Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Ten Legislative Issues Going Forward

One - The Election. Locally and nationally, a new year and a new team!

Two - The loss of Rep. Bob Nakasone. A sad day for the House. Governor to name a replacement by February 5th, but hopefully before start of session.

Three - The Budget. Expect to see further decline when the Council on Revenues meets on January 9th.

Four - Business Closures. Aloha Airlines, Molokai Ranch, ATA. Will we see more in 2009?

Five - VOG. Can't legislate Madame Pele.

Six - Ceded lands. Has the window of opportunity for a settlement closed?

Seven -Superferry. Waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

Eight - HHSC. Can our community hospital system be fixed?

Nine - Domestic Violence. 2008 was a horrible year for family and domestic violence. How many silent marches did we have? During economic crisis, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and violence seem to escalate.

Ten - Future of Agriculture. Hawaii's farmers will need significant assistance in order to survive economic downturn.

These would be my top ten issues going forward into the 2009 session. Yours?

Hollywood or Bust?

Hawaii has long competed with other tropical film locations for a piece of the production pie. Today, Governing Magazine's 13th Floor blog has a post the subject of film tax incentives, focusing on the "success" of New Mexico, and the generosity of Michigan. This is significant because Hawaii is currently facing the sunset of Act 221 in 2010, a technology tax incentive package, from which Hollywood has benefitted due to its use of digital technology in film production and post production.

As taxpayers, we are investing in an industry that promises to create jobs for local people and develop an infrastructure on which to stand on its own, eventually. The question is, what and how much is the return on that investment?

Just talking film now, New Mexico granted $32.8 million in tax rebates for productions which generated only $5.5 million in "public" revenue. (I assume that means tax revenue.) That's a 14.4 cents return on every dollar. On the plus side, New Mexico's overall film and television production activity has increased ten-fold in the past decade and that has attracted new soundstage facilities to the state.

Michigan offers 42% rebate on production costs (wow!) and New Mexico offers a 25% rebate.

In Hawaii, in addition to Act 221, the state offers through Act 88, a 15% rebate (20% for neighbor islands). Proponents of the tax incentives argue that the benefit is manifold, and that mere tax revenues generated is not the true impact of the incentives. There are also indirect, but potent, benefits of tourism marketing and jobs created by supporting the film productions in other industries (accounting, construction, miscellaneous rentals, etc.)

Given the struggling economy across the world, municipalities are questioning the value of millions of dollars going toward production that might have come there anyway. Will the economy lead us to let Act 221 fade into the sunset?

Governing concludes that no state or city has been able to come up with a formula that can show whether there is a net economic benefit for the locality.

PROGRAM NOTE: Next week, Bytemarks Cafe, the public radio show hosted by Burt Lum and Ryan Ozawa, will focus on Act 221. Senator Carol Fukunaga will be one of the guests. It airs on KIPO, 89.3 FM, Wednesday, January 7, 2009, 5-6 p.m.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Workshop on politics, legislature in Makiki

LRB's Public Access Room will be conducting another FREE Informed Citizen Workshop. This time it will be in Makiki. Come join others to learn about the legislative process and how to write effective testimony, and talk to your district lawmakers.

Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Makiki Library Mezzanine
1527 Keeaumoku Street
Honolulu, HI 96822

The workshop will be hosted by Friends of the Makiki Community Learning Center, Hui o Makiki, Rep. Della Au Belatti, Rep. Karl Rhoads, and Senator Carol Fukunaga.

I'm Addicted to Twitter

Not yet sure if you want to jump on the Twitter bandwagon? Many of our colleagues at the Hawaii State Capitol are already hopping on board to one of social media's most contagious addictions. Even more public relations and communications pros are tweeting it up as well. Are you a Twitter newbie getting your beak damp by pecking along the tweep (slang: twitter + peeps) profiles? Are you reading this post thinking "what the heck is Twitter!?" If so, then take a look at The Twitter Manual, a helpful user guide/ebook by David Risley. Again, Georgette and I can be found on twitter @georgettedeemer and @ThelmaDreyer

One of my favorite parts of the manual is the Top 10 Signs Youʼre Addicted to Twitter:

1. Youʼre on the Twitter website and find yourself refreshing the page rather than waiting for the auto-refresh. F5
is worn out.
2. You realize you need to turn off Twitter to get any work done. Problem is, you “realized” that an hour ago, too.
3. You get overly excited when you get a new follower.
4. You find yourself typing “@” to reply to people, even if its in an email.
5. You are bored and confused whenever there is another Twitter outage.
6. You have a Twitter client set to start automatically on boot up.
7. Your blog hasnʼt been updated in awhile, but youʼve been Twittering like crazy.
8. You feel the strong need to check up on Twitter before going to bed at night. Or perhaps on your laptop IN
9. First thing you do when you get home from date night with the wife is check Twitter.
10.You put your Twitter handle on your business card.
Sound like you?

(Thanks @HIBorg for the manual link!)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Streams need cleaning

Representative Maile Shimabukuro is calling on city and state officials to expedite the cleaning of drains clogged by trash and debris during torrential rainstorm two weeks ago on the Wai'anae Coast. Her legislative office has been inundated with phone calls from residents displaced and heavily affected by rain water that flooded roads and damaged homes.

"Many of my constituents have been calling my office complaining of getting the run-around from city and state departments," said Rep. Shimabukuro. "Something needs to be done now - not later - before rising tides and ineffective drains go for a round two on these people's homes."

If these drains are not unclogged soon, residents fear even more damage should another downpour strike. Wai'anae coast flood victims also wonder why rivers, streams and ditches near their homes had not been dredged or cleared regularly in order to avoid this kind of disaster.

One of those storm victims is Robin Heath. Two to three inches of mud brought in by flood waters destroyed his home on Makaha Valley Road. The estimated cost of rebuilding his home is close to $100,000, not including furniture and personal items ruined. He blames a dam created by illegal waste and debris that blocked water drainage of Eku stream for the catastrophic flooding.

In a letter dated December 23 to state officials, Heath writes "I have been notifying [emergency] authorities…of the blockage since Friday, December 12. As of yet, no action has been taken to clear the dam. I am greatly concerned that if the dam is not cleared, my house and property, as well as my neighbors homes, will be flooded again. At this point in time, any amount of water will result in flooding, since the drainage is blocked."

The problem is the debris and trash blocking the streams, Heath said. "If the water stayed in the stream, then the flood would not have gone on the banks."

Rep. Shimabukuro is considering legislation next year to prohibit certain industrial activities on agricultural land, and to stiffen penalties for those who dump in streams.

"We must address illegal dumping and backfilling in our streams which caused some of this flooding," she said.

Since the storm, Robin Heath has been frustrated by the slow disaster relief and clean up by the city and state. He is, however, thankful that the Hawaii Civil Defense was finally able to provide him with sandbags Monday to block the flow of water into his home.

Mark Suiso, another Makaha resident affected by the storm, said that a stream between Makaha Valley Road and Maiuu Road is plugged and caused massive flooding. He and fellow neighbors recently cleared one of the dams created by trash and debris, but there is still more work to be done, and they can't do it alone. Suiso notified city and state officials and hopes the stream will be emptied before more rain.

Chris Meyer, a landlord living in Makaha, has tenants who are now homeless after the debris-ridden river near Makaha Valley Road overflowed into three homes on her property. "It's not mother nature," she said. "It's negligence."

After days on her knees scrubbing mud and filth out of her carpets, Meyer is still worried about what else could happen. "I just cannot go through the physical aspect of what I just went through for the last week of cleaning and cleaning and cleaning and not having anybody to assist me and my tenants who were affected by this horrendous mistake," she said.

On her wish list this Christmas, Meyer would like more physical assistance from the city and state. Many agencies have come by to collect information and assess damages, but she hasn't seen anyone on the streets actually removing or fixing the problem, and helping residents put their homes back together.

