality of their remarks. I'd venture to guess that not many people actually read the Journal in the past. Now that it is so readily available to the public, I hope more folks will be exposed to the interesting work that goes on in the Capitol.

Here's a gem, something light, from April 10th, page 13 of the House Journal on HCR81, HD1, SUPPORTING THE DESIGNATION OF APRIL 6TH OF EVERY YEAR AS TARTAN DAY IN HAWAII.


Representative Herkes rose to speak in support of the measure, stating:

"I rise in support of Stand. Com. Rep. 1798, HCR No. 81, the Tartan Day. I was born in Scotland. I was a British subject until I was 18 years old. I know that the Scots invented the modern world; I have a book that says that.

I had the privilege of being in Scotland last May, a guest of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and sat in on the meeting of Parliament. I'm very proud that this Resolution is to be adopted, as a Scot. Aye."

Representative Thielen rose to speak in support of the measure, stating:

"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also speak in strong support of this measure. My grandfather, a number of generations ago, Patrick Henry, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and then immigrated to the colonies to freedom. So, I'm very much in support of this, and I believe we have another person from Scotland in the body, and I hope he'll say a few comments."

Representative McKelvey rose to speak in support of the measure, stating:

"Thank you very much, lads. I stand in strong support of ye Resolution. I'd just like to say this Resolution is like fine haggis on a dew Scot morning. Delicious. Thank you."

Representative Ching rose to speak in support of the measure, stating:

"As the founder of the Heritage Caucus, I absolutely do share some Scottish blood, and I know what haggis is. And as a former (member) of the Caledonian Society is something that...I don't know...it's like natto bean, maybe. Anyway, in strong support. Thank you."

Civil unions on next year's agenda?

An overturn of a state ban on same-sex marriages in a California Supreme Court has sparked new interest and debate on same-sex marriages and civil unions in Hawaii and nationwide. Massachusetts is the only other state that allows same-sex marriages. Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut have civil union laws and Oregon has a domestic partnership law that offers many of the same rights as a civil union.

In a KHON 2 news story, Rep. Tom Brower shared the results of his automated telephone poll, conducted in March, posing the question of whether civil unions should be legally recognized in Hawaii. 48.8% said yes and 41% said no. While Brower did not take a stand on the issue, Sen. Mike Gabbard asserted that the issue should not be revisited because Hawaii residents already voted against it in 1998, and another unnamed lawmaker admitted to already preparing a same-sex marriage bill for next session.

It's been 10 years since there has been a whole lot of hoopla over same-sex marriages in Hawaii. Are residents ready to take up the issue of redefining marriage again, or more importantly, do Hawaii residents want our lawmakers to make it a priority on the agenda next year?
Ten years is a long time and the country, nor Hawaii, can possibly have the same voice it did in 1998. Even if zilch has changed, wouldn't you still want to find out?

Photo from unadorned.org

Finance Chair Corrects Smith

In today's Honolulu Advertiser Letters section:

Legislature provided funding where needed

In her May 2 opinion piece in The Advertiser, the governor's senior policy adviser distorted the truth on what the Legislature did or did not do.

Here are some simple facts:

The Legislature provided 150 percent more money than the governor requested for the repair and maintenance of our schools. The governor sought $26 million, while the Legislature provided more than $66 million.

The Legislature provided 40 percent more than the governor requested for the repair and maintenance of University of Hawai'i facilities. The governor sought $50 million, while the Legislature provided more than $70 million.

The Legislature provided a total of $57.7 million for charter schools. That's $1.6 million more than the governor provided and $6.1 million more than they are currently receiving.

Linda Smith implies that the governor's budget was balanced, and had all the correct priorities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most people don't consider spending $8 million to replace the Capitol pool a top priority, especially when she refuses to fund federally mandated cesspool repairs at our Neighbor Island schools.

