The Rotunda

Politics and policy from the public perspective
The Hawaii Independent

Unusual support for bigger government

House republicans like Rep. Bob McDermott are usually against government spending and control over programs. This may not be true when it comes to a proposed government takeover of the nonprofit Hawaii Health Connector.

Photo: screenshot from a Hawaii Health Connector commercial.

According to a Feb. 12 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, just 3,614 people have enrolled in Obamacare via the nonprofit Hawaii Health Connector exchange. The number that actually paid for their policies is likely even less. Despite the fact that Hawaii has had exceptionally low numbers of uninsured individuals historically, mostly due to the Pre Paid Health Care Act of 1974, this may still be problematic for the nonprofit.

According to, representative Bob McDermott and other members of the House Consumer Protection Committee are considering seven different bills that would “reform” the exchange, as well as launch a state government take-over of the nonprofit at a cost of $15 million a year to maintain.

That’s an operations figure for 2015 that was mentioned by Hawaii Health Connector executive director Tom Matsuda at several legislative briefings. Matsuda also stated, however, that the figure is a rough estimate. The actual figure could end up being less after the Connector finishes three different audits: one internal, one by a federal oversight office and one by the state.

McDermott and the House republicans would normally be against such a move because of the increased state spending and, especially, because of the increased role of the state government in health care. Which is why his comment regarding the proposal surprised us.

“The exchange is already costing taxpayers $204 million, and the added bureaucracy is increasing costs for consumers and adding more layers for them to go through to get health care,” McDermott said.

The $204 million figure is the amount the Federal government gave the state to set up the exchange, which needs to be self-sufficient by 2015. The nonprofit exchange had planned to achieve this through the fees charged during the registration of some 300,000 Hawaii residents by 2015, a goal they appear to be falling far short of.

According to a spokesperson for Connector, the goal of enrolling 300,000 individuals by 2015 was an early estimate made by the previous executive director, but that the projection has since been scaled back. The uninsured population of Hawaii is between 8 and 10 percent, or about 100,000 lives, according to a report from the Hawaii Primary Care Association and another used by the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Additionally, a number of those uninsured will be Medicaid eligible, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a legislative hearing on Dec. 9, 2013, Matsuda said the new goal for enrollment was closer to 50,000, broken down as 40,000 individuals and 10,000 employees.

That employee number is important because, unlike other states which can push back the Affordable Care Act employer mandate, Hawaii has a small business health options program (SHOP), which forces the state to establish an additional SHOP exchange portal to comply with the Pre-Paid Health Care Act.

Meanwhile, Senate president Donna Mercado Kim is against a state take-over of the exchange, calling that option a financial “black hole.”

Maybe a government take over would address the “increasing costs for consumers” and decrease the “layers for them to go through to get health care,” but it’s still shocking to hear those words came out of McDermott’s mouth, of all people. This is, after-all, the same rep who says that the state Department of Education is too incompetent to create an “accurate” and “appropriate” sexual health curriculum for its high school students.


New home birth bill language a victory for all citizens

Sen. Josh Green's new home birth bill heeds emotional public testimony from mothers, midwives and traditional healers. But the victory is much bigger than that.

Senator Josh Green was a physician before he was a legislator. As chair of the Senate Health Committee (HTH), he had proposed a bill (SB 2569) that would have required home birth providers to be licensed beginning on 7/1/2015, to keep records and to meet minimum educational and training requirements through a home birth safety board. Advocates for the bill say that it would make home births, which are not currently regulated, safer for women and their babies.

On Monday though, the bill attracted hours of emotional testimony from mothers, midwives, native Hawaiians, traditional healers and conventional doctors. Afterward, Green said the level of passion in the testimony took him by surprise.

Today, he announced that he would go ahead with a Health Committee proposal to gut the original language from his own bill and replace it with language that would create a taskforce comprised of varied stakeholders including mothers who have given birth at home, traditional healers and midwives and physicians to discuss the issue together.

“At this point, [the bill] doesn’t place any mandates on anybody and leaves absolutely open a discussion for all members of this particular discipline—that of delivering babies,” said Green about the new language.

While this is an obvious victory for the women, midwives and traditional healers who testified against the original bill on Monday, the real victory is bigger than that. Through the legislative process of public hearings and testimony, the voice of the public was not just heard, but heeded.

“I suggest you continue to stay involved and that you let people know that if you get involved, you’ve got more power,” said republican Senator Sam Slom. “This is, after all, a government of the people, and you are the people. Had you all not come the other day, I guarantee the government would be in your birthing room.”

Today’s proceedings are a sign that, although the legislative process often seems like a brick wall for the public; that although testimony often appears to be ignored, this is not always the case. It is possible to influence our legislators and bend them to our will. It is therefore as important as ever to show up and testify with as many like minded citizens as possible to make legislators listen to the will of the people—whether it be over Kakaʻako, Koʻolau Loa, the ʻEwa plain, GMOs, ʻiwi kupuna, the Thrity Meter Telescope, houselessness or liveable wages.

The recommendation to change the language of the bill to that of implementing a taskforce was passed unanimously by the HTH as well as the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection (CPN) and the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. The language must be completed and filed with the Senate clerk by Thursday night in order to make it’s next referral date on Friday.

The joint CPN and HTH committees also passed several other bills out of committee at today’s hearing: SB 2574, which broadens the type of care-providers who can be licensed to prescribe medical marijuana; SB 3085, which appropriates funds for a forensic facility; and SB 3064, which allows the state to partner with non-profit hospitals.

BOR Presidential Search Committee to look locally

Community and stakeholder input calls for local candidates to the next University of Hawaii president.

In a statement released Friday, University of Hawaii Board of Regents Presidential Search Committee Chair Carl Carlson (pictured) said that the committee has decided to narrow their search to a local candidate and are, therefore, unsure whether spending money on acquiring search help from a national firm is still necessary.

Below is the statement:

Having carefully listened to and considered stakeholders’ and the public’s input, the committee has focused on significantly narrowing the search to a local candidate or candidates and, as a result, has been weighing the necessity of spending public funds on a search firm.

The committee is spending its time carefully evaluating and exploring alternative paths in moving forward in the best interests of the university. It is better for the committee to go through this process, albeit lengthy, than rushing into spending tens of thousands of dollars on a search firm.

The committee is composed of volunteers who’ve devoted tremendous time and effort, at no cost to the state, to ensuring this process is conducted properly and responsibly.

We do have applicants. We also have a good description of an individual, contained in the selection criteria which was endorsed by the committee at its last meeting.

We will make a decision at the meeting on January 30th. It is on the agenda. That decision will likely determine the timeline.

Here is the criteria adopted by the Search Committee for the next president.

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Abercrombie’s state of the State

In the beginning of an election year, Governor Abercrombie describes progress made and priorities for his administration.

Below is the text of the Governor’s speech, delivered at 10 a.m. today.

2014 State of the State Address

Madame President, Mister Speaker, members of the Hawaii State Legislature, former governors, distinguished justices of the courts, mayors, representatives of our Congressional Delegation, other elected officials, honored guests, family and friends. Aloha.

