Tuesday, March 31, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court rules against OHA

News Flash!

Tip of the hat to Robert H. Thomas for getting us the opinion fast:


U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka issued the following statement today in response to a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on Hawaii v. Office of Hawaii Affairs:

“I will continue to monitor the case as it is taken back up by the state courts. I still believe the best way forward is through direct negotiations between the state and federal governments and a federally recognized Native Hawaiian government. For these issues to be resolved, Native Hawaiians need a seat at the table. Mainland indigenous people have this opportunity and Native Hawaiians deserve the same chance.”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Video contest publicizes election reform

HONOLULU -- Clean elections advocates have launched a video contest to get the word out about two initiatives currently being considered in the state Legislature.

First prize in the contest is a $100 amazon.com gift card. Second prize is a $50 gift card and third prize is a $25 gift card. Rules are here.

The contest is sponsored by the Coalition to Stop the Tsunami – a group that includes Common Cause Hawaii, Kokua Council, Citizen Voice, Americans for Democratic Action/Hawaii, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii, Advocates for Consumer Rights and the Hawaii Pro-Democracy Initiative.

Campaign finance bills at issue during this legislative session include:

Big Island Fair Elections Pilot. This pilot project is for public funding of Hawaii County Council elections in 2010, and the following two elections. The House passed HB 345, which would delay the pilot to 2014. The bill is pending in the Senate.

Corporate Campaign Donations. Legislators want to allow corporations to donate more than $1,000 in campaign contributions, but opponents have stopped two attempts this year to raise the $1,000 limit. There could be a third attempt using SB 93 and/or HB 345, opponents say.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Governor or Congress? Wanna bet?

So, what’s it gonna be? Governor or Congress-

By 10 a.m. Saturday, it will all become clear. Or as clear as politics gets, anyway.

A few months back, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case asked us what he should be when he grows up. Governor or Congressman?

My bet is Congress. What’s yours?

Case, a Democrat, was representing District 2, composed of rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands. But he gave up his safe seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary. That didn’t go so well, so he sat out the next election.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is term-limited so she must now step aside. Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona announced his run for governor early and has already amassed a war chest of $1.4 million. Many pundits, however, don’t think he can carry the state to an unprecedented third consecutive GOP term.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann has said, although not in so many words, that he plans to run for governor. Senate President Colleeen Hanabusa has hinted at it as well. But now that the Democratic heavyweight U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie of District 1 has announced his bid for governor, where will the other pieces fall?

My bet is Case runs for Congress. Washington D.C., not Washington Place, is where he really wants to be. It’s a much shorter jump to U.S. Senate from Congress than the governorship, should one of our two 84-year-old senators die or retire in the near future.

Not that either senator has plans to. Not that they’ve been anything but effective in Washington. Akaka has missed a microscopic 3 percent of his roll call votes and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye just 8 percent of his votes since 1990, according to Govtrack.

Inouye is chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Akaka finally sees his shot at getting recognition for Native Hawaiians into a federal act. So they’re not going to be leaving soon. Or at least willingly.

Still, it’s better to be sitting just a few seats away if they do.

My bet is Congress. What’s yours?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Civil unions bill is dead again

HONOLULU – There is a saying that no bill is dead while the Legislature is in session, and one establishing civil unions is no exception.

But the Hawaii Senate killed it a second time today, failing to pull it from a deadlocked committee by an 18-6 vote.

HB 444, which would give same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of traditional marriage, already passed the full House and has been languishing a month in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, a Kauai Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, has been instrumental in keeping the bill alive. He said the bill has been bottled up in committee by a 3-3 vote, and it’s up to the full Senate to move it forward.

“This is a fundamental issue of the fundamental rights of people,” Hooser said.

Several opponents of bringing the bill forward said they weren’t opposed to civil unions, but they wanted the legislative process kept clean.

“Today is a day when there will be no winners. When one individual is denied rights of others, we all lose But there is a tomorrow,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, D-Kailua, Kaneohe.