The truth is the Legislature cut $44 million from the governor's spending plan, bringing it back into balance, but ensured that sufficient funding was provided to:

*Repair our schools and University of Hawai'i facilities.
*Modernize our harbors, airports and highways.
*Support statewide energy conservation.
*Protect our environment and natural resources.
*Provide homeless shelters and affordable housing.
*Increase healthcare for all and support emergency medical services.

The senior policy adviser's spinning of the truth leaves one dizzy.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro
Chair, House Finance Committee

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jail or GPS?

State courts are turning to electronic monitoring as a way to alleviate overcrowded prisons, according to an article on Reuters about the growing use of GPS as a crime-fighting tool.

Hawaii lawmakers this session passed out a bill that would give judges the authority to require a person who violates a temporary restraining order to where an electronic monitoring device. Authorities would be alerted via satellite to computer server if the offender enters a restrictive zone, usually the work and home area of the victim. Advocates against domestic violence worked with legislators to draft this electronic monitoring bill that they believe can save the lives of many women and could have prevented the recent spurt of domestic violence deaths this past year.

According to the article, North Carolina's eastern Pitt County now releases more accused batterers on bond and track them with GPS since implementing the program in 2005. By using this technology, more space is available in the jails and authorities are still aware of the whereabouts of the offender before their trial date.

But does it work? Could electronic monitoring be an alternative to our prison issues and still guarantee the safety of the victims of domestic violence?

Here's and excerpt from the article regarding the county's success:
In a measure of success, police dispatchers receive fewer calls involving the same person when an offender wears a GPS bracelet. Pitt County's recidivism rate for domestic violence fell from 36 percent in 2004 to 14 percent this year, said Sgt. John Guard of local sheriff's domestic violence unit.
But once batterers finish the program and go off GPS, the rate shot back up to around 40 percent, he added.
"It may help in the short term pre-trial. But post-trial, it's not. That tells me there are other things we have to do to ensure the safety of the victims," he said

Rep Shimabukuro responds on homeless shelter controversy

In response to recent news stories questioning why the legislature did not fund $20 million for a permanent homeless shelter to replace the temporary Next Step shelter in Kakaako, Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, the chair of the House Human Services and Housing Committee, offered the following perspective, and indicated the kind of information that would be helpful.

"It would be very irresponsible for the legislature to fund any request without getting details on a project," said Rep. Shimabukuro. "That's what happened with the homeless shelter funding request. The administration wanted us to approve $20 million without telling us where the shelter would be located, how much it was going to cost, how long it would take to build, how it would be managed, how it would impact the community, and any short term or long term plan."

The legislature has asked the administration to come back with specific information when they are ready. At the very least, here are some factors that should be included:

*The location. Building a permanent homeless shelter may be inappropriate in some areas, and neighbors and residents may have concerns or objections. You need to provide the community with the opportunity to weigh in if the shelter is going to have an impact on them or their neighborhood.

*The estimated cost. For obvious reasons, we can't appropriate $20 million without knowing what the project is going to cost. Where did they get the figure of $20 million, and on what is that based?

*A short term and long term management plan, an operations plan, and the annual cost to operate the facility.

*Information on a homeless shelter of this capacity.

*A clear plan to determine where the Next Step residents would go during construction of a new facility.

In 2006 and 2007, the Governor used her emergency powers to build homeless shelters in Kakaako and Waianae respectively. The legislature passed SB2828, a bill that would have required the Governor to present one additional finding that the situation was a true emergency which could not be resolved through normal procedures, especially in light of the fact that permitting and environmental review requirements are waived for emergency projects. The Governor vetoed the bill. The legislature did not override her veto.

"Given the importance of proper permitting and environmental review, I hope the Governor will consider the concerns that were raised in the bill," said Rep. Shimabukuro.

Following is a listing bills and funding that were passed by the legislature related to affordable housing and homelessness issues.

2008 Legislation
HB2238 – Relating to Public Housing. Requires that all public housing projects funded by the state and/or county remain affordable in perpetuity.

HB2511 – Relating to Rental Assistance. Provides qualified rental housing assistance applicants up to 90 days to find qualified rental housing.