As we begin our session I ask that we setaside our political preoccupations and reflect on the privilege we have to serve and the responsibility to look to horizons beyond our own concerns. I ask that we begin today with a moment of silence to honor Hawaii NationalGuard Sgt. Drew Scobie of Kailua, who died earlier this month in Afghanistan. He was only 25 years old. He leaves behind his wife, his 4-year old son, and another child yet to be born. Our hearts and best thoughts are with his family during this time. On March 25, the Legislature will hold its Joint Session for the Hawaii Medal of Honor Ceremony to recognize fallen soldiers with Hawaii ties. I, and I think everyone here, want to work for the day when we have no more fallen to recognize for their ultimate sacrifice, no more families to console for their loss. But, prior to that day, I ask for us to join in a moment of silence and reflection in honor of Sgt. Scobie and his family.


When I entered office, we issued a call for a New Day in Hawaii. We presented and implemented a plan that has guided this administration and our state over the last three years through difficult times. We faced hard choices and had to make tough decisions. I am gratefulfor the Legislature’s collaboration as we navigated through troubled waters. The question before us then, is – what direction shall we now set oursights?

Where do we see our Hawaii – our people, our keiki and kupuna, our aina, and our businesses – in the future? To answer that core question, we need look no further than our island values. We must be trustees with a duty not just in the present, but to the long-term future of our islands. We must be stewards with a responsibility to protectour identity and our precious human and natural resources to become more self-sufficient.

The State Budget
For three years, we have strategically managed our resources, endured shared sacrifices, made fiscally prudent decisions, and have seen our economy improve. This has resulted in a general fund balance of $844 million in fiscal year 2013, a historically unprecedented figure that represents a turnaround of more than $1 billion since 2010! I want to extend my appreciation to the Legislature for helping to make some of those tough decisions, our public sector employees who made sacrifices, and the people and businesses of Hawaii whose faith and patience made this effort possible.

I am able to report to you, our state government’s financial house now stands on solid ground.

We are now entering a new phase. The administration’s package and supplemental budget do not rely on any new taxes or fees! On the contrary, as you will see, I believe we may be able to reduce taxes in key areas. We have the resources to deliver services to the people of Hawaii while living within our means. And, what is most important, is my administration’s budget philosophy ensures our budget is sustainable.Our financial plan accommodates fluctuations in revenue projections in the years to come.

We are stabilizing future costs and expenditures. We are concluding collective bargaining agreements, several of which are for multiple years. We have taken affirmative action in addressing our state’s unfunded liabilities – for medical benefits for retirees – and pensions, salvaging both from fiscal disaster.

We are committed to strengthening the finances of the state with a plan that builds our state reserves up to 10 percent of general fund revenues. These reserves will allow us to weather possible future economic downturns and to guard against the public service cutbacks of the recent past.

Financial rating agencies recognize our efforts and have improved their outlook assessment from negative to “stable” to “positive.” What then of the future? I shall outline a few central elements for your attention this morning, and I will address other issues in more detail – such as housing, agriculture, and energy – though messages to you in the days immediately following.

Early Childhood
There is no more critical issue before us than early childhood development and education. I look forward to strengthening relationships with the private and nonprofit sectors by the passage of the constitutional amendment to provide for partnerships in early education. I appreciate the Legislature’s support last session for our expansionof the Preschool Open Doors program.

Administrative rules are nearly complete. The program envisions providing assistance to 1,200 families of 4-year-old children that will no longer be eligible to attend kindergarten as of Aug. 1 this year.

This modest approach is not enough. Some 5,000 4-year-olds will be affected by this change in the age-requirement. Some families have the financial capacity to afford the average pre-school rate of $8,100 per year. Many middle income families will struggle and have to make difficult choices. Most lessor-income families will be precluded from the option of making any choices.

We know that the early years of a child’s development are crucial in setting the foundation for a child’s behavior and lifelong learning. From birth to age 5 more than 85 percent of a person’s brain development takes place. An alarming number of our children are entering school without the basics needed to succeed in school, such as, wanting to read, vocabulary acquisition, and learning how to behave within a group.

Investing in our children’s early years will pay dividends down the road in the form of healthy and contributing adults, reduced crime and incarceration, and less dependency on social services.

We invest in ourselves by investing in early childhood education.

Our plan is to build and strengthen Hawaii’s mixed-delivery system of early learning programs.  Community-based preschools are now and will be a key component. To expand access for 4-year-olds, we are proposing direct services in 32 classrooms across the state, half of which are on the neighbor islands.

We are seeking additional resources for Family-Child Interaction Learning programs. We are proposing support for families who participate in Preschool Open Doors. These requests total approximately $8 million. Our plan is targeted, aimed at helping those who otherwise have little or no options. These initial investments will serve an additional 1,040 children and their families.

I realize this is an election year. Political agendas and ambitions are being formulated. But let us take children out of these equations. Let us resolve – all of us – to be champions of children. You have my pledge and my word on that.

Minimum Wage
Our unemployment has improved to the fifth lowest in the nation. Three years ago, the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund was practically bankrupt. Our progress over the last three years has allowed us to reduce Unemployment Insurance tax rates for 2014 by 35 percent. Employers will pay $130 million less in taxes, or $300 less per employee on average for 2014.

A hard-working sector in our community has gone seven years without seeing their wages rise. Therefore, I will be proposing a bill to increase the minimum wage by $1.50 to at least $8.75starting in January 2015. Average weekly earnings have increased 16 percentsince 2007. For minimum wage workers, it’s zero. Currently, 21 other states plus the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates than Hawaii while our minimum wage earners are confronted by much higher living costs.

It is a myth that increases to the minimum wage just benefits entry level workers, mostly teenagers. In Hawaii, 85 percent of minimum wage earners are 21 years old or older. The last four times the minimum wage was raised, on average, the number of jobs increasedby of 2.2 percent over the following 12 months. Twenty percent of our children under six years of age, or 22,000 keiki, live in low-income working families.

I am aware the issue of tip credit in the hospitality/restaurant service sector was the stumbling block last year. I am prepared to accept a reasonable accommodation on this point. Employeeswho earn tips, as I did waiting tables at Chuck’s Steak House in Waikiki, have the opportunity to earn tips and to add to their income. Minimum wage earners in other jobs do not. They cannot offset any deductions. Let’s move quickly and resolutely on this issue.

Homelessness is an issue for which there is no simple answer. In 2011, I established the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness. The council is comprised of state department directors, federal agency representatives and community, religious, and business leaders. Mayors and county councils across the state are united in coming to grips with this issue. On Oahu, where the need is greatest, we could not have a better partner than Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the City Council lead by Council Chair Ernie Martin.

In December, the interagency council submitted an action plan to you for your consideration. We must now deliver on the Council’s plan; for example, by giving support to the “Housing First” program, which houses and cares for the chronically homeless and those who suffer from a disability. Housing First, an evidence-based best practice, is being used in Denver, Seattle and Utah. It has established that providing housing and support services under this mode saves taxpayers money and reduces homelessness.