"I want the Leeward coast to be heard. I'm tired of all of us being treated like third-or fourth-rate citizens of Hawaii," she said

Small waves of water swamped Kirk Fehn's home in Makaha after a ditch backed up because of debris and trash that had not been cleaned up. He tried to clear the ditch on his own, but couldn't get to it since a neighboring onion farmer built a fence that blocks access to it.

Caroline Bailey found 'aweoweo swimming in her yard after the deluge. She lives a quarter mile from the ocean. Her home was also severely damaged and she is certain that this could have been avoided if the storm drains on Farrington Highway that run mauka to makai were not too high to receive the overflow of water.

"The blockages in these streams must be cleared immediately. The fact that no action has been taken at this point is inexcusable," said Rep. Maile Shimabukuro (D-45th Waianae, Makaha, Makua).

The homeless on the Wai`anae Coast have their own set of troubles. “The demand for tarps and tents has far exceeded supply at the City’s Disaster Assistance Recovery Centers,” Shimabukuro said. “I hope that local businesses may be able to lend a hand in this area.”

Flood victims may call the City’s flood assistance hotline at 723-8944 or 723-8957.

Reps in the News

In Sunday's Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-39 Wahiawa)announced his intention to introduce legislation in 2009 related to the BODIES exhibition, scheduled to close on January 18th. Rep. Oshiro would like to see Hawaii adopt laws similar to New York where exhibitors are required to show documentation on the cause of death and origin of the cadavers.

"There is no law regulating exhibition of human bodies," Oshiro said. "I would like to have the consent, verification that these human remains, whether a body or body parts, were obtained with the approval of the person. After all, we are talking about real human bodies, real flesh and bone."

Oshiro said he is welcoming feedback about the exhibit to help him draft his bill. People may call his office at 586-6200.

In this morning's Honolulu Advertiser, Rep. Isaac Choy (D-24 Manoa), a former Tax Review Commissioner, comments on the future of Act 221, Hawaii's tax credit created to help develop a state-based technology industry. Rep. Choy believes the credits are too high in comparison to the number of jobs created.

"If we're trying to attract jobs, the cost per job is way too high," said Choy, who previously served on a state Tax Review Commission that criticized the state for providing generous tax credits without tracking the costs and benefits. "My personal opinion is Hawai'i can't afford this credit and the credit has not turned out to be what it's supposed to be.

"Just think, if we set aside $600 million for hotel rooms we would have got more bang for the buck."

Internet is #2 news source

A tip of the hat to the Legislative Reference Bureau's blog, First Reading. In a recent post, they link to a press release from the Pew Research Center announcing that the internet has overtaken newspapers as a source of news for the American public.

Television: 70% of Americans receive their news from television, but that number is dropping, down from 74% a year ago.

Internet: 40% of Americans receive their news from the internet, and that number is rising significantly, up from only 24% in 2007.

Newspapers: 35% of Americans receive their news from newspapers, a number that is more or less static, slightly up from 34% in 2007.

Not surprisingly, if you break the numbers down by age, television and the internet are tied at 59% for Americans between the ages of 18-29.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Revolving Doors

Revolving doors are no stranger to politics, but this time we're talking about revolving doors as a source of energy. Saw this intriguing concept on the 13th Floor blog, and wondered if it could catch on in Hawaii.

A company in the Netherlands has developed a product using the rotation of a busy revolving door as an energy generator. The prototype is a heavily trafficked door at the Driebergen-Zeist train station in the Netherlands. About 8500 commuters use the train through this station every day. The motion of the revolving door is expected to generate 6400 kwh of energy per year, which could cover the needs of one average household.

As it turns out, others have thought of it before, including a company called Fluxlab which developed the Revolution Door. In this prototype, adding a generator to the resistance of the revolution may be more of a "drag" than most people care to encounter.

Do we have any revolving doors in Hawaii that have enough usage to generate a significant amount of energy? If the doors are there anyway, why not optimize their activity? Are there other revolving motions or actions that could also generate energy? Food for thought.

The Commission on Salaries Report

Here is a link to the Commission on Salaries Report and Recommendations to the 2007 Legislature.

We provide it here as a reference as proposed legislation will be debated during the 2009 session.


*Members of the Commission are: Benjamin A. Kudo (Chairperson), Paul T. Oshiro (Vice Chairperson), Barbara A. Annis, Doris M. Ching, Michael P. Irish, Stanley T. Shiraki, and Wayne J. Yamasaki.

*The Commission was established as a result of a constitutional amendment (amending Article XVI of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii) which was approved by the voters in November 2006.

*The Commission convened in December 2006. It's mission was to review the salaries of justices and judges of all State Courts, members of the Legislature, the Governor, Lt. Governor, and specified appointed officials of the Executive Branch.

*The intent was to make recommendations taking into account: 1)the economic condition of the State and the fiscal impact of the increases; 2)Appropriate pay relationships with other governmental employees; 3)Attracting and retaining qualified applicants; 4)Since 1990, long periods during which no pay increases were granted; and 5)Fairness and equity.

Here is the timetable for the recommended salary increases (note: The Commission made recommendations through the year 2014; here we only go to 2010):

Effective July 1, 2007

*Increase by 5% the salaries of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Administrative Director of the State (AD), department heads and deputy department heads.

*Increase by 10% the salaries of justices and judges.

*No increase for legislative branch.

Effective July 1, 2008

*Increase by 5% the salaries of the Governor, Lt. Governor, AD, Tier 1-3 Department heads and Deputy Department heads.

*Increase by 3.5% the salaries of justices and judges.

*No increase for legislative branch.

Effective January 1, 2009

*Increase salaries of representatives and senators by $12,808 per annum.

* No increase for executive or judicial branches.

Effective July 1, 2009

*Increase by 5% the salaries of Governor, LG, Ad, Tier 1 and 2 Department heads and Deputy Department heads.

*Increase by 10% the salaries of the justices and judges.

*No increase for legislative branch.

Effective July 1, 2010

*Increase by 3.5% the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branch salaries.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jingle Bills

Thelma and I did up some tongue-in-cheek Christmas carol lyrics for the House Christmas Party yesterday. Here's a sample.
Merry Christmas Everyone!

JINGLE BILLS (to the tune of Jingle Bells)

Dashing to the beach, with a surfboard on his truck
Looking for the Finance Chair? Shoots, you’re out of luck!
Even though we’re poor, he’s making spirits bright
He’s on the corner ringing bells, for your loose change tonight.

Jingle bills, Jingle bills, send to Speaker Say
Even though, he might say “no”, file them anyway.
Jingle bills, jingle bills, how many bills will fly?
Just don’t ask for money, or in Finance they will die.

Now the pressure’s on. What we gonna do?
Gotta make majority package sound like something new.
Bills for every cause, beneath the Christmas tree
And if that fails, just say this word: sustainability.

Jingle bills, Jingle bills, send to Speaker Say
Oh what fun it is to draft throughout the night and day
Jingle bills, Jingle bills, hope is in the air
Tis the season to be glad, unless you are a Chair.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nominees named for House District 9

The Democratic Party today sent out a news release announcing the three people they have chosen as nominees to fill the seat of former Rep. Bob Nakasone, District 9 - Kahului, Wailuku, Puunene, Paia, Spreckelsville. The Governor has until February 5, 2009 to make her selection. She sent out her own release this afternoon soliciting public comment on the nominees, to be submitted by close of business day, January 9th.

The nominees are: Kehau Filimoe'atu, Lance Holter and Gil Keith-Agaran. Governor Lingle will pick one of the candidates to fill Rep. Nakasone's seat and complete the two-year term.

The release contained a brief bio on each nominee, as follows:

Ms. Kehau Filimoe’atu. A founder of several native Hawaiian non-profits, an accomplished community organizer and a strong advocate of social justice issues, Filimoe’atu was born and raised on Maui and is a former business owner who has traveled around the world. Married with three adult children, Filimoe’atu is the supervisor of the Maui Police Department’s 911 Central Dispatch and has worked at the department’s communications section for the past 17 years.

