Friday, May 27, 2011

Majority Leader Blake Oshiro next on Kukui Connection

Rep. Blake Oshiro, who serves as House Majority Leader, will be Rep. Marilyn Lee's next guest on "The Kukui Connection."

They'll be talking about:

*Balancing the budget as the legislature's top priority for 2011.

*Noteworthy bills such as temporarily eliminating the GET exemption for certain businesses who currently don't pay it, employee retirement benefit reform, mortgage foreclosure reform, and more.

*Changing to an appointed school board.

*Developing infrastructure for broadband technology.

*The upcoming APEC meeting. (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation)

*His job as House Majority Leader and what that entails.

Tune in this Sunday at 4 p.m. on Olelo channel 54. The show repeats on the following Sundays, June 5 and June 12.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Halawai: Where Leaders Gather

The Council of State Governments West (CSGWest) will hold its 64th annual meeting in Hawaii July 30th - August 2, 2011. CSGWest is a nonpartisan organization of 13 western state legislatures. Learn more on the CSGWest website.

State Representative Marcus Oshiro serves as the CSGWest chair and is co-host of the annual meeting with State Senator Brian Taniguchi. Honorary co-chairs are Speaker of the House Calvin Say and Senate President Shan Tsutsui. For more information on the meeting, check out the Hawaii 2011 CSGWest website.

Rep. Herkes raises funds for Red Cross disaster victims

Rep. Bob Herkes, Coralie Matayoshi from Hawaii Red Cross and Dan Youmans from AT&T
Breakfast With Bob Hawaii Red Cross Disaster Relief Effort

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rep. Belatti's April 2011 Newsletter

Rep. Belatti April 2011 Newsletter

Term limits vs. natural turnover

Rep. Kyle Yamashita made a interesting comment during the session that I've been meaning to follow up on. He observed that since he's been in office, elected in 2004, first session in 2005, over 50% of the seats in the House have changed. If 50% of the seats have changed in 7 years, how does that impact the argument for term limits as a legislative policy?

Here are the Representatives for the 2005 session (Rep. Yamashita's first session) compared to the Representatives for the 2011 session.

Below, the districts in BOLD are ones in which the 5epresentative has changed in the past 7 years. There are 27 changes out of 51 seats, which is indeed more than half.

District 1
Mark Nakashima (2011)
Dwight Takamine (2005)

District 2
Jerry Chang (2011)
Jerry Chang (2005)

District 3
Clift Tsuji (2011)
Clift Tsuji (2005)

District 4
Faye Hanohano (2011)
Helene Hale (2005)

District 5
Robert Herkes (2011)
Robert Herkes (2005)

District 6
Denny Coffman (2011)
Josh Green (2005)

District 7
Cindy Evans (2011)
Cindy Evans (2005)

District 8
Joseph Souki (2011)
Joseph Souki (2005)

District 9
Gilbert Keith-Agaran (2011)
Bob Nakasone (2005)

District 10
Angus McKelvey (2011)
Kam Tanaka (2005)

District 11
George Fontaine (2011)
Chris Halford (2005)

District 12
Kyle Yamashita (2011)
Kyle Yamashita (2005)

District 13
Mele Carroll (2011)
Mele Carroll appointed (2005)
Sol Kahoohalahala (2005)

District 14
Derek Kawakami appointed (2011)
Hermina Morita (2011)
Hermina Morita (2005)

District 15
James Kunane Tokioka (2011)
Ezra Kanoho (2005)

District 16
Dee Morikawa (2011)
Bertha Kawakami (2005)

District 17
Gene Ward (2011)
Gene Ward (2011)

District 18
Mark Hashem (2011)
Lyla Berg (2005)

District 19
Barbara Marumoto (2011)
Barbara Marumoto (2005)

District 20
Calvin Say (2011)
Calvin Say (2005)

District 21
Scott Nishimoto (2011)
Scott Nighimoto (2005)

District 22
Scott Saiki (2011)
Scott Saiki (2005)

District 23
Tom Brower (2011)
Galen Fox (2005)

District 24
Isaac Choy (2011)
Kirk Caldwell (2005)

District 25
Della Au Belatti (2011)
Brian Schatz (2005)

District 26
Sylvia Luke (2011)
Sylvia Luke (2005)