When I took office, many inmates served their sentences out of state. This sent Hawaii dollars out of state and took many inmates away from appropriate facilities and alternative programs here in the islands. In addition, it often decreased the chances of successful rehabilitation as prisoners were away from their families. Hawaii had no plan or commitment to do or act otherwise.

Nearly 2,000 prisoners were in Mainland facilities. At the end of the last fiscal year, we reduced that number by 600. Startingthis July, more prisoners will be coming home when we re-open Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island.

It is clear that we need additional facilities. Most of our current decades-old structures are deteriorated, over-capacity,and poorly designed.

The Department of Public Safety has issued a request for information to procure a comprehensive plan to return prisoners, build facilities with sufficient capacity to keep those prisoners who present a danger to our community properly incarcerated, and provide programmatic options while keeping our communities safe.

Civil Rights
And here may I add a personal note of gratitude from me and my wife, Dr. Nancie Caraway, to this legislature.  You have passed and we are now implementing a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights – only the second such law in our nation.  Headlines from aroundthe world, as recent as yesterday, confirm a sordid picture of exploitationand degradation.  You have also strengthened laws against domestic violence and human trafficking.

Thanks to all of you, the intense work of the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Labor and IndustrialRelations, the Civil Rights Commission, the State Commission on the Status of Women, and the Office of Community Services – these crimes againstour common humanity will not be tolerated in Hawaii.

Turtle Bay and Dole Lands
There are times for planning, and there are times for acting. Now is the time to preserve open spaces at Turtle Bay.

The dispute over the expansion of the resort into adjacent coastal and open lands has been going on for decades. Whetherin the courts, in permitting proceedings, within the North Shore community,or the community at large – this issue has been divisive and disruptive.

I am requesting authority to use general obligation bonds to obtain a conservation easement of more than 600 acres at the site. This guarantees these lands will remain open and free of development, and open to Public Access in perpetuity.

Similarly, I am requesting general obligation funds to enable the state to work with a renewable energy company to purchase agricultural and conservation lands currently owned by the Dole Company – nearly 20,000 acres of open space between Wahiawa and Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu.

We need to make this investment to secure these lands so that they do not become a temptation for development and urbanization. Moreover, this purchase will ensure a combination of energy production and contemporary farming.

Thirty-Meter Telescope
Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s gift to the world – the best place on the planet to observe the universe. It is withoutpeer. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to advance our knowledge of our universe. Today, we celebrate 50 years of astronomy in Hawaii with 13 observatories from 11 countries and over a billion dollars in infrastructure atop Mauna Kea. One project will solidify Hawaii’s position as the world’s premier astronomy center – the $1.3 billion Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT). The TMT will be the catalyst for the development of high tech and high paying jobs. TMT is partnering with the Institute for Astronomy’s Akamai Workforce Initiative to train local college students for technical fields. The initiative promotes STEM initiatives relating to local robotics and science programs. TMT is also investing $1 million every year in education so our keiki can reach for the stars. Our state must support and ensure that this tremendous opportunity comes to fruition.

Climate Change
This leads us to the reality of climate change, which is becoming more and more evident across Hawaii and the planet. Our islands are especially vulnerable to the impacts. We cannot wait to act.

In the fall, I was appointed by President Obama to serve on the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on ClimatePreparedness and Resilience. At the first meeting in Washington in December, governors, mayors and tribal leaders from around our country discussed the effects of climate change in their jurisdictions. One thing was apparent despite our vast geographic, topographic and community differences – today’s climate changes are warning bells signaling the necessity for preparedness now.

At the forum, we emphasized that the Hawaiian Islands are a learning laboratory for scalable, innovative mitigation, adaptation policies and techniques, and providing a model on local and regional collaboration.

The State Office of Planning has been instrumental in coordinating efforts to update our Ocean Resources Management Plan. We have a state sustainability coordinator in the Department of Land and Natural Resources with authority to work across department lines for planning purposes.

The Senate-House Majority Package includes the Hawaii Climate Adaptation Initiative, which supports research, planningand coordination. The Interagency Climate Council plays a key role in this initiative. I will be convening Resilient Hawaii Forums this year to engagestakeholders – Native Hawaiian organizations, natural resource managers, the military, tourism officials, agricultural representatives, researchers and government at all levels. These forums will create a climate change roadmap for Hawaii.

Protection of our environment from invasive species must be a top priority. We are experiencing a biological crisis and deadly threat to our isolated ecosystem, our natural resources and our economy. A multitude of invaders – such as the little fire ant that can blind animals and destroy nesting birds and hatchlings, the coconut rhinoceros beetle, and parasites attacking coffee crops – graphicallyillustrate the seriousness of the issue.

The work of the Interagency Hawaii Invasive Species Council is tasked with combatting this menace. I endorse legislative initiatives proposing up to $5 million to meet operating costs of Invasive Species Programs.

This session, my administrative package will include a sustainability investment strategy to advance targets in clean energy development, local food production, natural resource management, waste reduction, smart growth, green jobs creation, and housing for the working middle class.

This includes funding to support watershed protection, farming infrastructure, invasive species management, e-waste recycling, transportation planning and creating jobs and meeting needs.

Early in my remarks, I commented on the necessity of providing pre-school education as a foundation for the future of our children. That observation needs to be bookended by consideration of ways to promote security and dignity on the other end of the spectrum of life – those of us experiencing our senior years.

Not only do we need to protect seniors from fraud and abuse, and assist with care issues, but I believe we can provide tax relief measures that will have practical and immediate benefits for seniors.

I will be asking the Legislature to look at the way we tax seniors in order to provide more equity and fairness for those on fixed and middle incomes to see that more of their money remains in their pocketbooks. We need to bring parity to way we look at and tax retirement income.

I accept and understand the message on pension income and taxation. If you have an employer-sponsored pension, it is exempt from income tax. That will not change. But everyone may not be aware that other pensions – not employer-based – are being taxed right now. Thousands of Hawaii seniors are paying income tax even on low- and middle-income retirement benefits.

I propose to exempt any presently taxed income from all sources for taxpayers age 65 and older with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $25,000, AGI of $35,000 for heads of households, or AGI of $45,000 for joint filing.

This assures these seniors will not have their retirement income taxed. This will affect as many as 25,000 or more seniors throughout Hawaii.

I propose to double the current refundable food/excise tax credit for taxpayers 65 years or older whose AGI is less than $50,000. This is a direct payment to the senior taxpayer. This will affect as many as 110,000 Hawaii seniors or more.

I am requesting we increase the Kupuna Care budget by $4.2 million and make it permanent. This program enables seniors to remain in and receive care in their homes. This is an investment that will pay big dividends as our senior population ages, grows in numbers, and lives longer.

These proposals address the practical everyday reality of expenses for seniors, provide across-the-board fairness in application, can take effect immediately, and fit comfortably into our long-term financial stabilization plan

Childhood Health
I began my remarks today in sad recognition of the sacrifice of his life by Sgt. Scobie. I have spoken of other sacrifices we have made or need to make in acknowledgment of our responsibilities to and for each other and to advance the common good of us all.

