Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hawaii tourism forecast trimmed, Bar says Supreme Court nominee unqualified, Abercrombie fights for seniors, university official cleared in contract probe, Kona courthouse funds cut, state hospital scrutinized, more news from all the Hawaiian Islands

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State tourism officials aim to lure 8.4 million travelers to the islands this year, instead of the 8.7 million targeted earlier, David Uchiyama, the Hawaii Tourism Authority vice president, said Wednesday. The less ambitious goal comes after several months of slowing growth in the state’s biggest industry, but it’s still 2.5 percent higher than the record number of visitors who came to Hawaii last year. Associated Press.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday that he will not give up on tax relief for seniors even though state lawmakers have shown little interest in the idea this session. he governor will continue pushing for bills that would offer income tax exemptions for about 25,000 low- to middle-income seniors at a cost of about $5 million a year and would double a refundable food and excise tax credit for about 110,000 low- to middle-income seniors, a cost of about $7 million a year. Star-Advertiser.

The Hawaii House money committee trimmed Gov. Neil Abercrombie's executive budget request by $53 million Wednesday in light of a dramatic downgrade that's expected in the state financial forecast. Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said she and her colleagues believe the Council on Revenues will further reduce the rate at which Hawaii’s economy is expected to grow in 2014 when it meets Tuesday. Civil Beat.

The Hawaii State Bar Association has rated Circuit Judge Michael Wilson "unqualified" for the state Supreme Court, a potential setback for his state Senate confirmation. Star-Advertiser.

The Hawaii State Bar Association has given State Supreme Court nominee Michael Wilson an "unqualified" rating. The local attorneys' organization does not release the reasons for its ratings of candidates for the bench or what the vote was of its board that makes the assessments. Hawaii News Now.

The state Department of Education Wednesday announced the creation of a renewable energy and efficiency program at public schools statewide that it estimates will save the department roughly $1 billion in operating costs over 25 years while expanding educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. Star-Advertiser.

Faced with a key deadline this week, lawmakers in both chambers chose to advance many bills related to Native Hawaiian issues. Civil Beat.

Five top-level state health administrators will be the first officials subpoenaed to testify in a legislative investigation into whether poor management at the Hawaii State Hospital left workers there vulnerable to patient attacks, state lawmakers said Wednesday. Star-Advertiser.

A Senate committee investigating violence, nepotism and mismanagement at the Hawaii State Hospital announced its first round of subpoenas Wednesday along with a stern warning to top administrators that any form of retaliation against employees called to testify will not be tolerated. Civil Beat.

Hawaii Health Connector on radar for congressional audit. Associated Press.

The Hawaii Health Connector, the local Obamacare exchange, has a new campaign to boost enrollment — “Tell a friend.” Hawaii Reporter.

Experts want Hawaii lawmakers to update regulations meant to protect opihi, a tasty mollusk whose numbers have crashed in parts of Hawaii. Associated Press.

On Tap at the Hawaii Legislature: March 6. A selective list of bills, resolutions, hearings, briefings and events for Thursday at the state Capitol. Civil Beat.

Oahu

A 114-year-old building in Kakaako that has stood abandoned for the past 50 years, despite being an architectural gem, may finally be put to use after numerous failed efforts and ideas in recent decades. A proposal to rehabilitate and reuse the historic Ala Moana Pump Station, which was Honolulu's first sewage disposal facility, was endorsed Wednesday by a state agency that owns the property. Star-Advertiser.

Taxpayers are on the hook for $180,000 to settle a decade-old case involving a few prison guards who slapped, punched, choked and otherwise inappropriately handled kids detained at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. The lawsuit blames the state for failing to properly train and supervise the youth correctional officers involved in the incidents, which took place in the early 2000s. Civil Beat.

A $1.1 million fence is being taken down just three years after it was put up. Some are calling it a waste of taxpayer money, but the State says there was a good reason. Hawaii News Now.

Bakeries and other companies here in Hawaii that rely on flour are bracing for what could be a major disruption in their local supply of the product. That’s because the only flour mill in town has given notice to the state that it will not renew the lease on its operations at Honolulu Harbor. KHON2.

Representatives from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs went to the Capitol today to brief House members on their plan to build residential buildings in Kaka’ako Makai.  Instead, they received a strong recommendation from the committee chair to go back to the negotiating table with the Governor. Hawaii Public Radio.

A Honolulu attorney who’s represented some of Hawaii’s largest hotel, resort and commercial landowners is leading a local hui of investors who are developing a community of 24 homes priced at an average of $1.6 million each in Honolulu’s lush Pauoa Valley that will include open space and a nonprofit component focusing on sustainability. Pacific Business News.

Diamond Head Theatre officials are hoping a new venue will offer a stage experience worthy of the group's long and storied history. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii

Despite the sorry state of many of Hawaii Island’s highways, and Mayor Billy Kenoi’s promise to use capital projects to stimulate the economy by putting people to work, some $2.3 million of gas taxes collected during the bottom of the recession is sitting in a bank instead of being used to build roads. West Hawaii Today.

The House Finance committee cut $50 million out of the funding request for a new Kona Judiciary Complex Wednesday afternoon. Judiciary officials had requested $81 million, the amount needed to build the long-sought complex in North Kona, which would combine services now happening at three separate courts. West Hawaii Today.

A top University of Hawaii executive accused of favoritism and unethical conduct related to construction of a UH-Hilo dormitory project has been cleared of any alleged wrongdoing in a state attorney general's report released Wednesday by the university. Star-Advertiser.

There are 57 issues inhibiting organic food production and distribution in Hawaii, and 93 potential opportunities and solutions to address them, according to a recent report. Tribune-Herald.

A Hawaii island papaya farmer is suing for relief from new registration requirements for growers of genetically modified crops. The lawsuit filed earlier this week claims the county's new registration law is "burdensome and intrusive." Associated Press.

Maui
The Maui Fire Department has appointed its first battalion chief of ocean safety, who will help facilitate the long-awaited merger between the department and the county's Division of Ocean Safety. Maui News.

The Maui Police Department released a report today confirming the identities of those aboard a plane that crashed on Lānaʻi last week. The report also states that the cause of death for the three individuals that died in the incident has not been determined pending a coroner’s physicians report. Maui Now.

Maui Land & Pineapple Co. reported a $1.2 million net loss (6 cents a share) for 2013, a marked improvement from the $4.6 million loss (25 cents a share) logged in 2012. Maui News.

Kauai

James Alalem and other local residents have created a grassroots burial council for the purpose of honoring iwi kupuna (ancestral bones) and the history and culture of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Garden Island.

Kapaa resident Steven Yoder filed his nomination papers on Wednesday to run as a Republican candidate in this year’s election for the state House District 15 seat now held by Rep. James “Jimmy” Kunane Tokioka. Garden Island.