Thursday, May 31, 2012

Majority Leader Pono Chong on the next "Kukui Connection"

Traditionally, at the end of the legislative session, Rep. Marilyn Lee interviews the House Majority Leader for an overview of the session.  This year is no exception, and Rep. Lee talks to Majority Leader Pono Chong, at left, on the next episode of "Kukui Connection".  The show airs on Friday, June 1st at 8:30 p.m. on Olelo Channel 54. It repeats on Sundays, June 3rd and June 10th at 4:00 p.m. on the same channel.

This is Rep. Chong's first year as Majority Leader, but he has served in the House for the past 8 years.  He represents District 49 - Maunawili, Olomana, Enchanted Lake, Kaneohe.

Some may not be aware that Rep. Chong started his legislative career as a staff member of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  He worked with that office for two years and has been able to draw from that experience in his past membership on the House Finance Committee and now as Majority Leader.

The representatives talk about the highlights of HB2012, the State Budget bill, and some of the key areas which lawmakers were able to restore now that the economy is recovering, albeit slowly.  Rep. Chong provides insight into some of the bills passed this year that will help economic growth.  They also touch upon the latest Council on Revenues projections, what the Council does, and how the projection will impact the budget process in the future.

The 2012 legislature passed some extremely important measures relating to health and upholding the safety net for Hawaii's poorest communities, including bills that address the closure of Hawaii Medical Center.

The show closes with some thoughts about the future and what needs to be addressed to provide a continued quality of life for Hawaii residents.

Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro on next Jordan's Journal

House Finance Chair, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, joins Rep. Jo Jordan on the next episode of "Jordan's Journal".  The show airs on Sunday, June 3rd, 8:30 p.m. on Olelo, Channel 54.  You can catch the repeat on Monday, June 4th, 1:00 p.m. and June 11, 1:00 p.m., on the same channel.

You can also watch the video here:

Rep. Jordan is a member of the House Finance Committee.  Together, they discuss the challenges of balancing the budget this year, restoring certain services now that the economy is slowly recovering, and the outlook for the next biennium.

They talk about the cooperative relationship this year between the legislature and the Governor's Office, and some of the key initiatives that were passed as a result.  Major steps were taken to restructure public employee benefits going forward.  Some important issues remain and will be taken up again next year, such as providing payments towards the state's unfunded liability for retiree benefits.

Rep. Oshiro will be the special guest at Rep. Jordan's upcoming Legislative Town Hall Meeting.  It will be held on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Waianae District Park Multi-purpose Room.  More information on that to come.

Rep. Jo Jordan's May 2012 Newsletter

Jordan Newsletter 2012 May

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Council downgrades forecast for FY2013

The Council on Revenues voted yesterday to lower the general fund revenue forecast for FY2012 from 7.5% to 5.3% growth.  According to House Finance Chair, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, this translates to a potential loss of approximately $110 million. Here is the news report from Hawaii News Now:

Monday, May 21, 2012

East Honolulu invited to Lawmakers Listen

Rep. Mark Hashem, serving District 18 - Hahaione, Kuliouou, Niu Valley, Hawaii Loa Ridge, Aina Haina, Wailupe, Kahala, is holding a Lawmakers Listen on:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
6:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Aina Haina Elementary

Rep. Hashem gives a capitol tour for students from Hahaione Elementary

Vice Speaker Joey Manahan, Majority Leader Pono Chong, and Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro will also be there to provide information on the legislative session, balancing the budget, and important bills that passed the 2012 session.

The House majority holds Lawmakers Listen meetings as an opportunity to go out into the communities, receive feedback, and listen to the issues that most concern the people.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rep. Jo Jordan and Charleen Aina - Part 2

On the next "Jordan's Journal", Rep. Jo Jordan continues a fascinating discussion with State Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina on the passage of SB2783, the OHA settlement bill, and why the legislature was key to the entire process.

The show airs on Sunday, May 20th, 8:30 p.m. on Olelo Channel 54.  It repeats on the same channel, Monday, May 21st and May 28th, both dates at 1:00 p.m.

