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Friday, March 28, 2014

Senate panel trims state budget, anti-GMO rally set on Maui, Morita keeps PUC post, Catholic schools ban gay teachers, Kauai drops well plan, more news from all the Hawaiian Islands

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Sen. David Ige describes budget (c) 2014 All Hawaii News
The state Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday released a new draft of the state budget, scaling back the growth in spending to reflect the dramatic decline in revenue that was projected earlier this month. Star-Advertiser.

Lawmakers in a key state Senate committee advanced their version of the state’s $12.1 billion budget Thursday, making tough choices for 2015 spending after the state’s revenue projections were less than expected. The Senate Ways and Means Committee reduced expenses for this year and next year’s budgets by about $192 million, said Sen. David Ige, the committee chairman. Associated Press.

Senators snipped millions of dollars off the state budget Thursday in light of a lower revenue forecast, but not before restoring funding for preschool, environment and public safety initiatives that the House had cut in the draft it passed earlier this month. The savings would help Hawaii retain a positive ending balance for the next few years, but financial projections show the state would still enter deficit-spending mode by 2017. Civil Beat.

State Budget Heads to Joint Senate-House Conference Committee. Hawaii Public Radio.

On the very day when the Senate Ways and Means committee approved a draft of Hawaii's budget, the state's leading finance officials led a panel discussion on how it was all done. The budget dealing with both this fiscal year and next is about $200 million less than Gov. Neil Abercrombie requested. Civil Beat.

Hawaii lawmakers are expected to advance a bill that will end the state's unusual provision allowing police to have sex with prostitutes. The measure (HB 1926) under consideration Friday originally included a line that would have banned police from having sex with prostitutes. Hawaii News Now.

A Hawaii Senate panel approved Richard Ha’s nomination to the Board of Agriculture on Thursday despite resistance from opponents of genetically modified farming. The farmer from the Big Island has already served on the state board for four years, but his re-appointment made headlines earlier this month when a freshman senator from the same island launched an online campaign urging people to call on other senators to oppose Ha. Civil Beat.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman hasn’t changed his opposition to genetically modified agriculture but he has changed his view of Richard Ha. Ruderman earlier this month sent an email urging recipients who share his “revulsion” over Ha’s renomination to the state Board of Agriculture to tell lawmakers to vote against it. Tribune-Herald.

Hermina Morita, the chairwoman of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, whose term ends on June 30, will be kept on a “holdover” basis beyond when her term ends, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Thursday. Pacific Business News.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will decide today how to handle allegations that Hermina Morita and her husband ran an illegal bed and breakfast in Hanalei for more than a decade. But the controversy didn’t prevent Gov. Neil Abercrombie from voicing support for the chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and former state representative. Garden Island.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a statement today regarding the tenure of Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Hermina Morita: We are at a very critical juncture in developing our clean energy future and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) needs stability to continue to address many of the important regulatory issues before it. Therefore, I intend to keep Mina Morita as Chair of the PUC, on a holdover basis beyond June 30, 2014 when her term ends. Civil Beat.

The Hawaii Catholic schools office, which supervises three dozen Roman Catholic private schools in the state, has just approved a new contract that says teachers can be fired if they engage in homosexual activity or marry someone of the same sex. The contract goes on to list a wide array of actions and behaviors that would justify termination. Civil Beat.

The one person who could have changed safety protocols at the Hawaii State Hospital to better protect workers from assaults by patients says she was not fully aware of how often the attacks occurred. Lynn Fallin is a top administrator at the Hawaii Department of Health, and she’s supposed to be notified when a State Hospital worker is the victim of a serious assault by a patient. Civil Beat.

State tourism officials expected a downturn in visitors this year just not to this extent. Hawaii tourism continued moderating in February with total year-over-year arrivals dropping 4.3 percent and total visitor spending coming in flat against 2013. The 646,759 visitors who came to the islands in February spent $1.2 billion, a 0.6 percent drop from February 2013, according to statistics released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Star-Advertiser.

Simeon Acoba Jr. is the latest victim of a Hawaii law that forces judges to retire at age 70, but he's actually OK with that. "That is what the law is, and that's something I basically accept," said Acoba, who until Feb. 28 had been an associate justice on the Hawaii Supreme Court. Star-Advertiser.

Oahu

Hawaii officials are launching a pilot project in this year’s election to give some polling-place workers shorter shifts instead of the 14-hour days they’ve worked in the past. The state will allow split shifts at 108 of Oahu’s largest polling places. The split shift will not be done at the 34 smaller precincts on Oahu or at any of the 90 polling sites on neighbor islands.Associated Press.

The recovery in Hawaii's construction industry will pick up speed this year thanks to a flurry of residential and commercial activity focused mostly on Oahu, according to a report released Friday by a group of University of Hawaii economists. Star-Advertiser.

The ambitious plan to redevelop the 15-acre Kam Drive-In site in Aiea could also help spawn hundreds of low-income housing units near the Pearlridge Transit Station and other hubs along the city's upcoming $5.26 billion rail line. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii

Acknowledging that the planning for a Kona Judiciary Complex has been going on for years, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee restored the Judiciary’s funding request to the full $81 million. Between that funding and last year’s $9 million, that would bring the total amount appropriated to $90 million, the amount Judiciary officials say is enough to build the courthouse. West Hawaii Today.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing a master plan for Kiholo State Park Reserve that would leave it largely in its natural state. The plan allows for new campsites and an improved access area off Queen Kaahumanu Highway at the 4,359-acre reserve in North Kona. Tribune-Herald.

Maui

A march and rally in support of a moratorium on genetically modified organism crops will be held Sunday in Wailuku and Kahului, according to an announcement. Maui News.

Police officers throughout Maui County will be citing drivers using cellphones and other hand-held mobile electronic devices, as part of stepped-up enforcement for Distracted Driver Awareness Month in April. Maui News.

The Maui Police Department will be aggressively enforcing distracted driving violations as part of the national “U drive. U text. U pay.” campaign, which runs from April 10 to 15, 2014, department officials announced. Maui Now.

After more than two years of overall growth, Maui County's February visitor statistics changes suggest that while fewer tourists were coming to the tri-isles, those who did come were trying to get as much value as possible from their dollars. Maui News.

Maui hotels saw the greatest increase in hotel rates, with the average daily rate soaring 8.7 percent to $330.19, the highest in the state. Occupancy at Maui hotels rose 2.3 percentage points to 85.1 percent, according to the weekly report by Hospitality Advisors LLC and STR Inc. Pacific Business News.

Kauai

A larger-than-usual crowd of about 50 people attended the gathering at Duke’s Canoe Club to hear the latest plans for the $17.5 million Hawaii Dairy Farms project. Concerns were many, including risks to the environment and economy, the location of the farm, and an onslaught of flies, smell and pollution on the South Shore. Garden Island.

The Kauai Board of Water Supply voted Thursday to suspend the Department of Water’s controversial Kahili Horizontal Directional Drilled Well Project. Garden Island.

Kauai is the fastest-growing county in Hawaii, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.bThe island's population rose 1.6 percent to 69,512 from 68,395 residents between July 1, 2012, and July 2013, according to the agency. Star-Advertiser.

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