District 27
Corinne Ching (2011)
Corinne Ching (2005)

District 28
Karl Rhoads (2011)
Ken Hiraki (2005)

District 29
Joey Manahan (2011)
Jun Abinsay (2005)

District 30
John Mizuno (2011)
Dennis Arakaki (2005)

District 31
Linda Ichiyama (2011)
Glenn Wakai (2005)

District 32
Aaron Johanson (2011)
Lynn Finnegan (2005)

District 33
Blake Oshiro (2011)
Blake Oshiro (2005)

District 34
Mark Takai (2011)
Mark Takai (2005)

District 35
Henry Aquino (2011)
Alex Sonson (2005)

District 36
Roy Takumi (2011)
Roy Takumi (2005)

District 37
Ryan Yamane (2011)
Ryan Yamane (2005)

District 38
Marilyn Lee (2011)
Marilyn Lee (2011)

District 39
Marcus Oshiro
Marcus Oshiro

District 40
Sharon Har (2011)
Mark Moses (2005)

District 41
Ty Cullen (2011)
Jon Riki Karamatsu (2005)

District 42
Rida Cabanilla (2011)
Rida Cabanilla (2005)

District 43
Kymberly Pine (2011)
Kymberly Pine (2005)

District 44
Karen Awana (2011)
Michael Kahikina (2005)

District 45
Jo Jordan appointed in 2011
Maile Shimabukuro (2011)
Maile Shimabukuro (2005)

District 46
Gil Riviere (2011)
Michael Magaoay (2005)

District 47
Jessica Wooley (2011)
Colleen Meyer (2205)

District 48
Ken Ito (2011)
Ken Ito (2005)

District 49
Pono Chong (2011)
Pono Chong (2005)

District 50
Cynthia Thielen (2011)
Cynthia Thielen (2005)

District 51
Chris Lee (2011)
Tommy Waters (2005)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rep. Choy's May 2011 issue of Prevailing Winds

Prevailing Winds by Rep. Choy May 2011

Clamoring for Clams: A Mizuno Recipe

Putting clams on the dinner menu is imperative to enjoying the warm summer evenings.  In the second installment of our recipe series, Rep. John Mizuno shares with us a simple, quick and tasty dish made with Manila clams that you can incorporate into your family gatherings this summer!  

Clams with Black Bean Sauce

2 Tablespoons fermented black beans
2 tablespoons peanut oil
36 fresh manila clams
2 teaspoons crushed ginger
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
4 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons real butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons red chili pepper

Clean shells of clams. Soak the black beans in water, then mash half of the beans into paste. Put peanut oil in a large pan or wok on medium-high. Add the remaining half of beans, bean paste, clams, ginger, garlic, chili, wine, and butter. Heat for 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until clams open. Place cooked clams in large bowl and then pour remaining sauce over clams. This goes great with steamed rice.

All Recipes

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rep. Ichiyama's "Legislative Pork"

Rep. Linda Ichiyama may be a freshman, but she's already serving up some pork!

Slow-cooked, miso-shoyu style pork, that is. First in a series of mouth-watering recipes from the House Majority...

Miso Shoyu Pork


5 lbs. pork butt
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup shoyu
3/4 cup white miso paste
1 T. grated ginger (to taste)
1 T. grated garlic (to taste)

Instructions: Cut pork into medium-sized chunks. Place into a slow-cooker. Combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the pork. This will not cover the pork completely. Cook on "high" for 8 hours. Serve over rice.

This looks so delicious, you may want to "earmark" this page.

Prostitution bills passed; await enactment

Photo: Honolulu Star-Bulletin archive

Legislature passes bills to help crack down on prostitution

Honolulu, Hawaii. The Hawaii State Legislature passed two significant bills in the 2011 session related to prostitution crimes. If the bills become law, both will be in effect when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference convenes in Honolulu in November 2011, at which time government, tourism, and law enforcement officials expect a surge in prostitution activity and sex trafficking; security will be heightened.

HB44, introduced by Rep. Karl Rhoads, makes it a misdemeanor to offer or agree to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of sexual conduct within 750 feet of a school or public park. If enacted, the law takes effect on July 1, 2011.