HB3140 – Emergency Appropriation for Hawaii Public Housing Authority. Emergency appropriation to repay a loan to the Department of Budget and Finance to cover risk management and liability costs, as well as to cover a shortfall for operations in this fiscal year.

SB2293 – Relating to Affordable Housing. Exempts new multi-family housing developments of 75 units or more from certain state and county affordable housing requirements.

SB3174 – Relating to Affordable Housing. Increases the Hula Mae bond authorization from $400 million to $500 million.

2008 Funding:
$15 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds for the Rental Housing Trust Fund
$10 million in GO bonds for the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund
$1.4 million GO bonds for Kaloko Housing on the Big Island
$3.8 million in general funds for operational expenses at other shelters on Oahu
$26 million in GO bonds for Kukui Gardens Rental Housing complex
$16.4 million in repair and maintenance for public housing projects statewide

It's official

Hawaii now has an official state plant, effective on July 1, 2008. Kalo (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott), the Hawaiian word for taro, is adopted, established, and designated as the official plant of the State. As you may recall, the legislation was passed and adopted last year as Act 36, but with a defective date. This year, Act 71 corrects the date.


We also have an official state mammal, the Hawaiian monk seal, through Act 72. The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is the only marine mammal whose entire species range lies within the United States.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Helping physicians with medicare fee reimbursements

Speaker Say was interviewed today by Leland Kim of KHNL on the fact that the Governor has not yet released $8 million appropriated in 2007 to increase reimbursements to physicians who provide care for medicaid patients. The fee reimbursements are critically important in enabling doctors to maintain practices in rural and underserved areas, as well as in treating low-income and uninsured patients. The legislation is SB1672, CD1, which was enacted into law as Act 284 without the Governor's signature.

The Speaker said he hoped that the Governor would release the funds before they lapse on June 30, 2008. At risk is the federal fund match of $9 million for a total of $17 million to help physicians.

YouTube my beef

With an influx of Internet assault videos being posted on video-sharing websites by young teens seeking fame across the web, New York lawmakers are considering legislation to make it a felony to videotape violent attacks for the sole purpose of distributing the footage on the Internet.

In Florida last month, eight teenagers were arrested and charged with allegedly attacking and beating another teen so they could make a video to post on Myspace and YouTube.

In Indiana, a brawl between two teenagers in a parking lot with young and adult bystanders was caught on a camera phone and then uploaded to Photobucket for the world to see.

Photos from another attack on a 17-year-old San Francisco sophomore by two other students in a locker room was found on Craigslist, a popular bulletin board site where people sell items, post job listings and search personal profiles.

The bill, which comes in response to the "animalistic attack" in Florida, was advanced by the New York Senate Majority Conference.

Hawaii has yet to see crimes being flaunted across the Internet, but maybe that's because no one has found them.

Should lawmakers create criminal laws for every aspect of a crime? Is it not enough to have assault as a crime? Is it necessary to increase sentencing for those criminals who record their heinous acts for the purpose of entertainment?

Internet crimes span from video assaults to email harassment to impersonation. Anyone with minimal technology knowledge can create a false email account, or steal a person photo and create a false profile on a networking site like Myspace.

This session, the House and Senate passed a bill (SB2456) that creates the crime of harassment by impersonation. The bill was in response to the continued harassment of a local attorney who daily receives crude emails from an anonymous person and whose colleagues and friends routinely receive defamatory emails claiming to be from the attorney. Lawmakers also passed out an indecent exposure bill (HB3040), which makes it a crime to expose oneself to minors on the Internet with a term of imprisonment to be determined by the court. Both bills are awaiting approval from the Governor.

Some may argue that law books already address crimes such as harassment, assault and indecent exposure and that creating laws for every criminal incident related to the Internet would just be bad policy, but with more youth, perverts and criminals cowering behind social-networking websites to vent anger, settle disputes and share with the world their battle bruises and personal packages, it may be sooner than later that we need a law book exclusively for Internet crimes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rep. Herkes provides links for VOG IMPACT information

This list was compiled by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

United States Geological Survey (USGS)

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Website includes Kîlauea eruption updates, information on volcanic hazards, and weekly Volcano Watch articles. Search the Volcano Watch archive for information about vog and volcanic gases.

