The Beat

  • Defense Budget Bill Includes $470 Million for Hawaii

    ·By Todd Simmons
    Hawaii’s two congressional representatives praised the inclusion of nearly a half billion in military infrastructure funding for Hawaii in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016, currently winding its way through the House. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai both serve on the House Armed Services Committee and took credit for line items including nearly $230 million in airfield modernization, housing and support facility upgrades at Marine Cops Base Hawaii and about $108 million in health facilities at Schofield Barracks. Takai also called attention to the inclusion of an infrastructure plan to make improvements to the Red Hill Underground Fuel Facility. A reported 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from the facility last year, and Department of Defense budget documents released late in 2014 said there is a “high potential for fire incident” at the complex. City of Honolulu officials have said the 70-year-old fuel tanks have the potential to contaminate one-fourth of urban Oahu’s drinking water supply. Takai said the NDAA moves conversation about the Asia-Pacific “rebalance” into action, showing “that we are already beginning to shift the focus … and that Hawaii needs to start preparing now.” Gabbard echoed that, calling attention to “key provisions that directly support both the readiness of our troops based in our state and Hawaii’s strategic role in the Asia-Pacific region.” The full committee is scheduled to take up the NDAA on Wednesday. Read the full statement from Gabbard and Takai here: Hawaii house delegation statement on defense authorization bill from Civil Beat
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  • Honolulu Ranks No. 66 in Study of Best Cities to Start a Business

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    Honolulu isn’t the best place to start a business, but it’s far from the worst, according to a new study by the personal finance website Wallet Hub. The website ranked Honolulu No. 66 out of 150 metropolitan areas in an analysis of the best cities to start a business. Honolulu placed No. 79 in terms of “access to resources,” which took into account the availability of small business loans and employees, cost of office space and median annual income of employees. But the city came in No. 51 when it came to “business environment,” which includes the cost of living, corporate taxes, workforce education level and several other factors. The analysis comes as state lawmakers debate a bill that seeks to help Hawaii’s small businesses and the manufacturing industry. House Bill 1069 would expand the state’s Small Business Innovation Research Program to provide more grant money to small businesses and establish the Hawaii Manufacturing Capital Grant Program to support the manufacturing industry. Click here to read more about the rankings, or check out the interactive map below: Source: WalletHub
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  • Roll Call: Hawaii’s DC Delegation Packs the Least Punch

    ·By Rui Kaneya
    Hawaii’s congressional delegation ranked dead last in the country for its political influence, according to the latest Clout Index released by Roll Call last week. Roll Call’s ranking, based on the delegation’s “total size, longevity, majority party representation and formal positions of power,” shows that Hawaii’s clout has plummeted since 2013, when the state claimed 19th spot. Hawaii’s congressional delegation ranked dead last in the national ranking of political influence. Roll Call The plunge, no doubt, reflects the consequence of a generational turnover. In 2012, the delegation lost the considerable political influence of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, a 40-year congressional veteran who chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Three of the four current members of delegation — Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Horono, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — settled into their posts in January 2013, while Rep. Mark Takai assumed his post only this January. The ranking typically benefits the most populated states, because they “generally amass the most seniority, have strength in numbers from the party in power (whichever one it is), claim the biggest shares of the powerful panel assignments and promote their own for leadership posts.” California topped the ranking, followed by Texas, New York and Florida. But Hawaii was outperformed by Alaska, whose population — at about 740,000 — is almost half that of Hawaii. Alaska was 47th in population but 32nd in the ranking.  
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  • HGEA Reaches New Tentative Contract Agreement

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    The Hawaii Government Employees Association announced a new tentative contract agreement for Unit 3 and Unit 4 late Sunday. The two bargaining units comprise some 14,400 white-collar employees and supervisors working city, county and state jobs. HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira described them as “the backbone of Hawaii’s government services.” “It is important to make sure they are treated fairly,” he said in a release. “Their positions include school educational assistants, school health aides, 911 operators and police radio dispatchers, building inspectors, clerks and secretaries, harbor agents, court bailiffs, and many more positions.” HGEA announced late Sunday that it had reached a new tentative agreement with the state. Sara Lin/Civil Beat HGEA had previously reached a deal with the state but stopped the ratification process after learning last week that the Hawaii State Teachers Association had secured a better contract. The teachers union managed to pad its current contract — which restored 5 percent pay cuts made during the recession and added 3 percent raises — with a $2,000 bonus for full-time teachers and $1,000 for part-time teachers. The existing teachers’ contract restored a 5 percent pay cut made in 2009 and included annual salary boosts of at least 3 percent through a combination of across-the-board increases and pay grade step-ups in alternating years. HSTA’s new deal for its 13,500 members also included a 1.8 percent raise that would apply after the current contract ends June 30, 2017. HGEA Units 3 and 4 were in the process of voting
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  • Hawaii Public Radio Ends Pledge Drive in Overtime