HB240 makes various amendments to the prostitution offenses currently on the books. The bill amends section 28-101 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes authorizing the attorney general to include prostitution cases as one of those considered "greatest priority" when determining the funding for and the provision of witness security and protection. It increases the offense of promoting prostitution in the first and second degree to a class A and B felony respectively. It expands the offense of prostitution and solicitation of prostitution to cover patrons. The measure makes the offense of habitual prostitution a class C felony, and applies the law and raises the penalty for those who habitually patronize prostitutes. The current law sunsets on June 30, 2012. If enacted, the new law takes effect on July 1, 2011 and makes the law permanent.

"Together, HB 44 and HB 240 raise the stakes for pimps, sex traffickers and customers of prostitutes while adding protections for the prostitutes themselves who wish to testify against those who coerced them into the sex trade," said Rep. Rhoads. "HB 44 raises the penalty for johns soliciting prostitutes close to schools and parks. Our keiki should not have to run a gauntlet of pimps and johns when they go to school or to the park.”

The bills provide law enforcement with stronger laws behind them to fight prostitution.

Smoke free movies

A new ad appeared in the May 2011 edition of State Legislatures magazine.

It's sponsored by an organization called Smoke Free Movies, which protests the fact that states give away millions of dollars in tax credits to producers of movies that include smoking.

They claim that these movies have recruited more than 1 million teen smokers, and that the film tax credits and other subsidies only serve to undercut the millions of dollars that states also spend to fight tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

In the top 10 movies based on box office gross in the week of May 9, 3 out of the 10 included smoking. Here's the chart including the studio which produced them.

In the top 10 dvd rentals, 6 of the 10 included smoking. (They do differentiate between smoking and smoking with negative consequences.)

What are they asking states to do? Here is their proposed fix:

A campaign has started to ask states to reform their film credit program by denying subsidies to any production that includes smoking. For example, in January/February of 2011, California public health officials wrote a letter to the California film commission stating that it was "unconscionable" that one state program, the film commission, could be used to help undermine the work being done on tobacco prevention. They are asking that films that include smoking be ineligible for any taxpayer subsidies.

Washington State's Attorney General petitioned the Department of Commerce to amend their film subsidy rules to deny film subsidies to films that include smoking.

Apparently, the PG rated "Rango", an animated film starring the voice of Johnny Depp, set off major alarms with 60 instances of characters smoking and prompted the placement of the ad in Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Smoke free advocates are calling on the MPAA to change their rating policy and give an "R" rating for any movie that includes smoking.

"A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie," said Stanton Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco.

Good point or a bit of a stretch? Health policy vs. Creative censorship?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Women still face uphill battle to improve Hawaii labor laws

By Rep. Chris Lee

This following op-ed appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday, May 17, 2011

There is nothing more difficult than writing about women's issues — as a man.

It is often hard to understand the perspective of the opposite sex and the unique challenges women face daily. Yet, we must not lose focus on the ongoing inequities between men and women in workplaces throughout Hawaii. Closing this gender gap is an obligation that will benefit us all.

We have already come far. There were just three women in the Hawaii Legislature when Congresswoman Patsy Mink passed Title IX in 1972. Today there are 26. Changes to our laws and priorities have helped more women attend college, and today more women graduate than men.

Yet, for all our progress, working women still face frustrating obstacles and impossible choices. In March, after months of searching, my friend Stacie finally found a good job. She is now pregnant, but scared she cannot afford enough time off and will be forced to choose between her family and her career. It would help if her husband could stay home with their child, but his job does not offer paid paternity leave.

For women like Stacie, making ends meet can be even more difficult because, on average, a woman in Hawaii still makes $9,934 less each year than a man. This inequity hurts women and hurts our families. It especially hurts single mothers, and two out of three cannot afford basic necessities like food, rent and health care.

Women still face an uphill battle to improve Hawaii's labor laws. Despite strong advocates, bills to address equal pay in the workplace and help women balance dueling career and family expectations routinely take a back seat to other issues.

It does not help that only a third of our legislators are women. The Women's Caucus of the Democratic Party recently pointed out that women hold only two of 10 leadership positions in the state House. While having more female legislators might help address these issues, in the last two elections fewer than a third of all candidates were women. Unfortunately, many women I know who considered running ultimately decided against it because of family and financial commitments.