Volcanic Air Pollution—A Hazard in Hawai`i Fact Sheet 169-97. Information about volcanic air pollution (vog) in Hawai`i.

Long-lasting Eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i Leads to Volcanic-Air Pollution Volcanic Hazards Program Website Information on vog—what it is and its impacts.

Volcanic Gases and Their Effects Volcanic Hazards Program Website General information on the types and effects of volcanic gases.

Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO)

Current SO2 Conditions – Kîlauea Summit National Park Service: Nature and Science – Explore Air Website Map showing location of gas plumes in HAVO and SO2 concentrations (ppb) at the Kîlauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) Advisory Program National Park Service: Nature and Science – Explore Air Website Overview of sulfur dioxide in HAVO and advisory levels, plus links to more information about volcanic gases, volcanic pollutions, and air quality in Hawai`i.

Air Quality Information National Park Service: Nature and Science – Explore Air Website General information about air quality in HAVO.

State of Hawai`i—Department of Health (DOH)

Precautionary Measures for Elevated Sulfur Dioxide Levels on the Big Island Web page on sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from Kîlauea Volcano, including links to Frequently Asked Questions about what SO2 is, how it affects health, and how exposure can be minimized and recommendations by the American Lung Association.

Online Air Quality Data Maps showing air quality conditions in the Hawaiian islands. Data collected by DOH real-time air quality monitoring network

Clean Air Branch Website includes link to “Public Notification: Air Pollutant Exceedence on Big Island.”

Hawai`i County Civil Defense (HCCD)

Kîlauea Eruption Update Website includes link to the “Emissions from Kîlauea Volcano” brochure, but primarily provides information on Kîlauea’s current eruption and frequently asked questions about lava flows.

American Lung Association of Hawai`i

(ALA-H) Website provides information about vog—what it is and what to do about it—and air quality in Hawai`i. Links to other relevant sites.

Partnership of USGS, HAVO, DOH, HCCD, and ALA-H

Emissions from Kîlauea Volcano Brochure provides information on sulfur dioxide emissions, vog, ash fall, protective health measures, and relevant contacts.

U.S. Environment Protection Agency Website

SO2 - How Sulfur Dioxide Affects the Way We Live & Breathe Web page about SO2—what it is, where it comes from, causes for concern, health and environmental impacts, and EPA’s effort to reduce it.

International Volcanic Health Hazard Network

Members of IVHHN work in diverse scientific disciplines such as volcanology, epidemiology, toxicology, public health and physical chemistry with a common aim of trying to determine the health effects of volcanic emissions.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Public access television - should they compete to be our providers?

That's the question before the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs right now. Nanea Kalani at Pacific Business News filed a story in the current print edition that lays out an uncertain future for the four public access television providers that we all know - Olelo on Oahu, Akaku on Maui, Hoike on Kauai, and Na Leo O Hawaii on the Big Island. These four have not been subject to procurement laws in the past, ostensibly because no money is involved in providing the service.

What happened to change that policy? At the start of the session, there were two measures pertaining to the issue. One was Senate Bill 1789 which proposed to exempt permanently the public access providers from procurement. Along with the other providers and many citizens, Kealii Lopez, Exec. Dir. of Olelo, testified that she supported the bill which allowed the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) to select providers in accordance with Chapter 91 administrative rulemaking, and with the advice of the Cable Advisory Committee. The State Procurement office opposed the measure and believes that the DCCA should subject the providers to procurement requirements. For the past 15 years, the contracts have been automatically renewed.