Referencing that sobering context, please allow me to conclude my thoughts today with some reflection on the passing of our beloved Loretta Fuddy. It is difficult even now more than a month since her death to accept its finality because of the vitality of her presence. I said at the time our hearts were broken but I also know she would remind us of the Biblical admonition that life is for the living – the duty to carry on, to offer the hope and encouragement to others that marked her life – every day of it.

I would like to thank the University of Hawaii Foundation for setting up the Loretta Deliana Fuddy Memorial Scholarship in Health, Human and Public Service. This will provide a lasting legacy to University of Hawaii students on any UH campus, who are committed to pursuing a career in health, public and human services.

Loretta was a lifelong supporter of public health measures. She was a lifelong advocate for families and children. She set the standard for helping those in dire need of services that promoted and nurtured their health and well-being.

I am requesting additional funding for the Department of Health’s Early Intervention Services. The program provides critical services to children with developmental delays from birth to threeyears of age. The program provides positive intervention in the crucial areas of cognitive and physical function, social and emotional well-being and adaptive skills. Loretta Fuddy was their champion.

There are, of course, several budget requests and bills that will be proposed for the Department of Health, all of which are important. Nonetheless, I am asking for specific attention to make funding for Early Intervention Services a priority. This will serve as a fitting tribute and appropriate legacy to honor Loretta. There will be lasting benefits for the affected families and children – the children she loved and cared for passionately to her last day.

None of us knows with any certainty how much time will be given to us. What we do know is that the time given us as public servants is a public trust. We justify that trust only by acting in the public interest.

The financial stability we’ve achieved, coupled with our long-term plan to sustain it, presents us with the opportunity to act both with confidence and dispatch. Public trust and the public interest can meet and be joined – now. Let’s do it – together.


Disarming liliuokalanis household guards

Rotunda Round-up

A look at some top stories and updates from this week, including the 121st anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

About the photo: This image shows the disarming of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s household guards.

President Obama’s speech on NSA phone surveillance The President defends the use of secrecy in intelligence gathering and calls it necessary while acknowledging that things can be done better.

Hawaii Politics
121st anniversary of the Overthrow Remembering the past to chart a new way forward.
Rusty Scalpel Awards Good government advocates create a new “award” to be presented to the most whipstitched bill from this session.
Mufi might run red Speculation on whether Mufi Hannemann will run for Congress or for Governor again has been a favorite topic for rumor. Now a new rumor suggests he may run as a Republican.
Nonbid “leadership development” contracts raise questions  A large amount of money in a non-bid contract situation ought to raise questions, and we thank Ian Lind for his clear analysis.
“Pono Choices” is a public document Rep. Bob McDermott had trouble obtaining a copy of the state’s new (and controversial) sex-ed program.

Social Issues
High time Joseph Souki says it’s about time we create the infrastructure necessary to support medical marijuana use in Hawaiʻi.
Keiki Caucus pushes to outlaw conversion therapy The controversial practice of attempting to change homosexuals into heterosexuals has come up for discussion this session, but even the caucus that introduced the issue is likely to be divided over whether to pass legislation on it.

GMO Debate
Seed companies sue Kauai County Seed companies claim that the recently passed Bill 2491 is biased and “fatally flawed.”
First pesticide disclosures available online At the same time, seed corps have complied with the state’s good-neighbor policy and have reported the type of pesticides used and the acreage affected.
Outside entities donated to local anti-GMO groups in 2012 The amounts of some of the larger donations from 2012. 2013 data won’t be available until the end of this year.

UH scientists discover genetic mutation  A genetic alteration found only in Filipino women was discovered by UH researchers and may be the cause of the high rate of preterm births among the state’s Filipino population.

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Hawaiʻi earns a C on education policy

A new report card evaluating Hawaiʻi's education policies and their effectiveness at improving the quality of education gave the state a C; still the 7th best in the nation.

StudentsFirst, a policy think-tank with the goal of facilitating meaningful change in our nation’s public education systems, released its second annual State Policy Report Card on Tuesday, January 14 and Hawaiʻi ranks higher than many states. Unfortunately, with our state earning a C grade overall, that isn’t saying much.

Hawaiʻi was one of 11 states that earned a C grade (along with the District of Columbia). The majority—thirty states—earned a D grade. Seven states earned F grades, while only Louisiana and Florida earned B grades. No state earned an A grade.

Hawaii ranked 7th in the nation with a GPA of 2.06, based on a rubric the organization created to evaluate state performance.

Hawaiʻi has a strong teacher and principal evaluation system in place, which is used to inform pay and assignment decisions. Unfortunately, seniority is still a driving factor in many other personnel decisions. Hawaiʻi has also worked to empower its parents by establishing high-quality charter schools, but can do more to empower parents by providing them with an understandable and accessible A-F school report card that details their school’s performance on an annual basis. Finally, though Hawaii has a streamlined accountability system, the state can do more to ensure that resources are spent efficiently by linking spending data to student outcomes.

The report also noted that Hawaiʻi began implementing a “robust educator evaluation system” in 2013 after the two-year pilot program. “Hawaiʻi also improved the system by clarifying how teachers of both tested and non-tested subjects are evaluated.”

Unlike many other similar report cards, the StudentsFirst report card does not factor in student test scores (though they are certainly aware of them). Rather, it focuses on whether each state’s laws effectively prioritize the interests of students and their families and whether each state’s education policy lines up with identified core-principles which comprise three basic pillars of good education policy: Elevate the Teaching Profession, Empower Parents, Spend Wisely and Govern Well.

The StudentsFirst 2014 State Policy Report Card (SPRC) results are based on an assessment of state- specific statutes, regulations, policies and/or directives adopted or enacted as of December 20, 2013, from 50 states and the District of Columbia. Legislation or policies that were proposed, but not adopted or enacted, as of December 20, 2013, were not considered.

To assign grades, StudentsFirst developed a scoring rubric for each of the 24 policy objectives evaluated in the SPRC. Each state’s education policies were analyzed against this rubric and scored using a 0 to 4 scale, with 4 representing the strongest lever for reform. Anchor policies were weighed three times higher (3x).

StudentsFirst performed an initial analysis and grades were assigned using publicly-available sources and materials. Once the initial analysis was complete and initial scores were assigned, this information was sent to each respective state’s governing education entity for review, input, and comments prior to the assignment of final scores, grades, and rankings.

The report’s emphasis on state policy rather than student performance is significant because it places the emphasis on fixing bad education policy which leads to the low scores. Ranking a state based on student scores won’t improve those scores; it merely points out that improvement is needed.

The report makes general recommendations for the state in all three areas. In Elevate the Teaching Profession, StudentsFirst recommends:

If Hawaiʻi wants to strengthen its teaching corps, it should require [its] district to use teacher effectiveness as the driving factor in major personnel decisions like recruitment, placement, and dismissal. This policy change will help Hawaiʻi recognize and develop great teachers and treat them like the professionals they are.