Mr. Lance Holter. Currently Maui Democratic Party Chair, Holter has served with the Peace Corp and on several Boards and Commissions on Maui, including Maui County Board of Variances and Appeals, Habitat for Humanity, Makawao School Community Council, Sierra Club and Maui Tomorrow. He is a strong advocate for energy independence and conservation. The father of three daughters and a new grandson causes him to realize the importance of leaving their generation a legacy of natural coastlines, pristine watersheds and creating a new renewable energy economy for Hawaii.

Mr. Gil Keith-Agaran. An attorney practicing in Wailuku, Keith-Agaran spent a decade in public service as Chair of the State Board of Land and Natural Resources, State Director of Labor and State Deputy Director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and as County Public Works Director. He presently serves on the boards of the Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation, the Maui Food Bank, the Maui Coastal Land Trust, the Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, the Maui High School Community Council, and A Keiki's Dream. Keith-Agaran has a J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law, the University of California at Berkeley, and a B.A. from Yale College. He is married and is the guardian of a niece who is a senior at his alma mater, Maui High School.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Love at Christmas

If you are driving past the State Capitol at night, at the intersection of Beretania and Punchbowl, look up to the third floor, corner window.

During session, this corner of the building is often lit up late into the night as this is where the Finance Committee offices are located.

But, from now until January 2nd, a different kind of light is shining.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, has strung some lights for Christmas, and he has a message for us all.

To drier days

A lot of women on the third floor of the capitol are today probably a lot happier - and drier - then usual. They have paper!! In September, a noisy hand dryer that left some still wiping their palms on their pants or blouses on the way out replaced the old paper towel dispenser. I'm guessing there were too many complaints from damp-skirted women because this morning I was surprised to find a more modern paper towel dispenser in place of the old silver box. Thank goodness! The hand dryer is still there, so if you have 10 minutes to kill, feel free to test it out and let me know how long it actually does take to dry your hands.

Pre-Session Meetings on Big Island

Rep. Mark Nakashima talks about legislation on education and agriculture that he is drafting for introduction next year in his December 2008 newsletter. Don't forget that you can always go back to these newsletters by clicking on the Community Newsletter's link in the right panel. A schedule of pre-session community meetings on the Big Island with Senator Dwight Takamine and Rep. Nakashima is also listed in the newsletter. Both lawmakers invite Big Island residents to come and share their concerns about important issues and discuss key legislation being introduced this year. Here's what the schedule looks like:

January 5, 2009—Kohala, Kohala Senior Center, 6:30 PM
January 6, 2009—Rural South Hilo Community Council, Kalanianaole School Cafeteria, 6:45PM
January 7, 2009—Honoka’a, Honoka’a School Cafeteria, 7:00 PM
January 13, 2009—Energy Forum, Honoka’a School Cafeteria, 7:00 PM
January 15, 2009—North Hilo Community Association, Laupahoehoe School, 6:30 PM

Freshmen on Hawaii Public Radio

Wayne Yoshioka, Hawaii Public Radio, interviewed 5 of the 6 majority freshmen last week and filed a report that aired last Thursday. The interview is on the KHPR website here. Following are some highlights from the story about their experiences as a new legislator so far...

Isaac Choy: "The learning curve is very steep here. It's worse than college."

Jessica Wooley: "We may not be able to succeed all the time, but we're going to see what we can do."

Denny Coffman: "I use the example of Mauna Kea eggs (not made in Hawaii)...We need to look at the brand names and make sure they meet the definition of made in Hawaii."

Henry Aquino: "I'm getting married, believe it or not, 11 days before Opening Day. That was one of the things my financee told me, I'll support you, but she's not going to consider changing the wedding date."

Chris Lee: "Here in the legislature, it takes more than one person, it takes a majority of votes to get anything done. I approached it from that angle and hope to work with everyone here."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Supreme Court rules on Legislative Fee Transfer

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on December 18th that the Legislature's transfer of $3.5 million in regulatory fees into the General Fund was unlawful.  The Advertiser story is here.  Robert Thomas' blog, also includes a post of Justice Levinson's opinion in "Hawaii Insurers Council v. Lingle.

In summary, the Hawaii Insurers Council complained that the regulatory fee assessments imposed by the state Insurance Commissioner are unconstitutional and that the regulatory fees can not be transferred to the general fund to be used for other purposes.

The case has been heard in the Circuit Court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals, both courts ruling in favor of the Insurers.  

While the Hawaii Supreme Court rules in the state's favor on the first point, opining that the regulatory assessments were not unconstitutional, it ruled against the state on the second point, that the transfer of the fees to the general fund by the Legislature was invalid.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Rep. Nakasone

Governor Lingle has ordered that the flags at the state capitol be flown at half staff tomorrow, Saturday, in remembrance of Rep. Bob Nakasone. The memorial service will be held on Maui at Ballard Family Mortuary tomorrow afternoon. The Advertiser's brief is here.

Rhode Island has us Beat!

I was surprised to learn from The Thicket that Hawaii does not have the most Democratic legislature in the country. According to NCSL, there are seven state legislatures with a more than 2/3rds Democratic majority. They are:

Rhode Island - 90.3%
Hawaii - 89.5%
Massachusetts - 89%
West Virginia - 79.9%
Connecticut - 73.8%
Maryland - 72.9%
Arkansas - 72.6%

There are three state legislatures with a more than 2/3rds Republican majority. They are:

Idaho - 76.2%
Utah - 71.7%
Wyoming - 71.1%

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tax by the Mile

In a previous post, "Top Ten States Issues", the National Conference of Legislatures mentions several states that are considering replacing the gas tax with a per mile vehicle fee rather than raising taxes to pay for roads and transit. Basically, instead of paying the 51-cents-per-gallon fuel tax you pay at the pump here in Hawaii, you would pay around one cent per mile traveled.

Several states, including Oregon, North Carolina, and Idaho, are considering new road revenue systems primarily because of the entrance of more fuel-efficient cars into the marketplace. The basic idea behind the gas tax was that if you use the roads, you should pay for them. So if you drove more, you paid more taxes at the pump. However, with more people driving fuel-efficient cars, the collection of gas tax has been – and will become even more – disproportionate to how often a vehicle uses roads and highways. They're great for the environment, energy efficiency and a number of residents' bank accounts, but not for sustaining state transportation and infrastructure needs. In short, state gas tax hasn't been fair for awhile.

With that known, in 2001, Oregon's Legislature began studying alternatives to the fuel charge. A task force determined that switching to a pay-by-the-mile system would be the most logical and natural replacement. Taxpayers pay for what they use. The VMT would be a fairer tax collection mechanism and would not erode revenue collection due to increases in fuel-efficient cars on the road.

The state recently concluded a pilot program which implemented a vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT). The program used three control groups: drivers who pay VMT tax, drivers who pay state fuel tax, and rush hour drivers who paid more for driving in congestion zones but much less for regular travel. Volunteers drove vehicles installed with simplified GPS devices and odometers to track miles traveled in state. (Device sensors turn off when traveling out of state). At the pump, a mileage reader would scan the vehicle device and charge drivers 1.2 cents per mile used since the last fill up; they did not pay the 24-cents-a-gallon state gas tax.

The Oregon project concluded that a mileage fee:
raises substantial revenue, easy to collect, easy to administer, easy to pay, minimal evasion potential, protects privacy, minimal burden on business, directly connected to highway use, no revenue erosion for fuel efficiency
Would you prefer to pay taxes by the mile than at the pump in Hawaii? Would it work? Let us know what you're thinking.

*Every gallon of gas includes a Federal and State excise tax. In Hawaii, we pay a 4 percent sales tax, county tax and a 0.1 environmental response tax, which totals 51 cpg on gasoline and 71 cpg on diesel when combined with the Federal gas tax (18.4 cpg on gas; 24.4 cpg on diesel). These funds have been the primary source of money for highway projects and other transportation and infrastructure needs.