The other was House Concurrent Resolution 358, introduced by Rep. Kyle Yamashita, that requests the DCCA to form a task force to explore alternatives to procurement in relation to the selection of public access providers. While providers did not oppose the resolution in principle, they favored the Senate bill. However, that bill died in House Finance, failing to meet the second decking deadline, leaving HCR 358 as the operative vehicle.

Meanwhile, the current contracts expire on June 30th, and the DCCA is determining whether they will continue the practice of exemption or require the providers to bid for the position. If it's the latter, that may result in major changes to the public access landscape.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Big Island Residents need help with VOG impact


By Rep. Bob Herkes (District 5 - Puna, Kau, South Kona, North Kona)

.

I sent a letter to Governor Lingle today expressing grave concern for Big Island residents impacted by the volcanic activity at Halemaumau. The administration needs to come up with a comprehensive coordinated plan to help those affected by the volcanic activity. I've asked the Governor to provide either a central contact or clearinghouse that would better serve those whose health and livelihood are endangered.

Most of the people I have talked to are not sure of the impact of sulfur dioxide (SO2) on their personal health. Big Island residents fear for their health, their pets and farm animals, their water systems, their farm crops, and businesses. Yet, the various state agencies are ineffective in providing up-to-date information or any meaningful assistance. Here are the main areas in which residents need help:

HEALTH

The Department of Health has issued a color code of various levels of SO2, but the community is unaware of where these monitoring stations are located in proximity to their homes.

When SO2 reaches a dangerous level, how are the impacted communities alerted?

Many rural areas of the Big Island are without cell phone coverage. What precautions are taken, especially for vulnerable seniors and children, to protect those in rural areas?

What is the impact on household pets, and what protections should pet owners take on their behalf?

CLEAN WATER

Many people in Kau, South Kona and Lower Puna use catchment systems for their home water usage, and they have received no information on the impact of volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide on their water quality.

I have a UV system that sterilizes my water. Over the years, I have had increased levels of SO2 in this system from acid rain, indicated by a greenish ring in the basin that signals that the acid is having an impact on the copper pipes. Most of us do not know of any sources to test acid levels in our water systems. I am not sure what precautions we should be taking, and this is the type of information that the state should be providing.

AGRICULTURE

Many protea crops on Hawaii Island are taking a major hit due to contamination from the vog. Protea growers in the Kahuku district report a complete loss of their crops. The estimated loss to these growers exceeds hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Two solutions suggested to the growers were to water their crops or add baking soda to combat the acidity. One grower reported that even after the additional expense of purchasing water from a water hauler the damage appeared to get worse. It is suspected that the water had been contaminated by the SO2. The other suggestion, baking soda, was applied to the protea, which turned the leaves black. All farmers are in desperate need of guidance to combat the effects of SO2 on their crops to avoid a loss similar to what the protea growers are facing.

Is the Department of Agriculture providing any resources, either directly or through federal agencies, to help farmers protect their crops and mitigate their losses?

What is the impact of the vog on cattle and other ranch animals? What protective action can and should be taken?

EVACUATION OR RELOCATION PLANNING

I have lived through the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that devastated Hilo and resulted in the relocation of businesses and some residents to tsunami safe areas. At what point in time should advance planning be initiated for the possible relocation of communities in high level vog areas?

In my 60 + years of observing volcanic activity on the Big Island, I have never seen this kind of activity, and while residents have had to deal with the loss of land, roads, infrastructure and their homes, they have never faced a threat such as the current impact of volcanic ash and toxic levels of sulfur dioxide. I reiterated to the Governor that more information and assistance is sorely needed, and that there should be a knowledgeable central agency or clearinghouse set up to help people.

Kids remind lawmakers how to Play it Safe

Lawmakers recognized the winners of the Play It Safe Safety and Nutrition Awareness Poster Contest in the Governor's Office today. A certificate was offered to the Play It Safe International Program on it's 25th Anniversary to commend it for valuable contributions and efforts in promoting safety awareness and prevention to the children of Hawaii.




Twenty-four elementary students later accepted certificates and goody bags from Sen. Chun Oakland, Reps. Tom Brower and John Mizuno, and others as their adoring parents snapped a dozen photos.