    ·By Chad Blair
    Listeners of Hawaii Public Radio may now return to regular programming. HPR staff and volunteers, meanwhile, may now resume their normal lives. It’s the last day of the pledge drive & our own HPR staff is manning the phones! Call now: 877-941-3689 #SupportHPR pic.twitter.com/fBmsmN3laQ — Molly Solomon (@solomonout) April 25, 2015 Just after 12 p.m. Saturday, the stations concluded their semiannual fund drive after pulling in just under $1 million. “The station would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who pledged early and during the drive, to all of the volunteers, the restaurants that donated food, and to everyone for listening,” said HPR’s Nick Yee. Civil Beat staffers in HPR’s music library. Civil Beat Civil Beat cannot confirm rumors that rivers of vodka flowed through the HPR offices soon after the pledge drive’s conclusion. We can tell you that Civil Beat staff helped out during the drive, manning (and woman-ning) the phones Thursday morning. HPR has two complete program streams, HPR-1 and HPR 2, and can be heard in most areas of the state. Civil Beat is a regular feature on HPR-2’s “The Conversation,” which is aired weekdays from 8 to 9 a.m.  17K to go! HPR’s #Challenge2015 Pledge Drive is almost over. We can do it! Help finish the drive, 944-8800 or 941-3689 #supportHPR — Hawaii Public Radio (@hipubradio) April 25, 2015
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  • Senate Confirms Suzanne Case to Head State Land Department

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    The state Senate on Friday unanimously confirmed Suzanne Case to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Ms. Case’s wide range of experience at The Nature Conservancy, which ranges from land acquisition, to watershed management, to the restoration of near-shore marine resources, makes her well suited for the position of Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources,” Sen. Laura Thielen, chair of the Senate Water and Land Committee, said in a release. “Her ability to create partnerships in order to accomplish her agency’s mission will also serve the Department well,” Thielen said. Suzanne Case stands with Gov. David Ige at an April 7 press conference announcing her nomination to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The Senate confirmed her Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat After withdrawing his first choice of Carleton Ching over concerns about his lack of qualifications, Gov. David Ige’s second choice more than met public muster. Case, who worked for The Nature Conservancy for 28 years, has broad experience protecting natural resources throughout the islands and internationally. “I deeply appreciate the Senate’s vote of confidence to serve as the Chair of DLNR and I’m very excited to start as quickly as possible,” Case said in the release. “It’s a very important job for Hawaii and I will give it my all.” Read past Civil Beat coverage here.
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  • Did Bullying By a Supervisor Cause an HPD Officer to Take His Own Life?

    ·By Patti Epler
    Hawaii News Now and reporter Lynn Kawano have a story on the death of HPD officer Kyle Suemori, a 42-year-old cop who shot himself on April 13. Suemori’s colleagues on the force believe his supervisor, who is not named, may have contributed to the officer’s death by bullying him. The supervisor has been reassigned and an internal affairs investigation is underway. Kawano and the station treat this difficult but important story carefully — including interviewing a number of professionals who are very thoughtful about the situation. But it still is causing a stir among police supporters who, according to the amazingly nasty comments, think it was bad form to air the piece before the funeral if at all. Police work is not for the faint-hearted and it takes a special person to do it. We should all be grateful for the men and women who are capable and willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us. But it also comes at a high price and higher rates of all sorts of things — divorce, alcoholism, domestic violence, even suicide — are an occupational hazard. HNN and Kawano should be applauded for shining a light on what may be going on inside HPD, a very secretive operation compared to most departments in the country. And a community discussion of the very real problems police officers face is a good way for HPD to build some much-needed bridges with the community they need as much as we need them. HNN reporter Lynn
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  • House, Senate Lawmakers Debate Education Bills