Conference Room Schedule

We never have shiny white snow here at the Hawaii State Capitol as session jingles its jolly bells from around the corner, but we do have more gifts for you to prepare for the 2009 Legislature!

The 2009 Conference Room Schedule is available. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lege, it's a schedule of what days and times each committee can hold their hearings.

November tax collections report

Our House Finance committee reports that the November tax collection report is out, and it’s a mixed bag:

General Excise Taxes down -6.6%
Corporate Taxes up +8.7%
Individual Income Taxes up +3.5%
Transient Accomodation Taxes down -8.2%
All Other Taxes up +3.6%

Total Overall down -2.5%

The current Council on Revenues projection remains at -.05% for the fiscal year '09. At this point, the prior 12-month track is holding steady at -1.1%.

Top Ten States Issues

Tis the season for Top Ten Lists. Also for developing Majority Packages. The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together their Top Ten list of issues facing the states in 2009:

Top 9 issues of 2009

Issue #1 - State Budgets Gaps. Money will be the No. 1 issue for states in 2009. It is the starting and stopping point for virtually every state program and service. That's why the current fiscal crisis is so alarming. Shrinking state revenues will squeeze every area of state government. More bad economic news is reported almost daily, so, short of a dramatic and unexpected turnaround, state fiscal conditions are expected to continue their downward slide. New programs in a majority of states are likely to be shelved as lawmakers focus on essential state services. Even high-priority programs could get pinched. In this dire fiscal climate, flat funding may be considered a victory. The bottom line: States are battening down the hatches and bracing for the worst fiscal storm in decades.

Issue #2 - Transportation and Infrastructure. The continuing gap between transportation needs and available funds is the key transportation issue for 2009. Revenues for transportation at all levels of government continue to flatten or diminish. Maintaining crumbling infrastructure, fighting congestion and meeting burgeoning demand for public transportation is straining transportation budgets. Gas tax receipts, the mainstay of transportation for the last 50 years, no longer meet the nation's growing needs due to inflation, less driving and more fuel-efficient vehicles. To keep pace, at least 15 states will consider raising the state gas tax and/or motor vehicle fees. Others are looking at tolls and public-private partnerships, though tight credit has slowed consideration of these approaches. With an eye to the future, a number of states including Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota are studying the per mile vehicle fee to eventually replace the gas tax and pay for infrastructure maintenance and new transportation facilities.

Issue #3 - Higher Education. AffordabilityIn today's world, where a college degree is necessary for most jobs, should states ensure the opportunity for everyone to attend post-secondary education? If the answer is "yes," states will need to make sure in 2009 that funding for higher education is adequate enough so all students, not just the wealthy ones, can afford college. Higher education is often one of the first areas to be cut during tough fiscal times. In response, state universities and colleges typically tend to raise tuition to make up for these lost revenues, which is an additional financial burden on families. During 2007 and 2008 most states were able to increase their budget appropriations for higher education but this is not likely to be the case in 2009 with bleak economic conditions.

Issue #4 - Health Costs and Reform. Health costs keep rising at the same time that state budgets are in trouble. An immediate challenge for states in 2009 will be to maintain and retool current health programs, especially Medicaid and diverse programs aimed at covering the uninsured. As the numbers of unemployed increase, Medicaid rolls will grow. State legislatures will face competing demands such as helping those without health insurance coverage, investing in prevention and wellness, and adopting health information technology such as exchangeable electronic medical records and “e” prescribing. States already striving to provide near-universal health care coverage, Massachusetts and Vermont, worry that shrinking state revenues will become a real obstacle. At the same time others with future health reform proposals, including California, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, may have to defer action due to budget constraints. Meanwhile renewed federal funds for children’s health (SCHIP) and “stimulus” funds for Medicaid are important to states, while they also seek a strong voice in the national discussion of comprehensive reform.

Issue #5 - Clean Energy and Alternatives. Developing and using alternative energy will be a top issue for legislatures across the country. State legislatures will be looking for solutions to a host of energy challenges in the coming year, and integrating renewable energy (generated by wind, solar, geothermal and biomass) with existing energy resources will be at the top of their agenda. Roughly 30 states have now enacted some sort of standard for renewable electricity. Some state leaders see renewable energy as having many benefits, such as encouraging local job growth and economic development; reducing the volatility of energy prices; and meeting new growing energy needs without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, nine states passed new or strengthened existing standards. Continued activity is expected during 2009. Policymakers will also be exploring how new technologies can generate clean energy from America's vast coal resources and how they can assist the development of these technologies.

Issue #6 - Sentencing and Corrections. Without change to current corrections and sentencing policies, by 2011, state prison populations are projected to grow by nearly 200,000 inmates at a cost to states of $27.5 billion. Bipartisan efforts in a growing number of state legislatures seek to alter this destiny with actions aimed at safely supervising certain offenders in the community and reducing crime with mental health, substance abuse and other rehabilitative programs. Strained state budgets make cost-effective corrections options and policies an even greater priority in state legislatures in 2009. Ten states indicated they are considering cuts to corrections in NCSL's State Budget Update. Four states exempted corrections in their budgets. States such as Texas and Washington are expanding capacity for offender treatment and community supervision; and similarly Connecticut, Kansas, Pennsylvania and others are improving probation and parole supervision, including use of evidence-based practices.

Issue #7 - Homeownership. More states are looking at ways to help residents afford to purchase a home during these tough financial times. States are also helping halt foreclosures by creating emergency assistance programs and changing foreclosure processes and procedures. California, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia and Washington have regulated foreclosure consultants so they cannot take advantage of desperate homeowners. With the high number of foreclosures across the country, several states have established protections for tenants who are renting homes facing foreclosure.

Issue #8 - Working Families. One-third of families in this country has no net worth, or is in debt; and the looming recession is about to make things worse. In this climate, state legislatures have an opportunity to think long term and encourage families to build up their own financial foundations, which have become fragile. Today, 20 percent of Americans are asset poor, meaning they lack the resources to live above the federal poverty level for more than three months after losing their income. Already strapped, working families are increasingly worried about daily expenses and apprehensive about long-term goals, such as college tuition and retirement. Hamstrung by tight budgets, states have a chance to create incentives for families to invest in the key components of a strong financial future -- savings, education and, when the time is right, homeownership -- assets that pay dividends over time.

Issue #9 - Unemployment. Unemployment rates are on the rise and state unemployment compensation funds are experiencing shortfalls due to an increase in claims for unemployment benefits and a decrease in revenue from payroll taxes. Indiana, Michigan, California, New York and Ohio have less than three months of reserves on hand to pay unemployment benefits. Eight other states have reserves of less than six months and it's recommended that states have at least a year of reserves on hand to see themselves through a recessionary period. Close to 4 million unemployed workers are currently receiving unemployment benefits, a level not seen since 1983. State governments levy payroll taxes on employers to pay for unemployment insurance benefits. Many states are going to have to address shortfalls in their unemployment accounts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Meet the Media" 2008

I want to thank the reporters, writers and bloggers who took time from their schedules today to meet the freshman class of the House of Representatives, and to participate in a roundtable discussion on covering the legislature.

The media representatives were (in no particular order other than going around the table):
David Shapiro, a writer/blogger appearing in The Honolulu Advertiser; Stefanie Sakamoto, who writes a new blog for the Hawaii Credit Union League; Larry Geller, who writes a blog called Disappeared News; BJ Reyes, political reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin; Wayne Yoshioka, political reporter for Hawaii Public Radio; Derrick DePledge, political reporter for The Honolulu Advertiser; Don Ray, reporter/blogger for the Grassroot Institute; Pearl Hahn, writer/policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute; Adrienne LaFrance, managing editor for The Honolulu Weekly; Gina Mangieri, reporter for KHON; Malia Zimmerman, writer/publisher of the Hawaii Reporter; and Colette Fox, producer, Hawaii Public Television.