The issue has raised a community reaction like no other in recent memory, with groups on both sides holding candlelight vigils, picket lines and demonstrations.

Several times today, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa had to shush a rowdy standing-room-only crowd, while hundreds more people milled around in the Capitol rotunda, lining up for peeks through the glass into Senate Chambers.

Almost 70 percent of Hawaii voters in 1998 passed a constitutional amendment allowing the state Legislature to define marriage as between a man and a woman. A 1997 law allowed same-sex couples to register as “reciprocal beneficiaries,” including hospital visitation rights, authority to sue in wrongful death cases and inheritance and property rights.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Laws aim for quieter neighborhoods

HONOLULU -- Car alarms, leaf blowers, construction. Neighborhood bars. Motorcycles.

Noise pollution is a big problem on Oahu, and every year lawmakers try to do something about it. And every year, they fail.

This year’s crop of bills includes SB 605, addressing low-frequency noise in particular, setting decibel standards for night and authorizing the state Department of Health and county Liquor Commission to enforce them.

Many residents favor noise control.

“Loud late-night noise continues to polarize our community. Residents want a healthy neighborhood, one that includes them being able to sleep in their own homes at night,” said Susan Lebo, a resident of Chinatown Gateway Plaza in testimony.

Both the Department of Health and the Honolulu Liquor Commission oppose the legislation, saying they don’t have the money to enforce new rules.

SB 466 tackles leaf blowers, making it unlawful to operate them in a residential neighborhood, except between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on any day except Sunday or a federal holiday, and between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday or a federal holiday.

“We generally favor a quieter environment. We appreciate that some people dislike noisy leaf blowers/yard equipment,” said Dr. Chiyome Leinaala Fukino, director of the Department of Health. “Noise can be a nuisance and disturb sleep, even if it does not reach the levels that cause hearing damage. (But) There are also practical considerations in achieving a quieter environment.”

Recognizing the futility of trying to pass a law, Sen. Carol Fukunaga and other senators have created a resolution instead. SCR 62 tackles car alarms by requesting vehicle owners to turn them off or make them less sensitive.

“The activation of a single audible motor vehicle alarm system can disturb and awaken hundreds of area residents,” the resolution states.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hawaii banks less 'troubled'

HONOLULU -- Hawaii banks are more solid than financial institutions in most other states, according to an online comparison project created by a journalism partnership.

The analysis of bank financial statements by the Investigative Reporting Workshop and msnbc.com found nonperforming loans and foreclosed properties on bank books nationwide more than doubled last year.

But Hawaii banks, which tended to avoid many speculative loans, seem on more solid footing, according to the reports filed by the group. That’s especially true of the larger banks. (Check out your bank here.)

“While the recession has put borrowers of all kinds under increasing pressure, the Workshop's analysis makes it clear that real estate lending is causing banks the most difficulty,” said author Wendell Cochran in the report.

“At the end of 2008, nearly 80 percent of the troubled assets were connected in some way to real estate lending, even though only about 60 percent of all loans were real estate-related.”

The analysis is based on reports every bank is required to file each quarter with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that protects deposits and is part of the bank regulatory system.

Bank profits have fallen dramatically, and the troubled asset ratio has risen. The troubled asset ratio is a measure of the stress placed on banks by loans. It compares loans that are not being paid on time, and property already acquired by the bank, against the bank's capital and loan loss reserves. The national average was 9.9.

In comparison, Hawaii’s largest bank, First Hawaiian Bank, had a troubled asset ratio of just 2.5 percent and the second largest, Bank of Hawaii, had a ratio of 3.4.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hawaii isn't all about sunshine

Hawaii isn’t the best or the worst, but is smack in the middle of a recent report rating states on the openness of government documents.

The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information ranked Hawaii 26th in the list of 50 states, based on online access to a range of government reports. Hawaii provided 11 of the 20 reports studied. Texas ranked first, providing all 20 of the reports. Mississippi ranked last, providing only four.