Despite this, more women are involved in political advocacy today than men and out-vote men in every election. Women under age 35 are the most active, and 7 percent more show up to the polls each year than their male counterparts.

The challenge is helping people understand how we can address ongoing gender inequity. Stacie votes in every election, but has never heard a candidate make women's issues a priority. Especially now, it is hard to campaign for better family leave, better benefits and higher pay when many people — men and women — do not even have jobs.

Yet, the gender gap women still face is basic discrimination that we simply cannot ignore. Women deserve the opportunity to pursue a successful career and be paid equally for their work. Both women and men deserve adequate benefits and time off to care for their families, who will be healthier and stronger for it.

Someday I hope to be a father, and I want a better life for my future wife and family. If we make these issues priorities today, it can happen.

Stacie is not sure how she will make ends meet if she leaves her job to care for her new baby. However, the next election is just around the corner and she plans to vote for a candidate who will help end discrimination against women in the workplace and put families first. So, too, do I.

Speaker Say: Reflections on the Session

The following commentary appeared on Civil Beat. Click here for entire post. You may have to be a subscriber to Civil Beat to see the end notations.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this commentary about the Regular Session of 2011.

My discussion focuses on the difficult decisions made by the Legislature to balance the state budget. I attempt to explain and defend the actions of the Legislature, particularly the House of Representatives.

Comprehensive Public Employees' Retirement System Reform

Before proceeding with the main substance, I would like to offer my prediction of what will ultimately be deemed the most important measure passed by the 2011 Legislature. This measure received relatively little publicity or media coverage during the session. Consequently, my emphasis on it may be surprising, a departure from conventional commentaries that trumpet more tangible, publicly appealing, and media friendly accomplishments. Yet, this measure in my estimation represents a significant pivot point in the future of Hawaii.

House Bill No. 1038 comprehensively reforms the public employees' retirement system benefit, contribution, and service provisions for public employees hired after June 30, 2012. HB 1038 has immediate beneficial impacts, resulting in cost savings to public employers of $54 million in fiscal year 2011-12 and $92 million in fiscal year 2012-13. More importantly, HB 1038 is intended to limit future increases of public employer contributions for the system and prevent such contributions from assuming greater and greater portions of the State's and counties' operating budgets. Because of the bill, Hawaii should be able to avoid public employee pension crises such as those currently experienced by California and other states. Future taxpayers will gain the most benefit from HB 1038, a far reaching piece of legislation.

The most credit for passage of HB 1038 should go to the Employees' Retirement System Board of Trustees and Executive Director, who initiated the measure, and Governor Abercrombie who fully supported it.

Beginning Co-Equal Priorities

The main substance of this commentary is the Legislature's actions toward achieving the two co-equal priorities I had submitted to you before the 2011 session convened.

One priority is to maintain the economic recovery and job growth. The other priority is to pass a balanced state budget that funds essential public health, safety, and education services without a general excise tax increase and without another mass state employee layoff. As of this writing, the State faces a budget gap of between $800 and $900 million over this and the next two fiscal years.

The Legislature was successful in achieving the latter priority, but less so regarding the first. The primary reason for the difference in success was the reality of the state budget crisis, which worsened as the session progressed. The lack of available revenues prevented the Legislature from funding tax credits or employment programs needed for immediate job opportunities.1

Balancing the Budget -- Balanced Approach

After session began, the commonly acknowledged general fund budget shortfall was estimated to be a little more than $800 million over three years. The shortfall was based on the Council on Revenues general revenue projection of December 29, 2010. Subsequent projections, however, substantially lowered the anticipated revenue, resulting in an exacerbation of the shortfall by another $500+ million.2

Faced with a $1.3 billion general fund shortfall in late March/early April, the Legislature took a balanced approach to resolving the problem.

First, to address the immediate shortfall of about $200 million in this current fiscal year 2010-11, the Legislature transferred $16 million from non-general funds to the general fund, appropriated $40 million in rainy day funds and $42 million in hurricane relief funds, and authorized the Governor to utilize another $75 in hurricane relief funds if necessary. Those legislative actions, along with restrictions and contract cancellations by the Administration, were deemed sufficient to resolve the problem for this current fiscal year.