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    It’s crunch time at the Capitol. House and Senate lawmakers are working to reach an agreement on well over a dozen different education bills affecting kids in preschool all the way up through the university level. Conference committee members said Wednesday that they were close on most of the bills. Rep. Roy Takumi speaks during a joint House-Senate conference committee meeting on education bills. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Rep. Isaac Choy and Sen. Brian Taniguchi are the lead negotiators on many of the higher-ed bills, including an omnibus measure that makes comprehensive changes affecting the entire University of Hawaii system. They are reconvening for many of their bills at 1 p.m., Monday. Rep. Roy Takumi and Sen. Michelle Kidani have the lead for bills affecting the Department of Education, ranging from proposals to combat bullying to restructuring early childhood education and creating financial incentives for teachers. House Bill 11 would give teachers a bonus for maintaining their national board certification and teaching at a school that could use a good educator. There’s debate over whether the Legislature should retroactively give some 54 teachers a $5,000 bonus that they should’ve gotten last year but didn’t because lawmakers accidentally didn’t renew the program in the craziness that ensues at the end of each session. The conference committee is reconvening at 2 p.m. Friday to hear HB11 and several others.
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  • Vermont Looks to Do What Hawaii Won’t — Ban Ivory

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Vermont is getting closer to banning ivory, something Hawaii failed to do again this year. New Jersey banned ivory last year, the first state to do so, and New York passed a law limiting sales. Several other states are looking at the issue. The latest concern in Vermont is an effort to exempt old pianos and antiques, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Apparently the debate there ranged from the slaughter and near extinction of African elephants to terrorism. A 2008 study found Hawaii to be one of the top markets for elephant ivory in the U.S. The Hawaii Legislature has considered banning ivory for years but has yet to pass a bill. Legislation cleared the House this session but died in the Senate. An elephant at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, 2009. Christian Haugen/Flickr
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  • New Tesla Batteries May Answer Hawaii Energy Problem

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Tesla is expected to make a major announcement next Thursday about a new battery that can store energy from rooftop solar systems instead of dumping it back into the grid, which can overwhelm old utility infrastructure. All eyes are on Hawaii, the nation’s leader in solar energy with 12 percent of homes having some type of system. Everyone from Gizmodo to the New York Times have featured the islands and Hawaiian Electric Co. in recent stories about the problem of so much solar energy being produced that the utility can’t handle it. Solar panels on a parking structure in Kakaako. PF Bentley/Civil Beat “The absolute best idea is for homeowners to start installing batteries that can store the power for later use instead of giving the power back to the utilities, something called peak load shaving,” Alissa Walker wrote in a piece for Gizmodo on Thursday. Tesla Motors, which produces those fancy yet relatively affordable electric cars, hasn’t revealed much about its new home battery or the utility-scale one it’s also making. The batteries could store solar as well as energy from other renewable sources like wind and waves. Hawaii would top the list of places that could benefit from the new technology. A front-page NYT story Sunday neatly laid out the problem the state is facing as residents, struggling to afford among the nation’s highest electric bills, are having trouble installing rooftop PV systems because HECO can’t handle the load. The utility was designed to send power to homes, not receive it. “Hawaii’s case is not
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  • Speaker Souki, Rep. Ward Hold Campaign Fundraisers During Session

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    House Speaker Joe Souki and Rep. Gene Ward, minority leader emeritus, are holding fundraisers Thursday as the legislative session enters its most critical period. With sine die coming up May 7, state lawmakers have begun the conference committee period when House and Senate negotiators work to resolve differences in bills — or not. Souki is holding his fundraiser at Wolfgang Steakhouse on Maui; he represents District 8 there. The suggested donation is $1,000. Ward’s fundraiser is at Mandalay Restaurant in Honolulu. The Hawaii Kai rep is seeking $100 to $1,000 per person. Will the cash during session sway any votes? Who knows. Republican Rep. Gene Ward, left, and House Speaker Joe Souki, a Democrat, confer on the House floor during the 2014 session. PF Bentley/Civil Beat
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  • Micronesian Health Care Talk at UH Law School

    ·By Chad Blair
    Hawaii’s Micronesian population is estimated to be at least 15,000, and as with all new arrivals here they are making many contributions to our community. The also face huge challenges — among them, health insurance. Over the last five weeks, leaders in the local Micronesian community have organized outreach and listening sessions in response to the recent state decision to terminate Med-QUEST benefits for Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants. The Laledron Dance Group performs at the Celebrate Micronesia event held at the Honolulu Museum of Art School on March 28. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The goal is to enroll them under the state’s federal health-insurance exchange that is part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). “While community advocates and the Hawaii Health Connector struggled to transition over 7,500 individuals to ACA-based healthcare plans, confusion and problems prevailed,” according to a flier promoting Thursday talk. The panel speakers are Dr. Neal Palafox, professor and former chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine; Joakim “Jojo” Peter, a doctoral student in the special education program at the UH Manoa College of Education and a community advocate for Micronesians; Dr. Sheldon Riklon, a Marshallese family physician born and raised in the Marshall Islands; and Megan Kiyomi Inada Hagiwara, a UH graduate in Public Health, Epidemiology.
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  • Case Dismissed: A Win for the Kailua Kite Surfer