The House representatives were Clift Tsuji, Kyle Yamashita, Joey Manahan, Karl Rhoads, Cindy Evans, Denny Coffman, Henry Aquino, Jessica Wooley, Isaac Choy, Chris Lee, and Blake Oshiro.

We discussed a broad range of subjects over about an hour and a half, including:

*The media may not be your "friend", but it is not your enemy either.  It is not the role of the media to be your friend, and when being interviewed, you should take responsibility for what you say and how you say it.  

*The importance of access and transparency.  The issue of posting amendments to bills so that the public has greater opportunity to review changes.

*Whether the House should change the scheduling of the "A" bracket committees to the morning so that television can cover them more readily.  Should the legislature make scheduling decisions around the needs of the legislature anyway?  

*Giving members adequate time to respond to an interview request before stating that they were "unavailable".  Conversely, members should be aware of reporters' deadlines and return calls in a timely manner if they want to be included in the story.

*Why media cover the legislature less and less.  Better communicating the "why should we care?" factor.

*What recourse do lawmakers have when media gets it wrong?

*How both government and media are using social media (Twitter, Facebook) to reach audiences. 

*How and why media choose to cover the stories that they do on any given day.

*How more lawmakers should start blogging and commenting on others' blogs as another way to get their message out.

I'm sure I've missed other points of discussion and invite people who were there to add and comment. Perhaps they will on their own blogs or commentaries.  In my opinion, it was a valuable exchange of information.  We all know that the media landscape is changing, and that we are no longer reaching the audiences that we'd like about the work being done at the legislature.  It's important work that affects our daily lives, our future, and the direction of our state.  Regardless of one's comfort with communications, it's critical to get out an accurate and fair picture of what is being accomplished, or not accomplished, at the taxpayers' expense.  The premise of today's meeting is that in order to build a stronger working relationship between the media and the legislature, we need to better understand what the other does, and how the other works.  

Meet the Press

Lawmakers, journalists and *GASP* bloggers sharing a chuckle here and a chortle there. That's what happened today at the House's Meet the Media Workshop for the members of the 2009 Legislature after Georgette Deemer, House communications director and blogger, quipped about following Al Gore on Twitter while commenting on the wavering boundaries between social media and news. I'm not saying the casual gathering of politicians and watchdogs was a dance of lilies and butterflies on a warm summer day; that would be far from the truth. But it did prove to be an excellent opportunity for each of the three groups, who have at times factious relationships, to understand the jobs and concerns of the other. And that, my friend, is what counts.

Discussion topics ranged from cynicism of media by lawmakers who feel that they are often misrepresented in the news to the insistence by reporters/bloggers that the media isn't out to get anyone and only seeks the truth.

And, of course, what would a powwow with bloggers be without a recommendation to lawmakers from Tweeterers to join social media networks or start a blog? The discussion was a good one and opened some doors for better communication between everyone, even, as one reporter put it to a lawmaker, "we're not your friends."

Welcome Yarnod!

I'm slow. It took me a few minutes to figure out the meaning of Don Ray's new blog title: Yarnod the Inihilam Retroper. Don is new to the islands, reporting for the Grassroot Insitute. He and policy analyst Pearl Hahn will be covering the legislature this session. (Of course, it's Don Ray, the Malihini Reporter, backwards.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2009 Legislative Timetable

The 2009 Legislative Session Timetable came out today. Mark your calendars for Opening Day on January 21 and other important deadlines which determine the longevity of a bill. Hope to see you on Opening Day!

Kukui Connection with Hawaii Primary Care Association

Beth Giesting, CEO of the Hawaii Primary Care Association, will speak on the importance of the Community Health Centers, access to care and other health care issues in future episodes of Kukui Connection hosted by Rep. Marilyn Lee. The shows will air December 21 and January 4.

Hawaii Credit Union League Starts a Blog

If you're a member of the Hawaii Credit Union League, or a Hawaii business reporter, you can now find useful news and information on credit union issues, locally and nationally, through a new blog from the HCUL's Legislative Center. Check it out here.

Live blog coverage of Hawaii Supreme Court arguments on Hawaii Superferry case

The Hawaii Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Hawaii Superferry case on Thursday, December 18th, starting around 8:45 a.m. The Legislature passed Act 2 in 2007. Here's the description:

"Requires the Department of Transportation to perform an environmental impact statement (EIS) for certain improvements made to commercial harbors. Permits operation of large capacity ferry vessel company prior to completion of EIS upon meeting certain minimum conditions. Establishes a temporary Hawaii Inter-island Ferry Oversight Task Force."

While the new law does not name the Hawaii Superferry, the complaint is that Act 2 was specifically written and passed for the Hawaii Superferry, and that passing legislation to benefit a specific company is not valid.

If you want to follow the proceedings, Robert Thomas, a Hawaii attorney specializing in land use law, will be covering the trial live on his blog as an experiment. He notes that appellate arguments go pretty fast and that the justices ask a lot of questions. All that is required is a web browser. Here's the page where it will go live, and where you can also sign up for an email reminder: Click here.

All Hawaii News Blog

There's a new Hawaii News blog in town. Nancy Cook Lauer, former reporter for Stephens Media, has started "All Hawaii News".

Monday, December 15, 2008

Meet the Media Workshop

The House Majority will be holding a Media Workshop on Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 10 a.m. to 12 noon, at the State Capitol, Room 325.

The purpose of the workshop is to introduce our freshmen members to local media representatives who cover the state capitol and the legislature. We are also inviting all majority members, including leadership, who are interested in establishing a good working relationship with media.

The freshmen members, by district, are Representatives Mark Nakashima (District 1 – North Kohala, South Kohala, Hamakua, North Hilo, South Hilo); Denny Coffman (District 6 – North Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona, Honokohau); Isaac Choy (District 24 – Manoa, Manoa Valley, University); Henry Aquino (District 35 – Pearl City, Waipahu); Jessica Wooley (District 47 – Laie, Hauula, Punaluu, Kahana, Kaaawa, Waikane, Kahaluu, Ahuimanu, Kaneohe); and Chris Lee (District 51 – Lanikai, Waimanalo).

We are putting together an informal panel of political news reporters (print, television, radio) and political bloggers who cover the legislature. Members would like to know what kinds of stories media is interested in covering, any tips they might have on how best to work with media, and any info that they might not know about such as various news cycles and internal deadlines, etc.

We held a similar session with mainstream media after the 2006 election, and members appreciated meeting reporters, many for the first time, prior to the start of session, and without the stress of being interviewed. This time, we have expanded the invitee list to include bloggers and online websites that cover politics in Hawaii.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ah Quon McElrath - "The Conscience of the Legislature"

Photo: Rep. Mike Magaoay with Ah Quon McElrath and Bill Paty

Ah Quon McElrath, or A.Q., as she was called by those who knew her well, was a formidable figure at the State Legislature.  She passed away on Thursday, December 11, 2008.  She was 92 but would have made 93 on December 15th.  The Honolulu Advertiser covers her life here.  The Honolulu Star-Bulletin coverage is here.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro had just visited A.Q. in the hospital a few days prior to her passing and encouraged her to get well soon as she still had lots of work to do at the State Capitol.  His comments in the Star-Bulletin:

"Although we look at her as being maybe the matriarch of the union movement in Hawaii, she had a bigger constituency, she served the larger community," said state Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who chairs the House Finance Committee.  "She used her life's energies and talents for the common good. She was a role model for women, the disenfranchised, the underdogs, the have-nots."

Rep. Roy Takumi was also quoted in the Star-Bulletin:

State Rep. Roy Takumi said, "AQ was a constant presence" at every legislative session in his 17 years.  "Every session she would come...and would either be in a mood to share insights or in a mood to scold, berate and chastise all of us.

"When I first got elected, she told me that young legislators make the mistake of trying to help everyone.  she said you have to focus on a few things and do it well.  She took her own advice," Takumi said.  "She focused on whatever she saw as needed at that time, hence her effectiveness and her impact."

