Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Health care top Hawaii concern as doctors flee state, tight budgets ahead, HECO asks to cut customer rebates, Honolulu airport seeks free WiFi, Waikiki sand returns, property owners face tax, more politics and government news from all the Hawaiian Islands

courtesy Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
Leahi Hospital, courtesy Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
Hawaii's doctor shortage jumped 20 percent over the past year as more physicians left the field amid a growing demand for medical services. New estimates on physician supply and demand peg the current shortage at 890, and that's expected to jump as high as 1,500 by 2020, according to the latest figures from the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine's Area Health Education Center. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii lawmakers and the state’s newly elected governor are heading into the upcoming legislative session with a tight budget and a slew of looming priorities that include dealing with struggling hospitals, medical marijuana and a creeping lava flow. Associated Press.

With pronouncements already from Gov. David Ige that excessive government spending must stop and the state must live within its means, lawmakers are taking the cue and preparing for a low-key 2015 legislative session. Star-Advertiser.

2015 Legislature — Time To Stop the Financial Bleeding. Lawmakers are expected to focus on major fiscal problems facing the state with less attention to hot-button political issues. Civil Beat.

Officials from the state’s public health care provider, Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, say they will likely need more than a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the next two fiscal years to fully offset potentially crippling debts, ranging from new federal changes to collective bargaining raises. Some officials, however, say they are not convinced the request should be approved. Garden Island.

Time and the tenacity of Maui County's state lawmakers will tell if this year's legislative session will be the one that takes Maui Memorial Medical Center off life support. Maui News.

The new chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees are both from the Big Island, but their stance on genetically modified crops couldn’t be more different. The strong positions Senate Agriculture Chairman Russell Ruderman and House Agriculture Chairman Clift Tsuji have taken on each side of GMO laws almost guarantee a stalemate on issues such as state pre-emption of county farming regulations, counties’ home-rule rights and just about anything dealing with GMO limits or labeling when the state Legislature convenes for its regular session Wednesday. West Hawaii Today.

In the wake of recent federal court rulings that Hawaii counties don’t have the authority to regulate farming, it is now up to legislators to address growing concerns about pesticides. Civil Beat.

A nonprofit foundation headed by state Sen. Sam Slom had its tax-exempt status revoked last year by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to file its federal tax return for three years. Slom, the sole Republican in the state Senate and a staunch opponent of new taxes, is president of the Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation. Star-Advertiser.

Fresh from winning a new four-year term, incumbent West Hawaii Sen. Josh Green is sitting on the fattest war chest of any state or local candidate in the 2014 election. Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, ended the election season with $493,438 left over, according to new statistics posted Thursday to the state Campaign Spending Commission website, ags.hawaii.gov/campaign/2014-election. Coming in second was Gov. David Ige, with $435,030. Some 298 candidates sought office in 2014, according to the commission. West Hawaii Today.

Hawaiian Electric Co. is expected to file a proposal Tuesday with the state Public Utilities Commission to cut nearly in half the net energy metering reimbursements offered to customers with rooftop photovoltaic systems. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii Gas, the state's only regulated gas utility, is looking to be the sole provider of liquefied natural gas to help the state reach renewable-energy goals. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii temporarily suspended its online Medicaid eligibility system over the weekend as health center workers complain it's fraught with problems. The system known as Kolea is set to cost taxpayers as much as $144 million. It launched in October 2013. Associated Press.

NASA has selected Hawaii as the preferred site to establish the world's first laser communications ground terminal, which could spur major economic activity in the state, translating to job creation and revenues, according to public documents obtained by Pacific Business News.

One trend of Hawaii’s tourism industry over past year has been a growing number of visitors from China. While the numbers are still small compared to Japan, they’re increasing. And China’s government is taking a new step that may improve the travel experience for all parties concerned. Hawaii Public Radio.

Oahu

Passengers waiting for flights at Hawaii's largest airport could have access to free Wi-Fi by the end of the year — if state transportation officials can make it happen. Star-Advertiser.

A plan to get Waikiki property owners to pool their resources to help pay for maintenance and restoration of Oahu's most iconic beach cleared its first hurdle before the City Council Zoning Committee on Thursday. Star-Advertiser.

Not that long ago the popular section of Kuhio Beach known for beach boys and surfing lessons was very low on sand. The shore was so stripped and bare, you could see blocks and boulders. But the shoreline has expanded in what seems like an overnight growth spurt. Hawaii News Now.

Opening statements were scheduled for Tuesday in the state civil trial of Katherine Kealoha, a deputy city prosecutor and wife of Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha. Star-Advertiser.

The U.S. government is modifying terms of a plea deal reached with a shipping company for spilling 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor. The judge who accepted the guilty plea from Matson Terminals Inc. in October was concerned that the $1 million the company agreed to pay is higher than the maximum fines allowed by law. Associated Press.

Opinion: Urban Hawaii: When the World Is Your Neighbor, Do You Ever Meet? When a big, fancy tower is built it creates a different sort of “neighborhood” from the ones many of us grew up in. Civil Beat.

Hawaii

Parker Ranch and NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the company buying Hawaiian Electric Industries, reached a deal for the development of wind farms on its land. Tribune-Herald.

Kua Bay should have lifeguards, many say. West Hawaii Today.

More than 50 friends, patients and colleagues of Dr. Frederick Nitta lined Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo on Saturday, holding up signs and showing their support for the embattled obstetrician. The doctor has practiced in Hilo for about 20 years and helped deliver “tens of thousands” of East Hawaii’s newborns in that time, by his own estimation. Now, he stands accused of overbilling Medicaid to the tune of about $1.2 million and faces the possibility of having to shut his practice down after the federal health care program stopped reimbursing him in September. Tribune-Herald.

Hilo Hattie, one of Hawaii’s largest retailers of Hawaiian fashions and goods, closed its nearly 30-year-old Kailua-Kona store and plans to pursue a new direction — expanding and broadening cultural experiences. West Hawaii Today.

Maui

Maui now has a voice for cyclists and pedestrians seeking a safe and fun place to bike and walk. The Maui Bicycling League, a nonprofit Maui chapter of the Hawai‘i Bicycling League, officially formed on Dec. 19, 2014, will spearhead efforts to put more bike lanes on Maui roads. Maui Now.

Haleakala National Park will be hosting two community meetings for public review and comment on a draft of the park's foundation document, which defines the park's core mission and significance, its most important resources and values and interpretive themes. Maui News.

Kauai

A federal court ruling in Washington state is being eyed as a victory and potential game changer by those battling to stop Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed dairy on Kauai’s south side, including the Friends of Mahaulepu group. HDF, however, doesn’t see a connection. Garden Island.

The Kauai Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol is experiencing a drop in numbers and volunteers who left are saying its ability to carry out emergency services and tsunami watch missions is in peril.  Garden Island.