Friday, January 31, 2014

Hawaii tourism peaks, lobbyists hard to track, lawmakers tackle minimum wage, invasive pests, police oversight, trail liability, more top political and government news from the Hawaiian Islands

copyright 2014 All Hawaii News all rights reserved
Hawaii pool party (c) 2014 All Hawaii News
Hawaii's visitor industry set records for visitor spending and arrivals in 2013 despite a leveling off of growth in the second half of the year. Nearly 8.24 million travelers came to Hawaii in 2013, surpassing the 2012 record of nearly 8.03 million visitors by 2.6 percent, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Visitor expenditures rose to $14.5 billion, a 2 percent gain over 2012. When adjusted for inflation, total visitor expenditures in 2013 still set a record but rose by only 0.3 percent. Star-Advertiser.

It's been months since same-sex marriage became legal in Hawaii, but taxpayers still don't know how much money supporters or opponents spent to influence the decision. Lobbyists are supposed disclose how much money they're spending to influence lawmakers, but critics say the state disclosure system is among the weakest in the nation and prevents a timely and complete tally. Associated Press.

Is it fair that minimum-wage workers in the most expensive state in the nation earn only $7.25 an hour? To put it in perspective, an employee who works 40 hours per week, earns just $290 — before the tax bite. Monthly, that averages out to a little more than $1,200 — again, before taxes. So it isn't entirely surprising that the minimum wage issue is among the big questions facing Hawaii legislators this year. Civil Beat.

Hawaii lawmakers want to swat down a pair of invasive pests: the coffee berry borer and the little fire ant. Despite their quaint names, the insects pose considerable threats to Hawaii's fragile environment. House lawmakers are proposing to spend $3 million next year to control coffee berry borers, up from $250,000 last year. Lawmakers also want to put more than $306,000 into a pilot project to study the threat and possible eradication of little fire ants. Associated Press.

Massage therapists, boxing promoters, doctors and lawyers all have to be licensed to work in Hawaii. So too do private detectives and security guards. But Hawaii’s police officers, whether they’re patrolling the streets of Waikiki or tracking down poachers on the Big Island, do not. Civil Beat.

SB 1007 would expand current law to further protect the state from liability in the case of accidents or injuries on public lands or on “voluntary trails” created by hikers and climbers. Largely ignored by the media, this bill certainly was on the radar of Hawaii's hiking and rock climbing communities. Civil Beat.

The University of Hawaii's presidential selection committee will forgo hiring an outside search firm but will move ahead with its own national search — a process that committee members say they want to complete within a year. Star-Advertiser.

Major changes, including a new name and management approach, could be on the horizon for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, according to an internal draft management plan obtained by The Garden Island.

Oahu

A city leasing program is coming under fire — and some increased scrutiny — after a concessionaire with contracts at two major parks was recently arrested in an alleged real estate scheme. Questions about how the program screens its applicants and manages its multimillion-dollar assets began surfacing this month with the arrest of 38-year-old Sakara Blackwell, president of Optimum Marketing and Management Corp., the company that holds long-term city contracts to run the Barefoot Beach Cafe at Kapiolani Park and the concession stand at the Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Beach Park. Star-Advertiser.