The state was ranked high for posting details such as statewide school test data, political campaign contributions and expenses, disciplinary actions against physicians, audit reports, teacher certifications, fictitious business name registrations, database of expenditures, consumer complaints, personal financial disclosure reports and school inspection and safety records.

But Hawaii lost points for not providing disciplinary actions against attorneys, environmental citations and violations, nursing home inspection reports, bridge inspection and safety reports, child care center inspection reports, hospital inspection reports, school bus inspections, gas pump overcharge records and death certificates.

Researchers noted that The state Ethics Commission Web site posts multiyear disclosure PDF files for state representatives, senators, the governor and lieutenant governor, members of the Board of Education, trustees and administrators of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, department heads and their deputies, and judiciary administrators, but the courts do not post disclosures for judges.

"Digital technologies can be a great catalyst for democracy, but the state of access today is quite uneven," Charles N. Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said in a statement. "The future of Freedom of Information is online access, and states have a long way to go to fulfill the promise of electronic self-governance."

Among the major findings:
The information least likely to be found online were death certificates, found on the Web sites of only five states, and gas pump overcharge records, available online in eight. Also infrequently posted online were schools' building inspections and/or safety ratings, which are posted by only nine states, and school bus inspection reports, which only 13 states posted online.

Information most frequently found online were statewide school test scores and DOT projects/contracts, online in 50 and 48 states, respectively. Close behind was campaign data, reported in 47 of the 50 states; disciplinary actions against medical physicians, 47 states; and financial audits, 44 states.

Death certificates are apparently a revenue source for many states, as they charge relatives and "legitimately" interested parties for copies of the records, or farm out the work to a third-party service such as VitalChek. Some states provide historical access online to older death certificates, mostly prior to 1960, although there generally is a fee for hard copies.

The results were released Sunday at the start of Sunshine Week 2009, which runs March 15-21. The study was developed by Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Freedom of Information Committee, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and the Society of Professional Journalists' FOI Committee.

"This study shows that, while a lot of government information is available online, many states lag in providing important information that people care about," David Cuillier, Freedom of Information Committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, said in a statement. "People should be able to find inspection records for their schools online. And the government shouldn't be charging people for death certificates and other records."

The state government surveys were conducted by newspaper and broadcast journalists, journalism students, state press associations, and reporters and editors from The Associated Press. Several participants went the extra cyber-mile and helped complete surveys outside their own states.

"This is the first comprehensive survey of its kind," said ASNE FOI Committee Co-chair Andrew Alexander. "It tells us that many states understand that digitizing public records is key to open government in the 21st century. But it also tells us that, with a few exceptions, states have a long way to go before they become truly transparent.

"We know that providing public records in digital form is the right thing to do for citizens. But it's also the smart thing to do," added Alexander, who is ombudsman for The Washington Post. "With state budgets under considerable stress, providing public records in digitized form is less costly because it doesn't require a human to process each request for information."

Another crumbling infrastructure

By Edwin Bender

Our democracy's infrastructure is crumbling, just as our roads, water systems and sewers are deteriorating across the country — and we have a unique opportunity now to fix them all properly.

I'll leave the roads and such to the engineers. The infrastructure of our democracy, though, is something I know a thing or two about. You see, more than 16 years ago, I and a few other hearty souls across the country began compiling state-level campaign-finance data and making it available to the public.

We created databases by performing thousands of search-and-replace functions on 700-page Word documents that had been input at state agencies. And, even more time-consuming, we input donor information from innumerable paper reports that candidates had filed at their state disclosure agencies. And we made all this available to reporters via floppy disc and fax.

Then along came the Internet, and we happily upgraded our delivery system. But to this day, we still have to type in data by hand, because many candidates still file paper forms with state disclosure agencies. Can you believe it? In this day and age! What a waste of time.

The lack of uniform disclosure for the 50 states is a failure by design. Fragmented campaign-finance reporting means it's more difficult for people to follow the actions of their elected representatives — otherwise known as holding them accountable. Many candidates don't want you getting too familiar with their donor base. And lobbyists certainly don’t want you looking over their shoulders, especially when their actions might cost you money as a taxpayer.