Next, for the fiscal biennium 2011-13, the Legislature both reduced appropriations and raised revenues, the same balanced approach taken during the past two years. Requested appropriations were reduced by about $618 million. Revenue enhancements, such as tax exemption suspensions, tax deduction limitations, fee increases, and non-general fund transfers, totaled about $660 million.3 In general, the revenue enhancement measures were focused on generating revenue from higher-income persons, visitors, and special interests.

The Legislature acted responsibly, avoiding the positions advocated by extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. Contrary to what some may believe, the Legislature did not solely raise taxes to balance the budget. Nor did the Legislature rely solely on spending cuts that would have decimated public services. Neither did the Legislature resort to tax refund delays to "kick the budget can" down the road as was done by the past Administration.

I am confident that the state budget passed by the Legislature does indeed fund essential public health, safety, and education services.

Obviously, the Legislature would have liked to appropriate more funds for lower and higher education, social services, economic development, and other worthwhile public services. Doing so, however, would have required the raising of substantial taxes, resulting in diverting more capital from the private sector than conducive to economic recovery.

Absence of General Excise Tax Rate Increase/Suspension of Certain General Excise Tax Exemptions

Very important from my perspective, the Legislature was able to balance the state budget without a general excise tax rate increase.

As the major revenue generating alternative to such a rate increase, the Legislature passed SB 754. The bill suspends the general excise tax exemptions for certain persons and activities for two years. Basically, SB 754 promotes fairness and raises revenue in a manner less detrimental to the economy than a general excise tax rate increase.4

Absence of Pension Tax

The state budget also was balanced without imposing a tax on pensions, one of the revenue enhancement options initially proposed by the Administration.

The House did pass a bill imposing a tax on the pensions of higher-income taxpayers exclusively. It, however, failed in the Senate. Under the bill, the pension of only the following would have been taxed:

(1) A married person filing jointly with an income of $200,000 or more;

(2) A head of household with an income of $150,000 or more; or

(3) A person filing an individual return with an income of $100,000 or more.

Persons with less than those income levels would not have been taxed. This point was not adequately communicated by the media.

Despite unfair criticism, I believe that the House took the right course and displayed political courage in considering and fully discussing the issue.5

Economic Recovery and Jobs

To achieve the priority of immediate job growth, I had introduced bills to provide tax credits for new employees, curtail business tax deductions not directly related to employment, and utilize temporarily special funds for public service employment programs (such as using the legacy land special fund for conservation employment rather than property purchases). None of those bills passed, however, because the state funds necessary for the programs had to be channeled instead to balance the budget.

Nevertheless, the Legislature did lay the groundwork for continuing economic recovery.

At the initiation of the Governor, the Legislature in HB 200 appropriated $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011-12 and $1.0 billion in fiscal year 2012-13 for capital improvement projects. The appropriations will serve the dual purposes of improving infrastructure and providing jobs.6

Much was accomplished for the promotion of renewable energy, an area promising for economic development and necessary for reducing the export of dollars for fossil fuel purchases.7 For example, SB 1347 permits the spreading of renewable energy costs among a public utility's affiliates and ratepayers. Although the bill did not receive as much attention as SB 367, the undersea cable bill (which failed), SB 1347 has the potential for accelerating renewable energy development, particularly on the neighbor islands.

The Legislature also passed HB 1342, which provides for expediting of permits for broadband infrastructure, and HB 677, which requires the establishment of a food safety and security program for local farmers to enable sale of their produce. Both, hopefully, will set foundations for the telecommunication and agriculture industries to evolve and grow.

Governor Abercrombie's Leadership

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Governor Abercrombie for his leadership during the session. He was in the forefront, leading the effort to resolve the budget crisis and enact structural fringe benefit and tax reforms. Although he has been criticized by some for lack of success, I would disagree. By personal example, he showed courage and fortitude in attempting to achieve an ambitious agenda. To me, there is much more worth in a person who tries to reach many difficult goals, thereby heightening the risk of failure, rather than one who espouses few "easy" goals, thereby ensuring a pale "success". Governor Abercrombie, with his "New Day" leadership, is clearly the former.

About the Author: Representative Calvin K.Y. Say currently serves as the Speaker of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. Speaker Say is the first Chinese-American to serve as a Chamber Speaker.