Or, watch it here:

Monday, May 14, 2012

HB1875 and Attorney Affirmations

Today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser includes a story on HB1875, an update of the mortgage foreclosure law passed last year, which includes a section on attorney affirmations.  The story is about the concerns of local attorneys to this section of the bill.  Rep. Bob Herkes, the introducer of the bill, responds.  You can read the full story here.

Please note that a previous blog post printed the story in its entirety.  The Star-Advertiser requested that we not post the entire story and, instead, provide a summary of the story with a link.  I appreciate their position given that the stories on their website are copyright protected.

So, to complement the story and to give you further background on the issue of the attorney affirmations, here is a copy of Rep. Herkes written comments that were provided to media and were also submitted to the House Journal:

HB1875 CD1 Rep. Herkes' Further Written Comments:
In a recent news release this week from the US Department of the Treasury, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network found that Hawaii ranks #2 in the nation for Mortgage Loan Fraud.  Speaker, Hawaii’s people are a prime target for predatory lending.  And when they can’t pay, the banks further strip them of their dignity when they foreclose.  Act 48 gives them a shot at mitigating the damages to homeowners, their families, and our communities.  This bill strengthens the ground-breaking work of Act 48.
I also want to elaborate further on the Attorney Affirmation that is in this bill.
In New York State, foreclosures are only allowed judicially.  Based upon the experience the New York Courts have had with the pervasive fraud perpetuated in their system during the foreclosure crisis, the Chief Administrator of their statewide court system determined it was necessary to impose a requirement that is almost verbatim to the language adopted in this CD.
When speaking on the affirmation requirement, the Chief Justice of the New York State Courts explained in article published in the New York Law Journal on October 21, 2010:   
"We feel we have an obligation to make sure the attorneys do their due diligence and come to us with credible papers because the consequences [of wrongful foreclosures] are so great. . . . I think this makes clear to everybody the court system's absolute commitment that we are not going to allow anything to interfere with the integrity of the court process[.] . . . We want to make sure that everyone is focusing like a laser on these particular types of proceedings[.] . . . .It puts them on notice. That's what this is all about. We all have to make doubly sure that we are doing what we should be doing in the first place[.] . . . [W]e cannot allow the courts in New York State to stand by idly and be party to what we now know is a deeply flawed process. "
The article quoted one New York judge, who explained:  "[S]ome lawyers appearing before him have admitted to signing documents at a rate of 'hundreds a week and thousands a month, and the notary wasn't even in the room[.]"
According to the article, unlike the Hawaii State Bar Association, "The New York State Bar Association welcomed the new requirement.  Its president, Stephen P. Younger, said in a statement that 'the chief judge has taken swift steps to address a nationwide problem in foreclosure actions. The New York State Bar Association applauds any effort to preserve and maintain the integrity of the foreclosure process'.
This approach is not only taken in New York State, but also two major counties in the State of Ohio.  Despite court challenge, these attorney affirmation requirements in New York and Ohio still stand.
By filing all their foreclosures in courts, the banks have essentially clogged up our judiciary with countless fraudulent claims – preventing our courts from swiftly disposing of other more legitimate claims.
The attorney affirmation requirement will limit the use of the judicial process to only those lenders with proper legal standing. 
There is no attorney affirmation requirement in the non-judicial process.  Lawyers uncomfortable signing the affirmation can advise their clients to go the non-judicial route.
As a result, we may see use of the dispute resolution program as the only viable alternative.  Nevertheless, that process requires banks to show their paperwork that would establish standing.  The reaction of the banks should help us determine just how pervasive their problems with legal standing are.
In earlier testimony, the Hawaii Bar Association claimed there was no empirical evidence that would warrant the attorney affirmation.  I beg to differ.  An audit by the San Francisco County Recorder's, as reported in the NY times in mid February 2012, found that 84 % of the foreclosure files they reviewed were done illegally; with two-third's of those with 4 separate instances of fraud or irregularity.
This requirement is necessary to protect homeowners against banks who’ve cheated.  Too often, the banks win on default because the homeowners don’t know what defenses to make. 
We are still in a foreclosure crisis.  A recent article by the Associated Press dated March 14, 2012, noted that RealtyTrac projects foreclosures to rise by twenty-five per cent this year.   Placing a 5 year limit should appease the concerns of the bar association and other legislators while we do what is necessary to protect Hawaii's homeowners from lender fraud during this foreclosure crisis. 
This requirement is not as unorthodox as the opponents suggest.  Hawaii's Rules of Court on Probate has an attorney affirmation requirement, Rule 5(b).
The bar association testifies that there are "existing safeguards to ensure the integrity of the judicial foreclosure process; and that sanctions for misconduct already exist and are effective."  However, a recent order from Judge Seabright in Hawaii's federal district court (March 29, 2012 p. 13 on Civil No. 11-00632 JMS/RLP) determined that the lender did not have legal standing, and admonished the lender's attorney for failing to verify such standing.  The judge said:  “This dismissal does not prevent Plaintiff from performing due diligence (as it should have before filing the instant complaint) to determine whether and how it validly received the Mortgage and Note and bringing a new action seeking foreclosure."  [Emphasis added.]
Clearly, this order - coming out just last month - proves that the problem of standing is alive and well and infecting countless foreclosure files – if detected.
Enacting the attorney affirmation requirement should significantly curb the rate of fraudulent judicial filings by requiring, as Judge Seabright suggests, that lawyers first determine whether their clients have legal standing before seeking foreclosure.
It's clear that "existing safeguards" did not prevent the lender's attorney in this case from filing a foreclosure action – perhaps because they did not expect a homeowner to challenge standing or a court to make the inquiry.
If lenders' attorneys have actually verified legal standing, they should have nothing to fear by signing such an affirmation.
Opponents to the attorney affirmation cite to one NY case that held the affirmation requirement was "invalid."  LaSalle Bank, NA v. Pace, 919 N.Y.S. 2d 794 (N.Y. sup. 2011).  However, this was a ruling by a trial level court so its application is extremely limited to Suffolk County in New York.  The analysis by that court rendered the requirement invalid not for any of the reasons cited by the bar association, but because it felt the Chief Administrator of Courts had overstepped his authority by instituting the requirement.  The case discusses at length how its analysis would have been different if the requirement were a legislative act. 
Nevertheless, the requirement is still in effect in all of the rest of New York; as well as in two counties in Ohio where it has also survived challenge.
It's easy to know when a borrower defaults on his or her mortgage.  And it is happening more and more in this faltering economy – an economy we can lay blame upon the behemoth banks for creating.  But we shouldn't allow the very same banks to foreclose on people's homes because they are stealth about hiding the multiple ways they've cheated. 
We must do what we can to ensure that homeowners at risk of foreclosure face a just resolution.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jordan's Journal - Charleen Aina, Part 1