We disagree with that. We think democracy works best when all aspects of campaigns are held up to the light of day. At the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, we’ve compiled campaign-finance data from all 50 states dating back to the 2000 elections, as well as donor information for state party committees and ballot measures.

And we’ve compiled a list of lobbyists registered in the states for 2006 and 2007. We update all our data continuously. In fact, we’re on a first-name basis with staff in all 50 state disclosure offices, who for the most part are public servants eager to do good work. They love seeing their work contributed to the data tools and analyses we offer at www.FollowTheMoney.org. To them, we tip our hats.

To the candidates who seem to think that funding public disclosure and ethics agencies is optional, we offer a Bronx salute. You don't have to look far to find examples of a disclosure agency fining a state political party or candidate for bundling or other breach of the public's trust, and you'll likely see the agency's budget on the cutting block next legislative session (Washington state and Alaska offer some sad examples.)

Since lawmakers themselves aren't eager to move disclosure into the 21st century, a host of nonprofit organizations are doing the work for citizens and displaying the results for free access. For our part, we built a tool called Lobbyist Link that lets you see which companies hired lobbyists and in which states, and where those companies also made political donations. (For instance, type "Merck" into our search window and you’ll see plenty of coordinated lobbying and donations in the states that considered the HPV vaccine for schools.)

Our L-CAT feature reveals who gave to specific state legislative committee members, and how much. For example, (big surprise) it turns out that insurance companies are major donors to members of the 2008 Illinois Senate Insurance Committee.

There is tremendous work being done by nonprofit organizations for Sunshine Week to create an index of all public information held by government agencies, at all levels. Project Vote Smart compiles biographical information about lawmakers, their speeches and voting records for the public, and makes it all available at their site, www.VoteSmart.org. The Center for Responsive Politics tracks donations to presidential and congressional candidates as well as national party committees at www.OpenSecrets.org. Many others are looking at government subsidies and contracts, earmarks and corporate influence.

Unfortunately, we nonprofits are doing what we as taxpayers are already paying government agencies to do. (And we do realize those agencies often are between a rock and a hard place because of their budgets.)

So, now, when this country is set to invest billions of dollars on infrastructure projects meant to stimulate a horribly mismanaged economy, isn't it time we also invest in bringing the infrastructure of our democracy up to the 21st century? We aren’t talking rocket science. We’re talking standards that are common in the business world, where accurate, lightning-fast transactions are the norm.

President Obama has committed himself to transparency and accountability: He was co-sponsor of a 2006 federal law that created USASpending.org, which provides detailed federal spending lists, and the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 that addressed problems at USASpending.org.

That's a start. And it only makes sense. If we’re going to promote democracy around the world, shouldn’t we also promote its health at home?

Bender is executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Helena, MT

Friday, March 13, 2009

'Honolulu' author to sign books on Oahu

She had the great misfortune to have been born a girl in the waning days of the Yi Dynasty in Korea, and so her parents named her Regret.

Forbidden from learning to read alongside her brothers, she grew ever more determined to pursue an education. When she discovered women in America were allowed to attend school, she enlisted as a picture bride and moved to Hawaii.

The reality of 1914 Hawaii wasn’t the paradise she expected, but Regret, now known as Jin, perseveres. Honolulu, the new mini-Michner style book by Moloka’i author Alan Brennert, follows Jin’s journey through the sugar plantations and into the seedier side of Honolulu, touching on historical footnotes as diverse as the trial of Hawaiians accused of raping a white woman, and the creation of the aloha shirt.

The sweeping saga is already attracting the attention Brennert’s first book, Moloka’I, which was hailed as “a dazzling historical saga” by The Washington Post. Iit told the rich, compelling story of the island’s early leper colony and the human drama that was played out there.