The kids created small posters with reminders to Play it Safe, including "play away from cords and sockets" and "Call 9-1-1 in case of danger" and " Never go to the mail by yourself."

The schools that can boast winners are Aiea Elementary, Ala Wai Elementary, Alvah Scott Elementary, August Ahrens, Barber's Point Elementary, Enchanted Lakes Elementary, Hahaione Elementary, Kalihi Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Makalapa Elementary, Mililani Uka, Moanalua Elementary, Mokulee Elementary, Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, Waiahole Elementary.

Driving to Distraction

As someone who can barely dial a cell phone while driving, it is unfathomable that one would attempt to text message, but according to a story in the current issue of State Legislatures, a recent survey (they do not name the source) found that 20% of us admit to the deed, and that number is increased to 66% for drivers between the ages of 18 - 24.

In Hawaii, there were two bills introduced in 2008 proposing to ban the use of cell phones while driving, HB2462 introduced by Rep. Caldwell, and HB3323 introduced by Rep. Luke; neither were heard in committee. The issue, however, is gaining momentum across the country as 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted cell phone laws, including banning cell phone and text messaging while driving. For example:
  • California and Maine prohibit all drivers under 18 from using cell phones.

  • Oregon, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut prohibit drivers of a certain age with only a learner's permit from using cell phones.

  • New Jersey also prohibits all drivers from texting.

  • Washington state prohibits driving while texting.

(Source: NCSL)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Veterans' voices

Hawaii veterans told lawmakers yesterday on Moloka'i that they want to see more technical support from government agencies to assist with completing and submitting necessary paperwork to access entitled benefits and services. Due to the high volume of work and small numbers of service providers, some veterans have had to wait as long as five years before receiving any benefits.

"This is ludicrous that the current system can take up to five years...," said Rep. Mele Carroll, State Representative of E. Maui, Kaho'olawe, Lana'i and Moloka'i. "It's time that we take action and provide the essential services our veterans deserve."

Yesterday was the first meeting of a statewide initiative to address the concerns of Hawaii veterans on all islands and to commence dialogue on ways that state and private agencies can be more effective in meeting the needs of all veterans.

More than 50 veterans were joined by Reps. Cindy Evans, Committee on Public Safety & Military Chair, and Mele Carroll, co-introducers of a resolution that called for the statewide meetings. Rep. Evans will be hosting several meetings across the state.

"It is important that legislators hear from the veterans so we can determine if, through law or advocacy, we can make a difference for those who served our country," said Rep. Evans.

One of the questions that lawmakers want answered is whether the Hawaii State Office of Veterans Services is doing an effective job in handling the affairs of Hawaii veterans and whether their responsibilities should be transferred to another state agency.

Obtaining timely support from service officers was a repetitive concern throughout the meeting. One suggestion was to add an accessible hotline number with a live person on the other end, assisting and providing customer service. Director of the Office of Veterans Services Mark Moses said that the agency is currently training roving service officers to visit Maui, Moloka'i and Lana'i on set schedules to offer on-the-spot outreach and technical support.

Housing for veterans experiencing hardship and displacement was another major topic of interest at the meeting.

Other veteran suggestions included providing legal services to appeal the process, offering veterans Hawaii collegiate scholarships, replacing deteriorating cement headstones with bronze or marble headstones, and housing veterans experiencing hardship and displacement.
Photo (top right): Rep. Mele Carroll on Moloka'i discussing ways to improve Hawaii's veteran service system with island veterans.
Photo (top left): Rep. Cindy Evans addresses a group of veterans on Moloka'i and listens to their concerns regarding state agency service in Hawaii.

Lege Wrap Up Tonight on "Island Insights"

"Island Insights", the Hawaii Public Television public affairs show hosted by Dan Boylan, will cover the highlights of the 2008 legislative session just concluded. The guests for the first 45 minutes will be: Speaker Calvin Say, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Governor's policy advisor Linda Smith, and Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings.