Photo: University of Hawaii, Regent Ah Quon McElrath 

Guy Fujimura, ILWU secretary-treasurer, said: "Whether the governor, the legislators or business people, she challenged them to do the right thing, to be the best person they could be, and she would assist them to be that person.  She was always that solid person, the conscience of the union, the conscience of the labor movement, the conscience of the legislators."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Domestic Violence Briefing

"When she refused to go with him, he pulled a gun from his pocket and shot her. He then shot her three more times." -- Domestic Violence Strategic Plan Executive Summary.

Not all domestic violence cases end this way. But too many of them have. This year alone intimate domestic violence can be blamed for fourteen deaths, including victims, children and perpetrators.

In 2005, the Legislature directed the Department of Health to develop a five year plan (2007-2012) to reduce the incidences of domestic violence. The DOH selected the Hawaii Coalition Against Domestic Violence (HSCADV) to create a planning committee to develop the plan. The planning committee today briefed lawmakers on the goals, objectives, hindrances and progress of the Domestic Violence Strategic Plan.

The plan seeks to achieve three key goals: greater community awareness about domestic violence; ensure batterers are held accountable; ensure easy access to services and safety.

One of the committee's main concerns is the lack of sufficient training for police and other groups that would most likely be first responders to a domestic violence report. The Honolulu Police Department used to devote an entire day to domestic violence training at the Police Academy. Today, new recruits spend roughly 45 minutes familiarizing themselves with probable domestic violence incidences and how to deal with them. this is not enough time. In surveys and interviews, victims have repeatedly complained about the way local police officers have handled incidences. Many of them are unable to immediately recognize the signs of intimate partner violence or lack procedural knowledge, such as not talking to the batterer in front of children.
Eight Plan Measures
1.) Increased awareness about domestic violence within targeted communities
2.) Increased access for school-aged children in skill building and prevention education about domestic violence
3.) Increased access to services for victims on each island.
4.) Increased accountability and opportunity for batterers to develop new skills
5.) Increased leadership and collaboration among agencies to address domestic violence
6.) Increased use of reliable data to educate and inform the general community and policy makers about domestic violence
7.) Increased training about domestic violence
8.) Increased resources supporting domestic violence prevention and intervention activities
Photo: Print ad in Mixed Martial Arts magazine, "Real men keep it in the ring"; "You love your daughter, you would do anything for her, start by respecting her mother".

House Elves Celebrate 50 Years of Statehood

Oh, the weather outside is the song goes, but inside, the House Elves have once again come up with a Christmas Tree masterpiece.

Last year, you may recall, the elves were so excited about the upcoming Sugar Bowl that the Christmas Tree was decorated in a football theme. Colt Brennan would have been proud. "Sooooo, last year," said one elf when asked whether they still had visions of sugar bowl plums in their heads.
This year, the elves have chosen a Hawaiian theme, Celebrating 50 Years of Statehood, honoring the upcoming 50th anniversary of statehood in 2009. The tree is located outside the offices of the House Chief Clerk, Chamber Level, Hawaii State Capitol.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Next on Kukui Connection

Photo: Coralie Chun Matayoshi

Rep. Marilyn Lee continues her popular series, "Kukui Connection" with a new show this Sunday. The show features Coralie Chun Matayoshi, attorney and CEO of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross has an interesting history in Hawaii, which Coralie will share, in addition to telling us about the important work of the organization.

This show will air on Sunday, 4:00 p.m., Olelo, Channel 54 on December 14 and December 28, 2008.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lawmakers briefed on sex offender management

Rep. Blake Oshiro, the Dept. of Public Safety's Sex Offender Management Team and the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Bureaus of Justice Assistance yesterday briefed legislators and policymakers on effective sex offender management. Dr. Kurt Bumby of the Center for Effective Public Policy, an expert on sex offender management, discussed the facts and myths of sex offenders, as well as common trends and characteristics in rehabilitation and recidivism rates. He also reviewed specialized strategies for risk assessment, community supervision, and treatment.

One of the main points discussed during the training and presentation is the variation in sex offenders. The term "sex offender" suggests a homogeneous group of sexual predators, assuming similar re-offending patterns regardless of the nature of the offense, age of victim, motivations, criminal history, etc. These assumptions underlie many of our federal and state laws. However, research shows that all sex offenders can't be placed under the same umbrella. Because of the diverse nature of sex offenders, implementing public policy strategies that address a heterogeneous group of offenders would be more effective in maximizing resources and enhancing public safety. Understanding the etiological or explanatory theories of sex offending, and the facts, myths and trends of sex offenders is imperative to considering the implications of contemporary sex offender management strategies.

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety recently received a $249,426 federal grant to create the Hawaii Academy for Sex Offender Management (HATSOM), the nation's first site for ongoing sex offender management training. According to the Dept. of Public Safety, state professionals who work with sex offenders will receive training in the areas of investigation, prosecution, sentencing, assessment, treatment, reentry, supervision, registration and notification.

Dr. Bumby concluded his presentation with a "what works" summary of sex offender treatment and correction. (You can view the entire PowerPoint presentation here):

1.) Longer sentences, punishment-driven strategies unlikely to reduce recidivism
2.) Strategies pairing surveillance/monitoring with rehabilitative services have better outcomes
3.) Prison-based and community-based cognitive interventions (including sex offender treatment) reduce recidivism
- Costs-benefits analyses generally support investment
4.) Targeting higher risk offenders for more intensive interventions yields better outcomes
5.) Empirically-validated risk assessments provide best estimates of risk
Photo ( L-R): Dr. Kurt Bumby, Center for Effective Public Policy; Rep. Angus McKelvey; Tom Read, Dept. of Public Safety; and Leanne Gillespie, Dept. of Public Safety, Sex Offender Management Team.
Photo from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: As of July 17, 2008, Hawaii had a total of 2, 525 registered sex offenders.

Legislature recognizes Chad Buck

Rep. John Mizuno yesterday presented a certificate of appreciation to Chad Buck, president of the Hawaii Food Service Alliance, one of the state's largest distributors of bakery and dairy products. Buck donated 10,000 gallons of fresh milk to the Hawaii Food Bank. Since 2002, Buck has donated over 200,000 lbs of food to the food bank, making him the largest individual donor to the organization.

Buck's generosity is inspired by his past. Twenty five years ago, Buck was a teenage father of three children working three jobs to put food on the table. He vowed never to go hungry again, and to one day help others who had trouble feeding their families.

Read the full story in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Hawaii communities remember Rep. Bob Nakasone

Here are excerpts and links to some of the wide news coverage of Rep. Bob Nakasone's passing on Sunday, December 7, 2008.

From The Kauai Garden Island:

Rep. Roland Sagum, a Democrat representing Kaua‘i’s 16th District, said meeting Nakasone was one of his most memorable experiences as a legislator.

“Any time of the day he was available, he’d be willing to talk to you, or answer questions,” Sagum said when reached by phone yesterday, describing his former colleague as a father figure and mentor. “He was a true role model. An awesome, awesome man. He was always looking for the best in people, and hoping for the best for people.”

From The Maui News:

Rep. Joe Souki, a Democrat representing Wailuku, Waikapu and Kahakuloa, said Nakasone "had his fingerprints" on countless Maui infrastructure projects.

"For Maui, we were very lucky to have him there," Souki said. "He always made sure Maui had its share, and, if can, a little bit more."

Nakasone's office was known as a place where lawmakers could gather to "talk story," Souki added.

"Bob would just sit at his desk and not say a thing unless he was called, but that was a mechanism for people to sit down and work out their differences," he said. "In his quiet way, he was a great mediator."

Rep. Kyle Yamashita, a Democrat representing Upcountry, said Nakasone's office was a "safe place" for young lawmakers to get feedback on their ideas. Nakasone was never judgmental, but listened carefully and talked about his past experience with the issues, Yamashita said.

"He was my mentor," he said. "He taught me a lot. I was in his office during session almost every day, just to talk and go over what was going on. Big shoes to fill."