    ·By Patti Epler
    In February, Don Farley was helping a group of kitesurfers launch their contraptions off the beach at Kailua Bay park. He was cited by police for illegal commercial activity, which is prohibited at the park. You can read the Community Voice Don wrote for us about the whole experience here but suffice it to say that the retired Pearl Harbor shipyard project manager was not happy that he had to spend hundreds of dollars to fight the ticket in court. That day in court came Tuesday and, probably to no one’s surprise, the case against Don was dismissed. According to an email Don sent us, the court proceeding was about 90 minutes late getting started and just before he thought he would be called to answer for the crime, the deputy prosecutor announced the case was being tossed. “At first I was thinking yes! victory! beers for all,” Don writes. “Then I realized again what a sad, sad way to be treated at a public park in Kailua. Even if you are law abiding, there is nothing to prevent a kiter from receiving a citation and being drug into the legal system, forced to spend an unreasonable amount of time and money to explain why they liked to help people.” “Draw your own conclusions but for me it created new friendships and reminded me of what a most excellent beach community we have. Be positive, don’t judge people and kite, kite, kite. “Aloha, Don” A kitesurfer on Kailua Beach. Don Farley  
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  • How Takai and Gabbard Marked Earth Day

    ·By Chad Blair
    Hawaii’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives are marking Earth Day this Wednesday in different but complementary ways. The 1st Congressional District’s Mark Takai released a video message and the introduction of legislation along with Reps. Jared Huffman of California and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia that they say “will transform the U.S. Postal Service fleet into a global leader in efficiency and innovation.” All are Democrats. Takai has this to say about the Federal Leadership in Energy Efficient Transportation (FLEET) Act: “While there has been great work accomplished nationwide, there is still much more that can be done to protect our environment. The legislation introduced today will help to modernize the USPS, greatly reducing emissions and increasing fuel efficiency standards of the world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet. In addition, the bill would also save the USPS hundreds of millions of dollars in annual fuel and maintenance costs.” Happy #EarthDay2015! If you have a moment watch Congressman Takai’s #EarthDay message below. – #TeamRepTakai https://t.co/ENAWaigm2R — Mark Takai (@RepMarkTakai) April 22, 2015 Meanwhile, our 2nd Congressional District’s Tulsi Gabbard says she’s happy with Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to recognize a “collaborative landscape partnerships” that will protect coastal reefs in West Hawaii, West Maui and Heeia. Says Gabbard: “It is Earth Day today — a reminder for all of us think about how we can take action to protect our aina, being inspired by our state motto — Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono
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  • Honolulu: The Emerald City

    ·By Chad Blair
    There’s an article in The Huffington Post Hawaii on this fine Earth Day reporting that Honolulu is the greenest city in the nation. We earned the designation in large part because of good air quality and lots of solar panels on Oahu. The study was conducted by NerdWallet.com. No mention of the bad air quality on days when the vog roles in from Kilauea, as it is beginning to this week. And no mention of challenges in getting Hawaiian Electric to accept all those photo-voltaic panels, either, something the New York Times reported this week in Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes. But still, beats Newark or Houston. Bishop Square in downtown Honolulu. Chad Blair/Civil Beat
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  • Legislature in Session? Time to Raise Campaign Cash!

    ·By Chad Blair
    Tuesday was the 50th day of the 60-day session for the Hawaii Legislature. Many lawmakers are busy trying to reach compromise on differences between House and Senate legislation on big things the rail tax surcharge extension, medical marijuana dispensaries and the state’s hospital system. Still, for some lawmakers there is always time to pass the hat for political donations, as was the case Tuesday night at Grand Cafe & Bakery in downtown Honolulu. Flickr: Tax Credits Democrats raking in the dough (at a bakery … get it? ha-ha) included Vice Speaker John Mizuno, Majority Leader Scott Saiki, Majority Floor Whip Cindy Evans, Assistant Majority Leader Chris Lee and Reps. Dee Morikawa and Tom Brower. The asking price: $100 a head. Could some of those contributions be intended to sway positions and legislation? Yep.  
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  • Debt-Free College? Some Democrats in Congress Embrace the Idea