In Empower Parents, the report suggests:

To further empower parents, Hawaiʻi should provide meaningful school performance information to parents using an A-F letter grading system that is based on student achievement data; and provide public charter schools with greater support in obtaining or building quality facilities. These changes will empower parents across the state with information and quality opportunities so that no child is forced to attend a low-performing school.

In Spend Wisely and Govern Well, which was the lowest performing pillar for Hawaiʻi (earning a D+), StudentsFirst notes:

Unique to Hawaiʻi, traditional public schools are under the direct control of the state, which helps streamline accountability. However, Hawaiʻi can do more to provide governance flexibility and help ensure that resources are spent wisely. To make every dollar count, the state should link spending data to student outcomes; and restructure the existing back-loaded, defined benefit retirement plan as a cash-balance plan. These changes will help policymakers and the public understand the impact of spending decisions on student achievement and provide teachers with a competitive retirement plan.

For the complete methodology used by StudentsFirst to create their report card, go here.

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Board of Land and Natural Resources defers Mauna Kea lease request

In an interesting turn of events, UH requested that the board make the deferral until a full EIS can be completed.

Today, December 13, the University of Hawaii (UH), represented by University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH) Chancellor Donald Straney and several lawyers, submitted a request to the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to defer the issue of the new master lease on the property until a full environmental impact statement (EIS) can be completed.

“We’ve reflected on the testimony we heard [at the last meeting], and have concluded that in this instance the public’s interest is best served if the University and the Department of Land and Natural Resources engage in an environmental review before the [BLNR] considers the request [for a new master lease] further,” said Straney. “Therefore, I’d like to request that we defer action until we’ve completed [that] process.”

After an executive session, the board voted 4-1 to defer the master lease issue. Chair William Aila Jr. and members Jimmy Gomes, Reed Kishinami and Samuel M. Gon III voted in favor while David Goode voted against deferral, saying instead that he wanted the master lease request denied outright.

“I think a denial would be cleaner—the stated reasons for deferral from UH are inadequate,” said Goode. “The existing request [from UH] that we have before us is for zero dollars. If we ever get to the substance of that request, I personally find that totally unacceptable. So I’m not in a cheerful frame of mind in deferring that request.”

“Before we take the vote, I want to say that I agree wholeheartedly with board member Goode on that last point,” said Gon. “Such a globally significant place should attract the funds that are needed to properly manage it.”

Board member Rob Pacheco reclused himself from the discussion and vote on this issue but did not state why. Aila clarified that Pacheco owns a tourism business that operates on Mauna Kea. One member of the public pointed out that Pacheco was present for an earlier vote concerning the controversial Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), something Aila said he would look in to.

“There have been a lot of issues raised over this lease and I think that it’s a very wise move to pursue any environmental studies that are necessary, being that the last time an EIS was done, the requirement for full cultural assessment was not formally in place,” said Gon.

The rest of the board members stated that they were glad there would be more time for public input as a result of the deferral.

Today’s move came as a surprise to many, including members of the community who were present because they had filed contested cases over the lease issue. These members of the community were Native Hawaiians who contend that the TMT will be detrimental to the environment and to Hawaiian culture. Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain—the spot were Papa and Wakea first meet in the traditional Hawaiian creation myth. Most of these citizens withdrew their contested cases, but reserved the right to re-introduce them at a later date.

UH had previously asked BLNR to cancel the two leases it holds on Mauna Kea property and issue two new ones for the same amount of time. This is in order to reflect the new way UH wants to manage the property as outlined in UH’s 2000 Master Plan. The new ways of managing the property include, amongst other things, the ability to “enter into meaningful negotiations with current, and any potential, future telescope projects.” 

This clause is aimed at allowing the controversial Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project to move forward. Mainly because of it’s sheer scale, this project has attracted the most opposition from Native Hawaiian groups and individuals like those present at today’s meeting.

Currently, UH holds a 65-year lease on the 11,215-acre Mauna Kea Science Reserve, expiring in 2033, and a 55-year lease on the 19-acre parcel where the Hale Pohaku Mid-Level Facilities are located, which expires in 2041. They manage the property, as well as sub-lease it to telescope companies, on behalf of the State.

However, their track record at managing the property has been less-than-perfect. In 1998, State Auditor Marion Higa concluded, “Over thirty years have passed since construction of the first telescope on Mauna Kea.  During this period, little was done to protect its natural resources. The university, as the leaseholder, should have provided sufficient protection to the natural resources and controlled public access and use. These requirements have not been adequately met. The Department of Land and Natural Resources, in its role as landlord, should have overseen the university’s activities and enforced permit conditions and regulations in protecting the State’s interests. Neither state agency has been proactive in maintaining the conservation district. The University has failed in the management of these lands.”

It’s too early to tell if today’s deferral is a sign that UH intends to improve its stewardship of land atop Mauna Kea, but it did give members of the public a sense that their opposition is at least being considered.

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Ko‘olau Loa neighborhood board votes in favor of Envision Lā‘ie

Amid continued opposition from residents outside the Lā‘ie and Mormon communities, the board voted 6-4 to support the major development plan.

Yesterday, Dec. 9, the Ko‘olau Loa Neighborhood Board (KLNB) reconvened their Nov. 14 meeting in which they had heard public testimony about Envision Lā‘ie.

The primary purpose of yesterday’s meeting was to vote on whether or not to support the Envision Lā‘ie plan, not to take additional testimony. The KLNB voted 6-4 to support Envision Lā‘ie (one member, Gaylene Nikora Lolofie, was absent).

The vote count was as follows:

Dee Dee Letts (Ka‘a‘awa)
Creighton Mattoon (Punalu‘u)
Kent Fonoimoana (Kahuku)
Burt Greene (Hau‘ula)

Verla Moore Chair (Lā‘ie)
Kela Miller (Lā‘ie)
Hans Ta‘ala (Lā‘ie)
Kerry Moea‘i (Kahuku)
Larry Nihipali (Hau‘ula)
Norman Thompson (Hau‘ula)

There are clear conflicts of interest on the board when it comes to this issue. Lolofie owns and operates Island Transport, which does contract work for Turtle Bay Resort, which is also attempting to develop an expansion. Thompson works for Lā‘ie Community Association president and Operating Engineers, Local 3 president Pane Meatoga, Jr., who gave a presentation during the meeting in support of Envision Lā‘ie. Moea‘i disclosed that he works for BYU, but did not disclose that he also works for Gaylene Nekora Lolofie.

Additionally, it appeared as though many residents in the Ko‘olau Loa region did not know that a vote was about to occur. KC Connors asked Executive Secretary for the Neighborhood Commission, the governing body that oversees the Neighborhood Boards, Nicole Velasco, why no one was informed.

According to Velasco, “the presiding officer announced at the November 14, 2013 meeting the date, time, and place when the meeting would be continued ... With regard to tonight’s Dec. 9th reconvene, the State Office of Information Practice advised that a meeting notice not be published for the reconvening of a continued meeting as doing so may confuse people as to what is occurring and is not required.”