Elected President of the National Speaker's Conference by his House (Assembly) Speaker colleagues across the nation in 1999, Speaker Say is now a senior member of the organization, and is nationally recognized as an expert on State budget issues and fiscal challenges.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rep. Jordan on Kukui Connection

Rep. Jo Jordan is the current guest on Kukui Connection, the weekly interview show hosted by Rep. Marilyn Lee. The series airs on Sunday, 4:00 p.m. on Olelo, Channel 54.

Rep. Jordan represents District 45 - Waianae, Makaha, Makua. She was appointed to the seat by Governor Abercrombie at the start of the legislative session and takes over for Maile Shimabukuro who was appointed to the Senate. Sen. Shimabukuro filled the Senate seat left vacant when Colleen Hanabusa won the U.S. Congressional seat, first district, in November, setting off a domino effect.

No stranger to local politics and community issues, Jordan served on the Waianae Coast neighborhood board for the past 13 years, the last two years as chair. She has also been active in various community groups and organizations - all good preparation for her work at the legislature.

Rep. Jordan is a tax accountant by profession, a background that served her well as a member of the House Finance Committee. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Human Services Committee and a member of Culture and the Arts, Hawaiian Affairs, and Health committees.

She talks about the diverse qualities of the communities in her district. Makaha, the resort development by financier Chinn Ho, has become more of an elderly community. Makua is primarily used by the military for training with very few residents. And Waianae struggles with homelessness and economic problems.

There are bright points too - especially the accomplishments and growth of Searider Productions at Waianae High School, and the offshoot corporate entity Makaha Productions which provides jobs and a creative skills path for Waianae graduates.

Considering her late start at the capitol, Rep. Jordan introduced about 20 bills, 2 of which made it all the way to conference. One bill died in the last 15 minutes before the deadline, and the other, HB1405 survived and passed the session. HB1405 requires the Office of Planning to establish a stateside system of greenways and trails.

Learn more about Rep. Jo Jordan on this coming Sunday, May 22nd.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Public housing agency cause of public housing woes"

The opinion below by Rep. Rida Cabanilla appeared in this morning's Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

I agree that public housing projects, such as Mayor Wright Homes, have lapsed into disrepair. The current situation must not and cannot be permitted to continue ("State owes Mayor Wright tenants," Our View, Star-Advertiser, April 25). However, the state Legislature is not to blame. For the past six years under the Lingle administration, there was no oversight and accountability of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA), which is responsible for the maintenance of public housing.

HPHA has consistently operated in violation of HRS 356D-43, which mandates that HPHA establish a rate of rent that will generate sufficient revenue to "pay all expenses of management, operation, and maintenance … to the end that the state low-income housing projects shall be and always remain self-supporting." It is because of severe mismanagement and non-conformity to the law that public housing projects are in the poor condition they are in now.

When HPHA was created in 2005, it was given powers to create rules necessary for the management and maintenance of its properties. While HPHA has made rules for these purposes, clearly these rules are not adequate. Its rules concerning the eviction process are so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to evict persons from public housing even when it is reasonably warranted. Furthermore, HPHA charges such a minuscule amount for rent that the state Legislature has been forced every year to appropriate millions of dollars to bail out and subsidize HPHA at the expense of taxpayers.

For fiscal year 2011, rental rates are projected to cover only 43 percent of operating expenses when state law mandates that it cover 100 percent of expenses — and this is not even including other financial obligations as noted in HRS 356D-43. At least 54 percent of tenants pay less than $300 per month for rent with utilities included. Further compounding this, some tenants refuse to pay their rent, resulting in $1.44 million owed in back rent and interest charges as of December.

The House Housing Committee has passed many bills that have tried to remedy this situation. However, HPHA has staunchly opposed every single one, blocking every single attempt to find a resolution. In the 2010 session, House Bill 2319 would have set a five-year residency limit in state-owned public housing in order to prevent individuals from being permanently dependent on what is intended to be temporary help.

Among bills this session, HB 231 would have established a two-year pilot program providing security for Mayor Wright Homes; HB 754 would have set a minimum $300 rent to help provide sufficient revenues to cover operations and maintenance of public housing; and HB 755 and HB 1573 would have simplified the eviction process. All these would have helped significantly, and I find it incredibly unconscionable, especially considering the dire situation that public housing projects are in, for HPHA to claim that this "determination of policy … is soundly within the board's purview" and that the Legislature should not intervene.