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) on Tuesday introduced resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives to help make sure that students have access to debt-free higher education. “Over the last 30 years, the cost of college has increased by 300 percent, forcing some students to take on overwhelming student loan debt or putting a college degree entirely out of reach for others,” according to Schatz’s office. “Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in the nation, reaching over $1.3 trillion for 38 million student loan borrowers across the country.” The halls of Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat In a statement, Schatz said, “A higher education is the best way for people to move up the economic ladder, but the rising cost of college in Hawaii and across the country has made it harder for students to earn a degree and get ahead.” The message, he said, is this: “We need to do more to make college more affordable for all students so that they can graduate without debt holding them back.” In an article noting the resolutions, The Nation wrote, “Non-binding resolutions and a three-page policy paper don’t (yet) represent a serious legislative push to eliminate student debt at public universities and colleges, but it’s a fairly remarkable idea to embrace, particularly for more moderate Democrats like Schumer, who is likely
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  • At Long Last: Hawaiian Hoary Bat to Be Official State Land Mammal

    ·By Chad Blair
    Legislation designating the ōpe‘ape‘a or Hawaiian hoary bat (Lasiurus cinerus semotus) as the official state land mammal “flew through the Senate, glided through the House of Representatives, and will land on Governor Ige’s desk in the attic of the Capitol Building for his signature” Wednesday afternoon. That’s according to a press release from the Senate Minority Research Office. “The ōpe‘ape‘a will join the pulelehua or Kamehameha butterfly (insect), nene goose (bird), humpback whale (marine mammal), monk seal (mammal) and humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (fish) to take its rightful place in the elite club of official Hawaii state animals,” the release explains. State Sen. Sam Slom, the only Republican in the Senate, has championed the designation for years and finally got enough people to agree with him. The Hawaiian hoary bat. Flickr: Forest and Kim Starr “The ōpe‘ape‘a is worthy of the title of state land mammal because it has been here for so long, and faithfully provides free pest control services to us all,” says Slom. “Most importantly, this bipartisan effort to elevate the bat’s status to state land mammal will increase awareness of the environmental issues affecting its survival.” Here are some bat facts: The ōpe‘ape‘a is Hawaii’s only native land mammal, a subspecies found only in Hawa‘i. Fossils reveal its presence in Hawaii as early as 10,000 years ago. The ōpe‘ape‘a is nocturnal, though no evidence of vampirical activity has been reported.  The ōpe‘ape‘a is insectivorous and eats mosquitoes, moths, beetles, termites, flies and other insects. A single Hawaiian hoary bat
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  • Is Collecting Taxes a ‘War Crime’ in Hawaii?

    ·By Chad Blair
    Here’s an article in The Daily Beast about a “growing movement of defense attorneys, tax dodgers, and legal scholars in Hawaii” who dismiss the idea that we are part of the United States but rather an occupied kingdom. “In the past couple years they’ve been daring D.C. to prove them wrong — calling any attempt to collect taxes from them ‘war crimes’ and challenging the feds in courts around the globe,” the article says. It’s written by M.L. Nestel, who recently penned a Daily Beast piece on whether Hawaii has hate crimes. Iolani Palace. Cory Lum/Civil Beat As in the earlier article, Nestle quotes Keanu Sai — identified by Nestel as an attorney — who argues that the federal and state governments are receiving “stolen money” from those who pay them taxes — hence the “war crimes” charge. Williamson Chang, a law professor at the University of Hawaii, is also a supporter of the kingdom legal theory. Nestel makes reference to the CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana‘o Crabbe, who caused a headache for some trustees with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs last year when he sought an opinion from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.
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  • It’s Time to Celebrate Architecture Month in Hawaii

    ·By Chad Blair
    Civil Beat has written about why so many buildings in Honolulu are colored beige. Despite the blandness, there are actually quite a few architectural gems in the islands. The Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects is getting the word out that it’s time once again to celebrate the built environment in Hawaii. The YWCA on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu. AIA A slate of films, tours and “firm crawls” — it refers to the Center for Architecture and several Honolulu design firms opening their doors for public visits — are scheduled from now until May 1. Events are scheduled on the Big Island, too. Why celebrate Architecture Month, now in its ninth year? “This great tradition started to highlight the power of good design in making our communities better places to live, work and play,” says the AIA. “We hope by elevating awareness of architecture, you will be inspired by your surroundings on a daily basis.” The First Hawaiian Bank building in Honolulu. AIA
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Takai Raises $120,000 in 1st Congressional District Bid

·By civilbeat

State Rep. Mark Takai raised $119,471 during the third quarter filing period for his bid for Congress.

Takai’s campaign said 92 percent of his donations were from people living in Hawaii and 87 percent were from people who donated $100 or less.

Takai is running against state Sen. Will Espero, Honolulu City Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Stanley Chang, and activist Kathryn Xian in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Brian Schatz.

Photo: Screen shot, Oct. 14. (www.marktakai.com)

—Chad Blair

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