Charleen Aina, State Deputy Attorney General, was the lead state attorney on the recent OHA settlement case, in which the state has agreed to transfer 25 acres of prime Kakaako Makai land valued at over $200 million to OHA - the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  The agreement, signed into law as Act 015, resolves all disputes and controversies relating to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' portion of income and proceeds from the Public Trust Lands between November 7, 1978 and June 30, 2012.

Rep. Jo Jordan talks with Aina on the next Jordan's Journal.  Aina has been with the Attorney General's Office since 1976 and has worked on a variety of high profile state issues.  It was through her assignment with the Governor's Office that she started to learn about the complex settlement.  You can watch Part I here, or on Olelo, Channel 54, Monday, May 14th, at 1:00 p.m.

According to Aina, in order to understand the settlement, you do have to go back to 1978 when Hawaii had its last constitutional convention.  The adoption of a section to the Constitution specifying the State's obligation to the native Hawaiian people, per the Admissions Act, when Hawaii became a state, was at the heart of the now past dispute.

As usual, the time flew by, so Rep. Jordan asked Aina to stay for a second taping resulting in Part II.  Part II with Charleen Aina airs later in May.  Stay tuned.

Rep. Kawakami Showcases Kauai Products

KITV has been "Island Hopping" this week, and today's focus was the beautiful island of Kauai.  Rep. Derek Kawakami (District 14 - Hanalei, Anahola, Kealia, Kapaa, Waipouli) stopped by the studio this morning to talk story with Jill Kuramoto, and then to present a wonderful array of Kauai products, just in time for last minute Mother's Day shopping.  What a great ambassador for the Garden Island!