The general position of the Ko‘olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan (KLSCP), excluding Envision Lā‘ie, is to keep the country, country. This position was derived from resident input throughout the Ko‘olau Loa region leading up to the plan’s formulation.

Envision Lā‘ie, on the other hand, would require a widening of Kamehameha Highway (forcing some properties to be condemned and their residents to be evicted) and would redevelop Mālaekahana (which is currently Ag land) into a mixed-use, semi-urban, commercial and housing zone to support the massive expansion of Brigham Young University (BYU), the doubling of its enrollment and a general population expansion of more than 100 percent.

Yesterday’s vote is only the latest in a series of events that have moved this major development project forward, despite the protests of many community members outside the Lā‘ie area. These objections contend that Envision Lā‘ie is a special interest plan that will only benefit developer Hawaii Reserves, Inc (HRI) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church) whose properties, including BYU, are managed by HRI.

On October 8th of this year, the Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee, chaired by Ikaika Anderson, heard testimony regarding Bill 47, which would implement the KLSCP, which still includes Envision Lā‘ie. During that hearing, we reported that there were 57 oral testimonies in opposition, representing a wide range of community members from Ka‘a‘awa, Hau‘ula, Punalu‘u, Kahana and even some from outside the Ko‘olau Loa region, compared to 51 oral testimonies in support, all of which were from members of the Mormon church or residents of Lā‘ie and Kahuku.

In 2010, Ko‘olau Loa resident William Racoma filed a complaint with the Neighborhood Commission over the KLNB’s support of the plan. The commission found that the KLNB’s support of Envision Lā‘ie was null and void because the board violated the sunshine law, removed sign-up sheets during the middle of testimony and disregarded written testimony before taking their 7-4 vote in favor.

Opposition to the plan was perhaps most pointedly ignored all the way back in 2009 when a report from the community-led Plan Advisory Committee (PAC) recommended to the City Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) that the Envision Lā‘ie portions be removed from the KLSCP.

Instead, then director of DPP David Tanouye met with HRI behind the scenes and the Envision Lā‘ie portions were inserted into the draft KLSCP.

PAC is made up of a diverse group of residents from Ko‘olau Loa representing the many interests in the area. As such, to have their decision over-ruled in closed-door proceedings in which the only interests represented were those of HRI and the Mormon church was deemed highly inappropriate by many residents outside Lā‘ie—a feeling that remains to this day.

“What we want is the plan that was originally created,” said Ka‘a‘awa resident Brian Walsh at the October 8th, 2013 meeting. “That is sustainable. That is community. This is not. The current plan is not what most of the community outside Lā‘ie wants but, if it passes, the consequences will affect all of us.”

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Rep. Denny Coffman resigns

The Hawaii Island representative cites family reasons for stepping down.

Denny Coffman, a member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives representing the 5th district, submitted his resignation today.

“I do so for family reasons,” Coffman writes. He continues:

I lost my wife of 44 years this summer due to brain cancer. I am now the only parent and grandparent for my daughters and grandchildren. On Saturday, November 17, 2013, I learned that my oldest daughter’s breast cancer has returned and the cancer has spread to several locations in her lymph system. She is facing another big battle with cancer.

With the loss of my wife, I am now mother and father to Amy and she needs my help. While I love Hawaii with all my heart, my love for family must trump my legislative plans. The recession of the past 5 years caused my daughters and grandchildren to leave Hawaii to find employment on the mainland. To help Amy battle her cancer, I too must leave Hawaii.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Hawaii. I leave knowing that I have represented the communities of Hawaii Island and the State to the best of my ability.


Photo by Anika Nui

Mayor Kenoi signs GMO ban bill

Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi seems to have learned Mayor Carvalho's lesson.

Kenoi has signed his county council’s new bill restricting GMOs on the island. Here’s his official statement.

Aloha, Chair Yoshimoto and Members:

On Nov. 19, 2013 the Hawai‘i County Council adopted Bill 113 Draft 3 adding a new article relating to Genetically Engineered Crops and Plants, and on Nov. 21, 2013 delivered the bill to me for my consideration. After careful deliberation and discussions with members of my administration and the public, I am signing Bill 113.
Our community has a deep connection and respect for our land, and we all understand we must protect our island and preserve our precious natural resources. We are determined to do what is right for the land because this place is unlike any other in the world. With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching.

The debate over this bill has at times been divisive and hurtful, and some of our hard-working farmers who produce food for our community have been treated disrespectfully. We are determined to protect every farmer and rancher. Agriculture on Hawai‘i Island will continue to grow with county assistance, investment and support. That commitment includes initiatives such as the public-private partnership to improve and expand the Pa‘auilo Slaughterhouse to support our grass-fed beef industry, and the launch of the Kapulena Agricultural Park, the largest agricultural park in the state on 1,739 acres of county-owned land. It also includes support for innovative training programs to grow the farmers of the future, and to train veterans to engage in agriculture on Hawaiian Home Lands, and the introduction and advancement of Korean Natural Farming as a sustainable method of producing healthier crops and livestock. It includes completion of the first-in-the-state Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study of Hawai‘i Island to measure the island’s progress toward food self-sufficiency.

We are determined to reunite our farming community to create a stronger and more vibrant agricultural sector. It is time to end the angry rhetoric and reach out to our neighbors. Our farmers are essential to creating a wholesome and sustainable food supply on this island, and they deserve to be treated with respect and aloha. We must turn now to a meaningful, factual dialogue with one another.
With my approval of this bill, our administration will launch a year of research and data collection to investigate factual claims and to seek out new directions that farming in our community should take. This work will include an expanded database detailing the locations of both organic and conventional farms, the crops that are grown, more accurate estimates of the revenue earned from these enterprises, and the challenges our farmers face in meeting food safety and organic certification requirements. We will work with our farmers and our ranchers to carefully monitor the impacts of this bill over the next year to separate speculation and guesswork from the facts.

Today our communities expect that government will be as cautious as possible in protecting our food and water supplies. We all want to minimize impacts to the environment while also producing abundant, affordable food for local consumption. This ordinance expresses the desires and demands of our community for a safe, sustainable agricultural sector that can help feed our people while keeping our precious island productive and healthy.

William P. Kenoi


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Hawaiʻi’s over-fishing problems reach Niʻihau, endanger its community

Fishermen, primarily from Kauai, have been fishing in Niihau waters for decades, steadily depleting its residents of their primary food-source. The senate's Native Hawaiian caucus, along with the DLNR, intend to put a stop to that.

“I don’t remember a single time the people of Niʻihau have come [to Oʻahu],” said Senator Clayton Hee at today’s press conference regarding the future of Niʻiahu’s shoreline fisheries. “But they’re here now. This is very unusual and it’s very difficult for them to be here. But that is the gravity of this issue.”

Together with the other Native Hawaiian members of the Hawaiʻi State Senate (Senators Galuteria, Solomon, Kidani, English and Kahele), Senator Hee intends to introduce legislation in the upcoming 2014 session that would protect the waters surrounding Niʻihau from being fished by anyone other than residents of Niʻihau.