Brennert will be signing copies of his books today and tomorrow on Oahu:

Friday, March 13 @ 6 PM
600 Kailua Road, #126
Kailua, HI

Barnes & Noble
Saturday, March 14 @ 1 PM
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI

Interview with author Alan Brennert

Q: Did the idea for Honolulu come out of your research for your previous book, Moloka’i ?

A: In a way. One of the most colorful periods of modern Hawaiian history was the so-called “glamour days” of the 1920s and 30s. Though I read about it in my research for Moloka’i, it was a time period I couldn’t really explore in depth in that book, since my main characters were held in isolation at Kalaupapa. These were the years when Hawai’i made its deepest impression on the American consciousness: the years of Matson liners, the China Clipper, Hollywood celebrities vacationing in Honolulu, and the Hawai’i Calls radio show that broadcasted popular hapa-haole music to the mainland. I found myself wanting to tell a story against that romantic backdrop.

Q: But Honolulu also presents a very different picture of Hawai’i in those “glamour” days.

A: Yes, there were almost two Honolulus existing alongside one another—or more accurately, interwoven, like the Korean patchwork quilts I write about in the book. Because at the same time this romantic, glamorous image of paradise was being exported to the American public, many Native Hawaiians and immigrants to Hawai’i labored on plantations for low wages or lived in poverty in Honolulu tenements. So Honolulu, the novel, is partly about this collision of image and reality...and how, in fact, the reality was actually far richer and more captivating.

Q: Is this why you’ve used so many actual historical figures in the book?

A: They’re not “historical” figures in the conventional sense; my whole point in using them is that many of these people have been largely lost to history. Chang Apana, for instance, was one of the great characters in modern Hawaiian history: a small, two-fisted Chinese-Hawaiian police detective who became one of the most celebrated police officers of his day. But most people today—if they know of him at all—know him primarily as the real-life inspiration for Earl Der Biggers’ “Charlie Chan.” The fantasy has eclipsed the reality. Yet Apana was really a much more colorful and fascinating character than his fictional counterpart, and that’s who I wanted to bring to light—along with other real-life people like “Panama Dave” Baptiste, May Thompson, and Joseph Kahahawai.

Q: Your protagonist, Jin, is a young Korean woman who comes to Hawai’i as a “picture bride.” Was she based on any specific person?

A: Like Rachel Kalama in Moloka’i, Jin is a fictional creation, but is inspired by any number of actual women who emigrated to Hawai’i between 1903 and 1924—Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. I chose to make her Korean because there had already been several fictional representations of Japanese picture brides, but once I started researching Korean culture of that era I saw the rich potential it held as a dramatic motivation for Jin’s journey. It’s been said that Korea in those days tried to be “more Confucian than the Chinese,” and for women it was an especially oppressive environment—which is what motivated many of them to seek a better life elsewhere, through matchmakers who promised a life of adventure and affluence in Hawai’i.

Q: How many picture brides actually made this journey?

A: Estimates range from between six hundred and a thousand. But these women were just a small part of a larger influx of immigrants—Asian, Portuguese, Spanish, Filipino—brought to Hawai’i by the sugar barons who needed laborers to work on the plantations. Those immigrants formed the basis of a polyglot population that today mirrors the kind of multi-ethnic society America is becoming. It’s a subject that’s more pertinent than ever since our new President is himself a product of Hawai’i’s uniquely multicultural society. Honolulu tells of how that culture came to be—and how its story is really the story of America itself.

About the Author:
Alan Brennert is the author of Moloka’i, which was a 2006-2007 BookSense Reading Group Pick and won the 2006 Bookies Award, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library, for the Book Club Book of the Year. It appeared on the BookSense, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Honolulu Advertiser, and (for 16 weeks) NCIBA bestseller lists. He lives in Sherman Oaks, California.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

House budget has deep cuts, layoffs

HONOLULU – State government is going to make do with a whole lot less, under steep budget cuts passed today by the House Finance Committee.

The committee unanimously passed a budget that goes two-thirds of the way toward making up a $1.8 billion shortfall over the biennium that starts July 1. Tax and fee increases are expected to make up the remaining one-third.