For the remaining 15 minutes, the show's producers have asked Richard Borreca from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Malia Zimmerman from HawaiiReporter.com to discuss the session from a journalists' point of view.

Tune in at 7:30 p.m. Channel 10/11. The show is live and takes questions by telephone or email.

Battle of the Studies

On May 1st, a week ago, the Legislature adopted HCR231 that requests the bi-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau to study the cost factors of a Constitutional Convention. In his testimony, LRB director Ken Takayama said that "the scope of the study requested in this measure appears to be manageable. We will endeavor to work with the Legislature to produce a study that is objective, informative and useful."

On May 7th, the Governor sent out a news release forming a task force to determine the cost of convening a Constitutional Convention, chaired by the Lt. Governor. "The resolution ties the hands of the reference bureau from looking at viable alternatives, and it shuts the public out of the process."

The news release did not specify why the public would be shut out of the process, or the role the public has in determining the cost of convention. It should be noted that the public will have a large role in determining whether there will even be a convention given that the question will be put on the November 2008 general election ballot.

The Advertiser picked up the story here.

Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell criticized the Lingle administration for dismissing the work of the LRB, and spending taxpayer's money on a duplicative effort. Here's his full response:

The governor recently announced the forming of a task force to study the cost of a Constitutional Convention, even though the legislature just passed a resolution requesting the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) to do the exact same thing. In its testimony to the legislature, the LRB stated it would produce a "study that is objective, informative and useful."

So, now we will have two studies, spending more money and duplicating efforts.

While there are ominous signs regarding the slowdown of our economy, shouldn't the focus really be on protecting our economy, our jobs and our livelihood? We hear nothing from the governor on this issue except to say that the economic signs aren't as bad as we think. Apparently, all other matters like our falling revenues and mishandled state contracts are under control, so she has time to take on something that the extremely competent bureau has already been assigned.

The governor's statement that she prefers an open and transparent process for this study has no small ring of irony to it when you remember that is exactly what she avoided in the Superferry fiasco and her utter unwillingness to discuss with the news media the extraordinary departure of her chief of staff Bob Awana.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ladies armed with cell phones

The Midweek Islander reported today that Rep. Tommy Waters presented 10 refurbished cell phones to the kupuna of the Waimanalo Senior Beach Patrol in February at a neighborhood board meeting. The phones will be used to call 9-1-1 as soon as a crime is spotted.

The ladies of Waimanalo have spent 9 years monitoring the Waimanalo Park parking lot and sometimes can't get to a payphone quick enough to get the police on the line before the vandals and thieves take off. In two recent incidents, the public pay phones weren't working and our kupuna have had to run across Kalanianaole Highway to use the payphone at the convenient store. Auwe!

On behalf of Margaret Pekelo, the patrol group leader, Rep. Waters was able to get phone donations from Hawaiian Telcom.

With cell phones charged, eagle eyes ready to capture their next criminal, and the spirit to make the community safer for residents and tourists alike, the "aunties" of Waimanalo are now all set to continue their community-based efforts to help reduce crime at the beaches.

Kukui Connection - Legislature Wrap Up and Highlights

For the next two Sundays, Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (left) will be a guest on Rep. Marilyn Lee's Kukui Connection. They will be talking about the 2008 legislative session, including highlights and a wrap up of accomplishments and missed opportunities. The show will air on Sunday, May 11th and 18th on Oceanic Cable, Olelo - Channel 54, at 4:00 p.m.

On the following two Sundays, May 25th and June 1st, Rep. Lee's guest will be Cullen Hayashida from the Kupuna Education Center at Kapiolani Community College. They'll be talking about aging issues. One of the major bills passed this session was SB2830. It extends the joint legislative committee on family caregiving and renames it to reflect the expansion of the committee's authorization to address aging in place issues. This committee, the Joint Legislative Committee on Aging in Place, is responsible for developing the state's public policy on caregiving, and the legislature appropriated $500,000 for kupuna care programs.