Rep. Kawakami and the KITV morning news crew

If you missed it, watch the two segments here:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Session to Remember

It seems like only yesterday when I came to the Capitol –for the first time ever- to interview for the Communications Assistant position. A lot has happened between that day in January and today and I would like to share some of it. I’ve worked in some pretty interesting places and with some great people, but my experience at the Capitol has truly been special.

Working at our State’s political epicenter was a real treat. On a daily basis, tourists stop by to take pictures, schools come for fieldtrips, and there is at least one group/organization holding an event to voice its message. The one day these people go to the Capitol means a great deal to them. The significance is not lost on me. It is humbling to get paid to come to such a place. Being a lover of food, having Downtown located next door at the HISAM is also a huge bonus.

The workplace is top notch, but the job itself is even better. I’ve had a lifelong passion for civics, policy, and government. I also have a serious interest in the environment and agriculture and love to write. This job has allowed me to learn more about the things I care about and do a lot of writing.

An advantage of working in the Communications Office rather than for a member of the Legislature is that I was able to see more of what took place. One of my favorite duties was being the photographer/blogger for floor presentations. Floor presentations are held from January through early April, pretty much on a daily basis, at the start of Session. These presentations recognize people from all walks of life that have contributed to making Hawaii a better place. This session alone we honored both of Hawaii’s U.S. Senators, several educators, military personnel, kupuna, and even a high school student who identified an enzyme that is a precursor to cancer! Everything the camera sees I get to see as well. Writing blog posts on the presentations and other significant events allows me to process the information and relay it to whoever may be interested.

You can have a cool job in an awesome place, but the people you work with/for have the biggest impact on your happiness. The people truly make the place. From the two amazing ladies in my office, to the fulltime and session staffers, to the Representatives themselves, the people have made the Capitol a place I want to be.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about my boss, House Communications Director, Georgette Deemer. She’s smart, dedicated, fair, personable, and very, very good at what she does. She allowed me to follow committees and legislation that I have an interest in, was always available to help me if I had any questions, doesn’t micromanage, allowed me to tackle progressively challenging assignments, and always gave me credit for my work. Thelma Dreyer, the Assistant Communications Director has been a dream to work with. She’s smart, a great writer, really fun and friendly, and helped me tremendously.

This experience has been, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had at a job. I looked forward to coming to work every day, learned so much, and feel that I’ve accomplished something. My position was only for the session, so my time here is done for now. I’m looking forward to having a great “offseason” and, hopefully, coming back next year. Mahalo to everyone for making this a session to remember. 

Serving the Public as a Life-Long Mission

Professor Susan Chandler with Rep. Takumi

Serving the public is a concept and practice that our legislators live day in and day out. For some, a springboard for launching or strengthening a career in public service means obtaining a Master's of Public Administration degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Public Adminstration Program (PUBA). Benefits of the program, which began in 1984, include not only a relevant curriculum and opportunities to interact with public leaders, but also lasting friendship and career connections with peers. Some notable graduates of PUBA include former Honolulu Fire Department Chief Attilio Leonardi and OHA Trustee Haunani Apoliona, as well as the legislature's own Rep. Roy Takumi (D-36).

PUBA held its alumni and awards event on Thursday, April 21, at UH Manoa's Andrews Amphitheatre. The program awarded its first-ever distinguished alumnus award to Rep. Takumi. Professor David Nixon, Acting Director of PUBA, says Rep. Takumi has "made such a difference in the community."

On being the recipient of the PUBA award, Rep. Takumi jokes, "Did I draw the short straw?"  But humor aside, Rep. Takumi is no stranger to accomplishment, having been awarded the prestigious Flemming Fellowship in 1997, given to emerging political leaders in the country. In 2001, Rep. Takumi received the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellowship for his work in connecting local and global issues. He is the first legislator from Hawaii to receive both of these nationally-recognized awards. Rep. Takumi has been recognized as a leader in education reform and received the Legislator of the Year award in 2004 from the Friends of the Library and the Friend of Education award from the University of Hawaii’s College of Education in 2005.

For more information about UH-Manoa's Public Administration Program, please visit or call 956-8260.

Photos courtesy of Rep. Tom Brower. 