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

"What a sad day for Maui, what a sad day," said William Kennison, Maui division director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "Bob was always a very, very strong supporter of Maui County, and his position in the House Finance Committee was always to get projects for Maui. We always depended on him and relied on him for support. He always came through for us."

From The Honolulu Advertiser:

Sen. Roz Baker, D-5th (W. Maui-S. Maui), said yesterday it was Nakasone's wish that his daughter, Joni McGinnis, succeed him. McGinnis worked with her father at the company he founded, Ameritone-Maui, a paint and wall-covering distributorship with two retail outlets in Kahului and Lahaina.

"I remember it was always a competition between the House and Senate. He was a no-nonsense, tough negotiator, but he was always very fair and tried to take care of projects that really needed to be done," she said.

Rep. Joe Souki, D-8th (Wailuku), said that by the time Nakasone came to the House, "he already was kind of a legend."

"Everybody loved Bob. He kept his doors open, and his office was a kind of meeting place. Members would go there, and he was always ready to give advice and listen," Souki said.
Nakasone rarely made speeches in public or on the House floor, but was passionate nonetheless about healthcare, Maui Community College, education, and long-term care insurance and other issues affecting the elderly, Souki said.

"That's the way Bob was. He was always known as someone who did his homework, and he was a walking encyclopedia of legislation. He didn't believe in going out and making speeches. He didn't do fundraisers. He stayed in his office and worked," he said.

Monday, December 8, 2008

In Memory of Rep. Bob Nakasone

Today, we mourn the passing of State Representative Bob Nakasone who passed away yesterday after a long illness. Here is a statement from Speaker of the House Calvin Say:

“The island of Maui and the state of Hawaii have lost a dedicated public servant,” said Speaker of the House Calvin Say. “Rep. Bob Nakasone was a very private and quiet man, but he was held in great respect in the Legislature due to his experience, his knowledge, and his unwavering commitment to serving Hawaii’s people.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nakasone family,” continued Speaker Say. “As a long-time colleague, we served many years in the House together, and he will be greatly missed. You could always count on Bob Nakasone as a leader and an asset to the House, especially in tough times. Even though he was very reserved, people knew he had a big heart, and that making Hawaii a better place for our families was the essence behind his public service. I felt privileged to work beside him.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Economy

The room was packed, and the message came through loud and clear at the informational briefing this morning on the state of Hawaii's agriculture industry. It was a joint meeting of the Committees on Agriculture and Water, Land & Ocean Resources.

The industry faces its more critical period ever, and without significant changes, agriculture as we know it, may cease to exist in Hawaii in the near future. Here are some of the highlights from the briefing:

Dean Okimoto - President of Hawaii Farm Bureau, Owner of Nalo Farms

Nalo Farms is at great risk. Okimoto has been working on an expansion project for a few years which he hopes to open on Monday. He has poured much of his savings into the project as he has had to pay off a loan with no incoming project revenue for the past 15 months. He says that it feels like he is losing business, not gaining business, and even the farm itself is not doing well.

The danger for the industry is that once we lose a farm, it never comes back. Nalo Farms is not alone. Several farms have closed in recent months. Part of the problem is that agriculture is like "the Rodney Dangerfield of the economy" - it gets no respect. In particular, Hawaii's tourism industry is highly dependent on agriculture, but Okimoto believes that there is little recognition from the tourism industry, nor collaboration between the two industries.

Buddy Nobriga - President of Nobriga Ranch

Nobriga contends that the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is one of the smallest Ag Departments in the nation. The state needs a larger, stronger department that can help the farmers and ranchers. There are not enough inspectors to monitor the quality of imported milk. We don't have strong relationships with the USDA. We don't have the land to establish dairies.

We need agriculture in order to be sustainable. In a way, agriculture and farmers are like the "security" of the state.

Meredith Ching - Alexander and Baldwin (large landowner)

Large landowners face the same problems as small farms. The lack of rainfall in the past decade has had a cumulative effect on island crops. 2008 was the driest year over the past 85 years. In addition, the state has been in a prolonged drought for the past decade, with the past two years being exceptionally dry.

Yvonne Izu - Hawaii Farm Bureau, former state water commissioner

The legislature needs to amend the state water code law. The East Maui decision is a perfect example of how the water code does not support agriculture. This is one way the legislature can help farmers without spending money. Farmers do not have hope that agriculture can survive in this state.

Richard Ha - President, Hamakua Springs

The world has changed. He has had to lay off 20 workers recently. He says you can tell that farming is bad when fertilizer sales go down. Fertilizer sales have been going down since last spring. There is, however, an opportunity to use agricultural lands for energy crops. A bill passed last year allows farmers to finance loans for energy projects, although this may not be quite enough incentive to bring more people into farming.

He has a blog now. "These days, you gotta blog if you're a farmer."

Eric Tanouye - Greenpoint Nursery

Tanouye's 20-year-old son is in college and has said that he wants to work in the family business. This excites Tanouye because it would mean three generations working in the business. Tanouye is also the President of the Florists and Shippers Association and he has visited members across the state on all the islands. All of them face very difficult times. It is unprecedented.

Kylie Matsuda - Matsuda and Fukuyama Farms in Kahuku

She represents the 4th generation of farmers in Kahuku. She has a degree in Tourism Industry Management, but wanted to go back and be part of the family farm business. Her parents did not want her to do it, but she wanted to use her tourism expertise and expand the business into agri-tourism. She had to fight to get her job at the farm. She feels that farming can become viable again if you consider value-added products which will bring additional dollars.

For example, tourists can't take home fresh fruits and vegetables, but they take back dried fruit, jams and jellies, and other products. There are also farm-related activities to market.

What can be done? Some suggestions:

*Clarify the state policy on water. The East Maui decision seemed to put farmers at a lower level of beneficiary than others. The water commission needs to understand the importance and value of the agriculture industry to the state.

*Provide tax credits for new farmers. Incent farmers to start farming.

*Support more farmers' markets. It provides more revenue and forces farmers to interface with their market and the public, and through dialog, they can improve their product and have fun talking to people.

*Dean Okimoto summarized: He wanted to make it clear that the farmers are not looking to the legislature to solve all their problems. However, the legislature can be helpful in making other industries and the general public more aware that farming is critical to our state. Right now, tourism does not appreciate or support agriculture. Someone needs to hold their (tourism's) feet to the fire in helping agriculture.

Chair Clift Tsuji and Chair Ken Ito expressed their appreciation to the farmers for coming today; they understood the gravity of the situation. They will be using the information from the briefing to propose legislation for the 2009 session.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More questions than answers on cancer screening money

The new chair of the Human Services Committee, Rep. John Mizuno, was not happy to hear that $150,000 for cervical and breast cancer screening, and education/awareness programs for at risk populations, would not be made available. The money was appropriated last session through Senate Bill 3185. He called an informational briefing today to find out why.

Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro and Rep. Tom Brower were also there to listen and ask questions.

The screening program is operated by the State Department of Health. The money, located in the Department of Human Services budget, is normally transferred to the Health Department. In November, the Health Department was told that the money would not be released per the recommendations of the Department of Budget and Finance.

It is unclear whether the $150,000 is part of the Governor's 4% restriction currently in effect. There were no representatives from the Department of Human Services to answer questions. However, Rep. Mizuno pulled out SB3185 testimony of Director Lillian Kohler which stated that the Human Services and Health departments signed a memorandum of agreement and therefore, the bill was not needed. The legislature passed the bill anyway.

What's at stake? According to testifiers from the Department of Health and the American Cancer Society of Hawaii, about 100-150 women may be unable to receive cervical and breast cancer screenings. These would be women considered high risk because they fall in the 50-64 year old age category and are most likely of native Hawaiian or Filipino ethnicity.

Early detection saves lives. About 800 women in Hawaii are diagnosed with cancer every year. With early detection, the mortality rate drops from 78% to 23%.