“People with the financial means from the nearest island, Kauai, have been traveling to Niʻihau for one simple reason: It is far easier to pick ʻopihi and to dive and troll around the shores of Niʻihau then on Kauaʻi, where their own reef fisheries have been over-harvested,” said Hee in his opening remarks.

This is a serious problem for the people of Niʻihau, as they depend on the reef fisheries around their island as their primary food-source and this sort of poaching has already been going on for decades.

“What is not on Niʻihau are stores to buy food,” said Hee. “And that is why we are here this morning.”

Currently there are are no rules or laws prohibiting Kauai residents or others from fishing or picking ʻopihi out of Niʻihau waters.

“It’s not illegal,” confirmed Hee. “But it is wrong. When your ice-box is empty, you don’t go help yourself to someone else’s.”

Bruce Robinson (who, along with his brother Keith, is the current owner of Niʻihau) said that the situation is about more than just food.

“Our people are dependent on the sea shore, not only for food, but also for maluhia [peace, safety, tranquility],” said Robinson. “It is a place where our people go for healing and spiritual well-being. Without that, our culture will not survive.”

In addition to legislation, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) intends to create new rules and regulations to extend protection of Niʻihau’s resources while allowing for some off-shore fishing.

“DLNR understands that Niʻihau is unique and needs State protection, said William ʻAila Jr., DLNR’s director. “As of now, there’s nothing to prevent someone from Kauaʻi coming to Niʻihau to harvest ʻopihi, other than the fact that we’re highlighting this issue so that the Kauaʻi people … can look internally to search their naʻau [guiding feelings] and understand the consequences of their actions,” continued ʻAila.

“The name of the game is compromise,” said Hee. “We will need all the help we can get. That’s why we have representatives here from the Native Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Kamehameha Schools and the Native Hawaiian Bar Association. We’ll be looking to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for assistance as well.”

Splintered paddle

Sidewalk Bill deferred

Stanley Chang's Bill 59, CD1 was deferred by the Honolulu City Council Committee on Public Safety and Economic Development earlier today.

Bill 59, Relating to Public Sidewalks, would have (with a few exceptions) made it illegal to lie down on sidewalks in Honolulu. After the bill was deferred in committee the first time (October 29), Committee Draft (CD)1 was created. CD1 differs from the original bill. From the Committee on Public Safety and Economic Development agenda:

CD1 strengthens the underlying purpose of the Bill to emphasize the impact of the prohibited activity on commercial businesses and the tourist industry; narrows application of the prohibition to the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. in the Chinatown Special District, Hawaii Capital Special District and the Waikiki Special District; and requires a warning before a citation can be issued, providing the person with the ability to avoid a citation.

In today’s Committee on Public Safety and Economic Development meeting, the committee voted to defer the CD1 as well, by a vote of 3-2. Stanley Chang and committee chair Carol Fukunaga voted against deferring the bill, hoping to pass the draft, while council-members Breene Harimoto, Ikaika Anderson and vice-chair Kymberly Marcos Pine voted for deferment.

Stanley Chang introduced Bill 59 on September 5 of this year. Opponents contend that the bill is unconstitutional and targets a specific category of people. Meanwhile supporters, many of them the owners of businesses in the three special districts, maintain that people lying on the sidewalks that front their stores threaten their ability to conduct business.

Ikaika Anderson and Stanely Chang are both running for Hawaii’s District 1 Congressional seat.

The above cartoon was created by Will Caron

Tweets from the #SpecialSession, part 2

The Hawaii Independent and others have been live-tweeting from the Capitol. Here are some of the best from today's Senate vote.


Tweets from the #SpecialSession

The Hawaii Independent and other news sources and citizens have been live-tweeting updates since the first day. Below are some of the best, mostly from the JUD/FIN hearing and yesterday's 2nd reading.

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JUD, FIN joint committee passes SB1

Today the joint House committee recommended to pass SB1 out of committee with amendments.

The joint House committee hearing on SB1 (between the Judiciary and Finance committees) resulted in a recommendation to pass SB1 back to the full house, but with three primary amendments.

The religious exemption language was strengthened to match the language in Connecticut’s same-sex marriage law. The parental provision clause (572C) was removed as it was deemed “unnecessary” and the date on which the law would take effect was pushed back to December 2..

The bill will now go back before the full House, with a vote scheduled for Thursday Wednesday, with the third reading likely scheduled for Friday.

Updated with vote information.

The committee vote was 10 ayes (Representatives Luke, Nishimoto, Hashem, Ing, Kobayashi, Lowen, Morikawa, Onishi, Takayama and Yamashita) and 7 noes (Representatives Johanson, Cullen, Jordan, Tokioka, Woodson and Fukumoto and Ward).

Updated 9:55 a.m., 11/6/2013.

Governor Abercrombie’s administration sent out a press release last night endorsing the amendments:



Nov. 5, 2013
Governor and Attorney General Statement on Amendments to SB 1 – Relating to Equal Rights

HONOLULU — Gov. Neil Abercrombie and State Attorney General David Louie released the following statement regarding amendments to Senate Bill 1 – Relating to Equal Rights.

“The amendments outlined in House Draft 1 strike a balance between the bill that was introduced by the Legislature and concerns raised in written and oral testimony during public hearings.

“We support the principle that any measure on marriage equity must protect religious freedom, which the Legislature has clearly worked to achieve.

“The bill as amended is legally sound and is in accord with the Hawaii State Constitution.

“We urge the Legislature to pass this bill, which will provide marriage equity and fully recognize religious beliefs in that context.”


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Special Session week two agenda

Special Session rolls into week two. What's left on the agenda?

The House JUD/FIN committees have reconvened their joint hearing, starting at 11am at testifier 4,600.

Richard Fale’s resolutions on children in poverty have been referred to JUD/FIN.

The Governor’s bills on appropriations for health care on Kauai and relating to collective bargaining are also waiting to be heard.

Other bills:

HB7, introduced by democratic representatives McKelvey, Carroll, Evans and Kawakami, would eliminate the need for solemnization for marriage as well as indemnify anyone either agreeing or refusing to marry a same-sex couple. Currently in referral.

HB11, introduced by representatives Ward, Fale, Fukumoto and McDermott, would let kids skip sex-ed class if it has to do with homosexuality, and if that goes against their beliefs. Also in referral.

HB12, introduced by Ward, Fale, Fukumoto and McDermott, would let “certain people,” such as cake-makers, wedding photographers etc., not cater to gays if homosexuality is against their beliefs. Also in referral.

Gubernatorial nominations: Out of the 37 gubernatorial nominations, 32 were confirmed (with no nay votes or reservations), 2 were withdrawn (Genevieve Salmonson’s and Shawn Smith’s from the Board of Land & Natural Resources) and 3 have yet to be voted on, but were recommended as ayes by the committees that reviewed them.

Carvalho vetoes Kauai County pesticide bill

Citing legal concerns, Kauai's mayor has vetoed the County's proposed pesticide bill.

Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho has vetoed a popular bill that would have required top GMO companies on Kauai to disclose their pesticide usage and would have created a buffer zone around schools and hospitals where no pesticides could be used.

Carvalho cited legal concerns about the bill itself and also about the process used to create the bill, which was sponsored by Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum.

“As I have said all along, I truly believe that we could have accomplished these goals faster and in a legally sound manner by working cooperatively with the state, which has clear legal authority over buffer zones and pesticide disclosure,” wrote Carvalho.

For more information on the Mayor’s decision, see the KauaiEclectic blog post on it.

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Republican resolutions attempt to dissolve governing coalition

Several resolutions introduced by Bob McDermott failed to pass today, but showed divisions within the House of Representatives that threatened the SB1 vote count

UPDATED: 2:22pm

House Republican Bob McDermott introduced several resolutions that would change House committee assignments today. Speaker Joseph Souki and Scott Saiki also introduced their own committee assignment resolution to counter McDermott’s.

After the resolutions were introduced, the representatives immediately went into caucus where they stayed for about an hour. They then emerged for discussion on the floor. Where things got a tad heated.

The primary target of McDermott’s resolutions appeared to be Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee (JUD). The JUD is one of two committees that will hold a joint hearing on SB1, the Marriage Equality bill, on Thursday. The second is the House committee on Finance (FIN). Thielen is solidly in the ‘yes’ column when it comes to a vote on SB1. McDermott’s suggested replacement for her, Rep. Richard Fale, is solidly in the ‘no’ column.

“I am standing firm,” said Rep. Thielen on the phone, shortly before the session began at 10am. “I believe I should remain on the Judiciary Committee.”

But beyond pulling Thielen off the JUD, McDermott’s other resolutions really sought to break up the governing coalition (which includes the republican members of the House) that got Souki “the gavel in the first place,” as McDermott himself put it during his speech. His second resolution called for house republicans currently in chair or vice-chair positions in all committees, to step down from their leadership roles.

Furthermore, McDermott’s last two resolutions (HR4 and HR5) called for republicans to pull out of the bipartisan coalition and leadership coalition between the Majority and Minority Caucuses and called for Rep. Gene Ward to replace Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson as the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.

HR 1 passed, which made it look fairly certain that Thielen would remain on the JUD, and many of the representatives applauded. HR2, 3 and 4 were quickly deferred. It was during discussion of HR5, however, that the division lines began appearing.

Johanson, who would have been replaced with Gene Ward as minority leader, opposed the bill, while Rep. Jo Jordan, a democrat in Calvin Say’s recently-ousted faction supported the bill because it would have allowed democrats to appoint new vice chairs to the Finance Committee, Economic Development & Business Committee and Energy & Environmental Protection Committee. Rep. Marcus Oshiro, a long time Say supporter, also supported the measure, while Rep. Beth Fukumoto, another republican, left the floor, later saying she did not wish to participate in the proceedings because of the way McDermott was handling it.

Gene Ward said he wasn’t consulted about assuming the minority leadership and also criticized Speaker Souki for being unable to hold the governing coalition together: “Mr. Speaker, your majority is divided, my caucus is divided, the people of Hawaii are divided.”

According to McDermott, the Special Session was called without consulting the republican members of the governing coalition. “This [process] wasn’t deliberative or transparent and I wash my hands of it,” said McDermott. “Mr. Speaker, your majority is divided.”

HR5 would have pulled the republican minority further to the right and would have destabilized Speaker Souki’s position, which may have affected the vote count on SB1, which we reported in August was going to be a close count no matter what.

Rep. Chris Lee, who opposed HR5, criticized McDermott and other members of the minority caucus of acting similarly toward Marriage Equality as Congressional republicans did toward Obama Care. “I’m disappointed that the members of the minority party don’t want to work together anymore, simply because they do not agree with us on this one issue. This process is about compromise. Democrats won’t always get what they want. Republicans won’t always get what they want. But to try and dissolve the governing coalition because you don’t agree on this issue is no different than how republicans in Washington acted so recently.”

After some more heated discussion in which Speaker Souki had to call a recess, barely deciding against having Gene Ward called out of order and removed from the chamber, the House voted to kill HR5. The House adjourned at roughly 12:30pm.

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Breaking: Salmonson nomination withdrawn

Controversial nomination for the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control will no longer take place

The Hawaii Independent has learned that the nomination for Genevieve Salmonson, the current interim director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC), to the full position has been withdrawn by Governor Abercrombie.

The Senate committee on Energy and the Environment (chair: Gabbard, vice-chair: Ruderman) was scheduled to hear Salmonson’s nomination tomorrow, but Chair Gabbard sent a notice to committee members at approximately 7pm tonight notifying them that the governor has withdrawn her nomination.

Salmonson’s nomination was controversial because of her track record as OEQC Director under the Lingle and Cayetano administrations and drew criticism from nine separate environmental groups.

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Testimony of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women

Cathy Betts, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, delivered this testimony on SB1 on Monday.

On behalf of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, I would like to thank the Committee for hearing this bill and for the opportunity to testify in support. The Commission strongly supports marriage equality for all in Hawaii. Just this year, the United States Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) constituted unlawful discrimination and thereby violated the United States Constitution.i While Hawaii has always been ahead of this curve (see Baehr v. Lewin) , our own civil unions are not recognized under federal law and same sex couples are not allowed to marry. In turn, our GLBT community members are not treated equally under the law.

The Commission believes that all people should be treated with equality and respect. Hostility and violence towards our GLBT community very closely mimics hostility and violence towards women. As women are punished for not acting “female enough”, or “acting too male” and venturing out of the close confines of gender roles, our GLBT members are punished for not closely conforming to strict and unrealistic gender roles or for being gender non-conforming through a heterosexual lens. Additionally, this homophobia reminds boys to “toughen up”, stop “acting like a girl” and otherwise eschew any stereotypically female traits. This provides a disservice to both men and women in all relationships. Further, it narrows our view of what constitutes “normal”, limiting the broad spectrum of differences in the ways people express their individual sexuality and sexual orientation.

Marriage, as a social and cultural institution, is always evolving. What began in “traditional marriage” as a contract for chattel and a transfer of property ownership—where fathers of women to be married “transferred” ownership of their daughters to another man for a fee (e.g. money, property, land, animals, etc.) has completely evolved to suit a different reality. We can remember a time when something as common as inter-racial marriage was viewed as “abnormal”, “unnatural” and against the will of God—social views that supported the notion that these marriages should be illegal. As no surprise, these restrictions on marriage were shot down as being inconsistent with our 14th Amendment, Equal Protection Clause.

Looking back on these landmark decisions building up to Windsor, our legislature has an opportunity to move towards a greater and more inclusive justice and equality for all of Hawaii’s people.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We urge this Committee to continue on this path towards justice and pass marriage equality. We also urge this Committee to oppose any exemptions that weaken our public accommodations protections, which were enacted to prohibit illegal discrimination.

Thank you for your time and consideration.