The budget situation could become even more dire tomorrow, if the Council on Revenues, as expected, forecasts a 6-percent revenue slump instead of the 3-percent that’s the basis of the current budget plan.

The budget, HB 200, cuts 374 positions, primarily employees in three programs lawmakers see as duplicative – the Disability and Communications Board, the Planning and Development Agency in the Department of Health, and the Career Kokua Program in the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Public affairs offices will also be hard hit.

“I will not sugar coat it or dumb down the reality of what we face,” said House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa. “Drastic steps mirror a drastic situation.”

Democratic committee members, meanwhile, took advantage of the opportunity to blast Republican Gov. Linda Lingle for unilaterally saying there would not be tax increases or layoffs to deal with the sour economy.

The House budget cuts $235 million from Lingle’s $11.1 billion proposal for fiscal year 2010 and $170 million from her $11.3 billion proposal for 2011.

Lingle had promised communication, Oshiro said, yet he was blindsided by press releasees and public comments the governor made without discussing it with the Legislature first.

Committee members agreed that nothing should be taken off the table during these tough times.

“The fact of the matter, we’re chasing a $1.8 billion shortfall,” said Rep. Sharon Har, D-Royal Kunia, Makakilo, Kapolei.

Rep. Gene Ward, R-Kalama Valley, Queen’s Gate, Hawaii Kai, rushed to the governor’s defense. Communication has to be a two-way street, he said. And the Finance
Committee hasn’t been telling the governor what it’s been up to either.

Ward added that the budget situation looks grim, but it’s not as bad as it was in the 1990s, when the state had to dip deeply into its reserves to keep the state running.

“We’re going a little bit overboard too quickly,” Ward said, adding however, “everything we say today is moot until we see what the Council on Revenues does tomorrow.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

Partnership provides new incentive to retire farmland

HONOLULU -- Hawaii farmers and ranchers are getting a new incentive to protect environmentally sensitive lands, with the announcement today of a partnership between state and federal government.

The voluntary land retirement program, known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will provide up to $270 an acre annually for those who set aside cropland for conservation and lesser amounts for pastureland. The program also pays up to half of the cost of installing conservation practices.

The total cost of the Hawaii State CREP over the life of the project is estimated at $67 million for a total enrollment of 15,000 acres. The state of Hawaii will contribute approximately 20 percent, or $13.4 million, as support of the overall program cost.

"USDA is proud to collaborate with the State of Hawaii on this important agreement that will improve the state's water quality and wildlife habitat. It will protect the Hawaiian Islands' vital watersheds and riparian areas on marginal pastureland and cropland," Farm Service Agency acting Administrator Carolyn Cooksie said in a statement.

The agreement is for the six main islands: Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and Oahu. The goal is to enroll up to 15,000 acres of marginal pasture and cropland, with 2,000 of these acres being targeted for enrollment as forest restoration practices and 13,000 acres targeted for wetland resources practices.

The agreement is aimed at improving water quality in stream systems, increasing groundwater recharge, restoring forests and native species' habitats, controlling the spread of invasive species and enhancing near shore coastal and coral reef health.

Hawaii departments of Land and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Health and the University of Hawaii system will join with local Watershed Partnerships and other organizations to support the goals of Hawaii CREP and will offer incentives to participants for installing riparian buffers, wetlands and forest restoration practices.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Same-day voter registration passes Hawaii Senate

HONOLULU – Hawaii may become the 10th state in the nation to allow same-day voter registration, thanks to a bill that passed the state Senate today.

SB 654, sponsored by Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Palolo, is aimed at improving Hawaii’s historically low voter turnout. It’s championed by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Common Cause Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Even the 2008 presidential election featuring Hawaii-born Barrack Obama failed to excite Hawaii voters, with just under 70 percent going to the polls. That’s still higher than the estimated turnout nationwide, but still not enough to satisfy civic groups.