Rep. Mizuno indicated that he will consider introducing legislation in 2009 if it means restoring funds for cancer screening because "it is a priority, and should remain a priority."

Volunteer or donate to Waianae homeless shelter

Toy donations and volunteers are desperately needed for a "Toys for Tots" event at the Waianae Civic Center emergency homeless shelter on Dec. 6, 2008 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This is a call to all musicians, magicians, or experts at making balloon animals. The Rock and Roll Motorcycle Club is looking for people like you – individuals or groups to volunteer their time to help entertain and make it a special night for the ­­137 keiki who call the shelter – known as Pai'olu Kaialulu – home. Organizers are hoping to get a large inflatable jumping castle for the children to play in and provide them with game booths. Any and all donations that can help to make this possible are greatly needed and would bring holiday cheer to many children who don't have much.

Opening its doors in 2007, Pai'olu Kaialulu was Hawaii's first around-the-clock emergency shelter in Hawaii, taking in a growing number of citizens with no place to stay. Hundreds of families and children have entered the shelter since its opening on March 1, 2007.

Of the 137 children living in the homeless shelter today, 64 are female and 75 are male. A variety of toys or gift certificates are needed for children of all ages. The following is a breakdown of the children according to gender and age group: Newborn-2 years old – Female (16), Male (26); 3-5 years old – Female (17), Male (12); 6-8 years – Female (11), Male (12); 9-11 years – Female (9), Male (14); 12-14 years – Female (6), Male (5); 15-17 years – Female (5), Male (6).

"There are so many children and families in need this year. The families at Pai'olu Kaiaulu are just one step away from being homeless. I applaud Rep. Jerry Chang and his fellow Rock and Roll Motorcycle Club members for hosting this most worthwhile "Toys for Tots" event in Waianae. I hope the community will come out to support the event by donating their services and toys," said Rep. Maile Shimabukuro (District 45 – Waianae, Makaha, Makua).

"Toys for Tots" drop boxes can be found at Kaneohe Physical Therapy, Ewa Beach Physical Therapy, Wahiawa Physical Therapy, Kapalama Pet Hospital, Marcus and Associates Realty, Bishop Square Towers, USA Baby in Waipahu and Nimitz, Baby Emporium in Honolulu, Andy's Bike Shop, Island Air, Kailua Pool and Spa, Island Pool and Spa Supplies, Progressive Auto Sounds, and Coordinated Wire Rope (CWR) of Hawaii in the Kalihi industrial area. All toys placed in these boxes will go to the children of the Waianae homeless shelter, Shriners Hospital, and Kapiolani Medical Center.

Anyone interested in donating their time, money, talents and/or toys should call Michael Panzo at 457-6955.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Speaker's Response to Hon SB editorial on pay raises

Raise is needed to attract good legislators

Your Dec. 1 editorial "Ban conflicts of interest for full-time legislators" leaves out an important point.

In 2008, the House took a tremendous step forward and updated its rules so that Hawaii representatives are required to publicly disclose and request a determination on all potential conflicts of interest prior to voting. A conflict is defined as legislation that "affects the member's direct personal, familial, or financial interest, except if the member or member's relative is part of a class of people affected by the legislation."

In meeting these standards of conduct, it is also the legislator's right and responsibility to cast votes to address the needs of their community and constituents. The voters should then hold members accountable for how well these factors are ultimately balanced.

In Hawaii, the Legislature is considered part-time because it officially meets for only part of the year, but the duties of responding to constituents, attending community events and meetings, and representing all of the people in the district are not limited to the legislative session. They take place throughout the year. Therefore, when I stated that a legislator's position is "full-time," I did not mean to equate that to a standard 40-hour/week job. Rather, I meant that the duties and time required of a Hawaii lawmaker are definitely a full-time, year-round obligation.

The 2008 election clearly demonstrated that we have a challenge recruiting qualified candidates to run for office. The process already addresses potential conflicts. The salary commission has determined that the raise is to a pay level that is appropriate given that lawmakers have not received a significant increase in more than 15 years. Let's not make it even more burdensome for those who aspire to public service.

Rep. Calvin K.Y. Say
Speaker of the House

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bring your can to the Capitol

It's the season of giving, especially this year when many people in Hawaii are struggling to provide food for their families. This holiday season, the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Food Bank invite the public to a FREE concert – "A Capitol Christmas" – and donation drive at the Hawaii State Capitol Auditorium (basement level) on December 5, 2008 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. While admission is FREE, a suggested donation of canned goods or non-perishable items will help to put food on the tables of our keiki, friends, families and neighbors.
The concert will feature some of Hawaii's favorite entertainers, including Patrick Koh, The Krush, Tradewinds, Angeli Callo, Pacific Heights, The Inspirations, Earl Stuckey, Norlita Yere, Arshiel Calatrava and more!
Everyone is encouraged to come out, give what you can, and enjoy a night of great music and feel-good fun.

Please call Patrick Koh at 808-688-7799 for more information.


Rep. Marcus Oshiro's letter to the editor, Honolulu Advertiser 12/2/08, on Governor Lingle's decision to decline invite from the President-Elect:

Surely Gov. Lingle can reprioritize meetings

Gov. Linda Lingle should reconsider her decision and meet with President-elect Obama to discuss Hawai'i's economic crisis and seek his assistance. All leaders face unexpected requests and meetings are re-prioritized when necessary.

The budgetary challenges facing our state will still be here when she returns and postponing meeting with the state economist will not improve economic conditions one bit.

Surely, Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona can conduct a press conference and host a dinner with local military leaders. I have no doubt that our military leaders understand the importance of meeting with our next president.

She made three trips to the Mainland spending three weeks campaigning for McCain/Palin during a time when layoffs, deficits and unemployment were hitting record levels, and she won't make the time to meet with our incoming president?

As governor, she spent 12 days in November meeting with Asia's government leaders and she won't spend a couple of hours with our own president-elect?

I'll put my money where my mouth is and pay for a round-trip ticket for her. I'll even throw in a case of Wahiawa pineapple for omiyage.

Rep. Marcus R. Oshiro D-39th (Wahiawa)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Updated Senate leadership & committee assignments

The Senate today released an updated list of the leadership and committee assignments for 2009-2010.

"Informed Citizen" Workshops on Maui

Maui residents should mark their calendars this week for free "Informed Citizen" workshops starting tomorrow. The workshops are run by the Legislature's Public Access Room, a division of the state's non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureaus, and will help participants to understand and navigate the legislative process without having to leave Maui. Virginia Beck, the assistant public access coordinator, will also give tips on writing effective testimony and making sure it gets to where it needs to be.

Updated schedule of workshops on Maui:

Tuesday12/2/086:30– 7:30 p.m. Kahului Public Library
Wednesday 12/3/086:30 – 7:30 p.m.Kihei Community Center
Thursday12/4/08 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.Wailuku Public Library
Friday 12/5/081:00 – 2:00 p.m.Hana Public Library
Monday12/8/086:30 – 7:30 p.m.Pukalani Community Center
Tuesday12/9/086:30 – 7:30 p.m.MCC Lahaina Education Center

Call the Center for directions: 662-3911

Karl Rhoads and Beach Weddings

What could be more romantic than saying your wedding vows, on a beach, in Hawaii? Well, it's not so romantic when the bride and groom are bogged down by red tape. Rep. Karl Rhoads has an issue with the complicated wedding permit system which has been on the books for six years, but is only now being enforced by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. You can read Adrienne LaFrance's story in this week's Honolulu Weekly. With our economy in trouble, Rep. Rhoads does not want to discourage the much needed business generated by wedding tourism. He hopes that DLNR will address these concerns without his having to propose new legislation.

"We have two months until the filing deadline," said Rhoads. "I hope it doesn't come to that; but if I have to file a bill, I will."

Rep phone numbers, room numbers now available

A directory of room numbers and phone numbers for the representatives of the 25th Legislature (2009-2010) was recently released.