The House Housing Committee has tried for years to help HPHA and provide avenues to help rectify issues. Policies set forth by HPHA need to improve and HPHA must conform to state law. Furthermore, systemic issues are significantly exacerbating the gross ineffectiveness of HPHA and it must be addressed by the governor and HPHA's board. It is long overdue for HPHA to get its act together and long overdue for its board and the governor to ensure that it does so.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cheeseburgers in paradise

Left to right: Rep. Rida Cabanilla, Rep. John Mizuno, HPD Officer Erick Tanuvasa, Cheryl Walter, Yughette Lashay Baker, Tisha Woytenko

When Yughette Lashay Baker went missing in Texas last summer, her mother Cheryl Walter contacted the Houston police department to file a missing persons report. Yughette, who suffers from mental illness and requires medication found herself in Hawaii. She is unable to remember how she got here.

Honolulu Police Officer Erick Tanuvasa read the missing persons report on Yughette and recognized her as one of the homeless people he sees on his beat in Honolulu. He approached Yughette, but she was uncooperative at first. Officer Tanuvasa noticed that she liked to hang around McDonalds, so he would buy her cheeseburgers in order to win her trust.

The cheeseburgers worked. Soon, Yughette started talking with Officer Tanuvasa, and he became convinced that she was the woman from Texas. He called Cheryl Walter. Cheryl sent her picture to Honolulu, but it took months for Yughette to recognize her own mother. Optimistic that it was her, Cheryl scraped all the money she had and flew to Honolulu to be with her daughter.

Cheryl found Tisha Woytenko via the internet. Tisha heads the volunteer organization "Help the Hawaii Homeless", and Tisha helped Cheryl once she got to Honolulu. Together with Officer Tanuvasa's help, they located Yughette and the mother and daughter were reunited. Cheryl was able to get her back on medication, and health professionals confirmed that they saw Yughette as far back as last August but hadn't seen her since.

Tisha contacted Rep. John Mizuno and they enlisted help from Hawaii media to publicize Cheryl's need to raise money for a return ticket for Yughette. Within a couple of hours, an anonymous donor came forward with an airline ticket to Houston and paid the change fees for Cheryl.

Today, Rep. Mizuno presented certificates of appreciation to Officer Tanuvasa, Tisha Woytenko and Cheryl Walter for their humanitarian service and for helping the homeless, one person at a time. It is still unknown how Yughette ended up in Hawaii to begin with.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Strongest mortgage foreclosure law in the country

Senator Rosalyn Baker and Representative Robert Herkes with their respective staffs witness the signing of SB651.

That's what people are calling Hawaii's law on mortgage foreclosures after the Governor signed SB651 today.

Here is the bill's brief description:

Implements recommendations of the mortgage foreclosure task force by establishing a temporary mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program; authorizing conversion from nonjudicial to judicial foreclosure; amending sections relating to mortgage servicers; and amending the nonjudicial foreclosure process. Establishes mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution special fund. Makes an appropriation out of the compliance resolution fund. (CD1)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Governor signs HB865

New law increases freight fees to fund fight against invasive species

Governor Neil Abercrombie today signed House Bill 865 into law – a bill that increases the fee on the net weight of imported freight in order to strengthen the state's invasive species programs, including the improvement of inspections at airports and harbors.

The new law increases the fee from 50-cents to 75-cents for every 1,000 pounds of freight, or part thereof, brought into the state. The legislature determined that, due to insufficient funds, the state is unable to adequately inspect imports that may contain prohibited items and to stop the spread of invasive species throughout Hawaii. The increased funding will go toward programs on the inspection, quarantine and eradication of invasive species.

"Hawaii does not have adequate resources to fight invasive species, and this new law will help provide the funds needed by our state agencies," said Rep. Clift Tsuji, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee. "The threat of invasive species to our environment has become very serious. If we don't increase our inspection and eradication activities, our natural environment will rapidly deteriorate. This is an important bill because the spread of pests like the coqui frog and others will negatively impact our economy and quality of life."

The bill takes effect immediately upon approval.