Top 10 Reasons to Vote for the Budget

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, Chair of the House Finance Committee, listed the Top Ten Reasons to vote for HB2012, the state budget bill. 

1. $250,000 for childhood obesity programs
2. $1 million for the freeway service patrol
3. $1.4 million for 19 positions and expedited turnaround for low income housing rental units.
4. $5 million for watershed program
5. $3.3 million adult education programs
6. $3.4 million for Justice Reinvestment programs
7. $22.9 million for Medicaid payments
8. $26 million for UH West Oahu and $3 million for new bookstore and dining room
9. $700,000 for Na Pua No'eau
10. $14 million for DOE's Weighted Student Formula and $25 million for school bus transportation

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Foreclosure Reform Bill Passes Final Floor Vote

House Bill 1875 HD2 SD2 CD1, amending the mortgage foreclosure law to provide additional protections for Hawaii’s homeowners, passed its final floor vote before the full House and Senate today with a combined vote of 73 Ayes and 3 Noes.

"Once again, we won one for the homeowners, and I couldn't be more pleased," said Rep. Robert Herkes (District 5 – Puna, Ka'u, South Kona, North Kona) who serves as the Chair of the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.  "The bill we passed last year had its critics, but our primary focus was always on helping and protecting the homeowner."

Last Session, Governor Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 651 into law as Act 48 to protect Hawaii owner-occupants from predatory tactics of financial lending institutions.

The mortgage foreclosure task force – a legislatively created group composed of stakeholders with diverse interests including consumer advocates and professionals representing and affected by the mortgage industry, did a thorough, comprehensive analysis of Act 48.  Their recommendations to refine Act 48 and to otherwise preserve the intent and spirit of the law were presented in HB1875.

The task force recommended that the legislature:  (1) temper the provision relating to the Unfair Deceptive Acts or Practices (UDAP) law so lenders need not fear UDAP liability for minor violations;  (2) make permanent the process allowing owner-occupants to convert their non-judicial foreclosure to a judicial foreclosure; (3) establish a separate non-judicial foreclosure and lien collection process for associations; (4) give similar rights and obligations to planned community associations; (5) provide specific language for informational notices to the public on the foreclosure process; and (6) provide technical clarifications and improvements of various provisions in Act 48.

The legislature adopted virtually all of the task force recommendations – with a few modifications and further amendments. 

The bill fully repeals the Part I non-judicial process which was the mechanism used to non-judicially foreclose on homeowners before its moratorium under Act 48.

Under HB1875, a comprehensive lien collection and foreclosure process for condominium, homeowner, and planned community associations is established, which is in harmony with Hawaii's mortgage foreclosure process.

The bill also calls for lenders' attorneys filing judicial foreclosures on residential property to sign an affirmation stating that she or he verified the bank's legal standing as well as the accuracy of the documents submitted to court.  This requirement is akin to a court rule that has been applied to all judicial foreclosures in New York State. 

The publication requirements for auction notices will also be revised to encourage competitive pricing while balancing the need for broad dissemination of auction information. 

State agencies will also be authorized to publish auction notices electronically for a significantly lower price than print notices; so long as one print notice (as opposed to three) is published at least two weeks prior to an auction sale.  The DCCA will spearhead this effort by creating a website for property subject to the dispute resolution program. 

House Bill 1875 also makes the dispute resolution program permanent.

HB1875 may be viewed at:

Kukui Connection: Adrianna Ramelli

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In observance of this designation, Rep. Lee welcomes Adrianna Ramelli, Executive Director of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center of Hawaii, on the next episode of Kukui Connection.

In the episode, Ms. Ramelli provides some background on the treatment center, gives a rundown of the services they offer, and talks about what constitutes sex abuse. Started in 1976, the Sex Abuse Treatment Center of Hawaii offers 24/7 crisis care, medical services, counseling, legal support, a 24-hour hotline, and provides a host of prevention tools and information on their website.

Rep. Lee and Ms. Ramelli end the episode on a lighter note, discussing Adrianna's unique background and interesting personal story.

The episode can be seen on Olelo Channel 54 on the following dates and times:

Friday, May 4 at 8:30pm
Sunday, May 6 at 4:00pm
Sunday, May 13 at 4:00pm