“The last month of campaigning is the period when individuals become most motivated and engaged in elections because of the heightened awareness of issues and mobilization of efforts in competitive races,” said Laurie Temple, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union

“Voters that would be otherwise have been denied the opportunity to vote, including new voters or people who have recently moved, will be enfranchised by election-day registration and thus will increase voter turnout.”

In 2004, an average of 74 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in states with election-day voter registration compared to 60 percent in states without election-day voter registration. In Minnesota, 77 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2004 presidential election. Wisconsin and Maine, which also have election-day voter registration programs, finished second and third, respectively, in voter turnout, according to Senate staff.

But Kevin Cronin, chief election officer for the state, worries about the likelihood of increased administrative costs and the possibility of fraud. Sen. Sam Slom, R-Kahala, Hawaii Kai, cited similar concerns when voting no.

“Increasing voter registration among eligible individuals might be more easily accomplished without risk of same-day voter registration by increasing voter education funding to further raise public awareness and encourage participation in voting and elections,” Cronin said.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

House committee advances ceded lands bill

HONOLULU – A compromise giving the Legislature final approval over the sale of ceded lands is moving forward, even as the highest court in the land mulls over Native Hawaiians' wishes to keep the land in trust until a new Hawaiian nation can be created.

The House Hawaiian Affairs Committee just approved SB 1677, which unanimously passed the Senate last month. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clayton Hee, requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature before ceded lands can be sold.

Ceded lands are lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy but ceded to the state to be held in trust for Hawaiians. Ceded lands comprise 1.2 million acres of land on all Hawaiian islands - about 29 percent of the total land mass of the state and more than 90 percent of state-owned lands.

Attorneys for the state Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs argued their case Feb. 25 before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s not known when the court will issue an opinion.

The bill has three more committee stops before reaching the House floor.

The Attorney General’s Office urged the committee to amend the bill so that ceded lands sales are treated like other commercial land sales. In those cases, the Legislature has the ability to disapprove a land sale or exchange after the state administration has negotiated to a final offer. The Senate bill, in contrast, requires legislative approval in advance.

“… There does not appear to be a pressing need for this bill,” at all, noted Attorney General Mark Bennett in testimony to the committee.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, on the other hand, believes the bill doesn’t go far enough, but is better than nothing. Numerous testifiers agreed with that philosophy.

“Hawaiian lands were never ceded, they were stole and taken illegally,” said Kelly Anne Beppu, a University of Hawaii graduate student in social work. “By allowing the state of Hawaii to sell these ceded lands, we are teaching our children that it is acceptable to lie, deceive and steal. I know I don’t want my children to grow up in a government that values those things."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hawaii considers homeless express

HONOLULU -- No money? Just go home, already.

That’s the message Hawaii will be sending to some of the state’s thousands of homeless -- at least the ones who want to leave.

In what is hoped to be a more loving version of the old “bum express” of the Mainland, the state is considering giving plane tickets to those who’ve found themselves on the street because of the high cost of living and low prospect for jobs in the Aloha State.

HB 1187, the “return-to-home” program, would give out-of-state homeless people a one-way flight back to friends, relatives or other support groups. It’s estimated that each homeless person cost Hawaii taxpayers $30,000 to $35,000, while a plane ticket can be had for $400 or less.

“This isn’t meant to solve the entire homeless problem in the state of Hawaii, only the specific population that came to Hawaii with dreams of hula girls serving mai tais on the beach and has then encountered the harsh reality of homelessness in Hawaii,” said homeless advocate Netra Halperin in testimony to the House Finance Committee today.

Others urge caution.

“While we acknowledge the good intent of this bill, we caution that it may have the unintended effect of increasing the number o homeless persons entering Hawaii, once it is known that a person who gets here on their own will be able to get transportation back home provided by the state,” said Chad Taniguchi of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. “We are concerned that some may misuse this program to take a free vacation to Hawaii.”

The bill is making steady progress through the Legislature, with only members of the greatly outnumbered Minority Caucus voting no.

The University of Hawaii late last year released its “Homeless Service Utilization Report,” a study that attempts to get a handle on the breadth of the homelessness problem on the islands and how best to address it.