The Beat

  • Hirono Decries GOP Plan to Defund Planned Parenthood

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, the Democrat from Hawaii, took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to oppose a Republican bill to defund Planned Parenthood. The GOP’s plan comes in the wake of anti-abortion group releasing videos claiming that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue. The Senate was looking to take up the proposal next week, although it’s not clear if the GOP has the necessary votes. Still, according to Hirono’s office, Planned Parenthood serves 2.7 million — including 7,000 in Hawaii — who rely on for primary health care. “One in five women will visit a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime for health care such as cancer screenings, disease testing, birth control, and other essential health care services,” says a press release. Here’s an excerpt from Hirono’s remarks provided by her staff: “I see this bill and others like it as nothing else than an assault on women’s health. “What else can you call it when defunding Planned Parenthood will result in 2.7 million women in this country not getting the cervical cancer screenings, mammograms, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and other health care they need.” Watch Senator Hirono’s floor speech here and below.
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  • Hawaii Receives $14.2M in Federal Money for Housing and Homelessness

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded Hawaii $14,252,365 to help address the state’s affordable housing and homelessness crises. The funding includes $7,286,071 for affordable housing from the Community Development Block Grant Program program and $1,119,808 to address homelessness from the Emergency Solutions Grant Program program. The grants also include $5,205,409 from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program for low-income housing and $641,077 for housing for people with HIV/AIDS through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program. Hawaii’s congressional delegation praised the grants in a press release Thursday: “Homelessness is one of the most serious and urgent challenges we face in our state, and we need to act now to address it,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who is part of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. “With the Governor’s new working group of state, county, and federal leaders, we’re beginning to see a real and collective seriousness of purpose in solving homelessness from all levels of government. While resolving this crisis won’t come immediately or cheaply, this renewed focus puts us in a good position to work on real, long-term solutions. As part of this new task force and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’m going to be working closely with HUD and do my part to make sure federal funds, including grants like these, continue to give the State and the City and County of Honolulu the critical resources to finally address the housing shortage in Hawai‘i and put
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  • Follow the Money to Find Out Who Voted Against GMO Food Labeling

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    U.S. House members who voted in favor of a bill to ban states from requiring labels on genetically modified food received $29.9 million from the agribusiness industry and food and beverage industry during the 2014 election cycle. That’s according to an analysis by OpenSecrets, which found that Congress members who voted in favor of H.R. 1599 received an average of $108,900 in campaign donations from those industries. In contrast, lawmakers who opposed the measure received an average of just $38,977 per member, or $5.8 million total. Among the bill’s opponents were Hawaii Reps. Mark Takai and Tulsi Gabbard, who harshly criticized the measure. Click here to learn more from OpenSecrets. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard criticizes a bill that would preempt states from mandating GMO labeling. Courtesy of Tulsi Gabbard
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  • Hawaii Longline Bigeye Fishery Hits Limit, Forcing Early Closure

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    The Hawaii longline fleet has reached the limit on the amount of bigeye tuna it can catch this year, prompting the feds to close the fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean starting next Wednesday. The limit, set by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, is 3,502 metric tons. About a quarter of the 140-vessel fleet will still be able to go fish for another 500 tons of bigeye apiece in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which is regulated by a different commission. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which manages the Hawaii longline fleet, said in a press release Wednesday that the closures are going to reduce the supply of Hawaii longline-caught bigeye tuna to the Honolulu fish auction. The longliners target the bigeye ahi for sashimi markets. Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet has hit its limit this year for bigeye tuna, pictured here. Courtesy of NOAA “From an economic perspective, each Hawaii longline vessel can be likened to a ‘mom and pop store” or similar small business,’ the release says. “Not being able to fish is like a store closing for the same amount of time, with disastrous effects on livelihoods.” The council is pushing the National Marine Fisheries Service to change its rules to let the Hawaii longline fleet haul in more fish by assigning some of its quota to Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Earthjustice, representing three environmental groups, is challenging this in court, arguing that the move ignores international rules protecting the health of the fish stock. The closure of the Hawaii longline bigeye
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  • Hawaii Has 37th-Best School System in US, Report Says

    ·By Marina Riker
    Hawaii students are returning to schools that could use some improvement, a new report by WalletHub found. The website compared the quality of education in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, using 13 metrics to find which school systems were the best, such as student-teacher ratios and standardized test scores. Source: WalletHub “By shining the spotlight on top-performing school systems, we aim to encourage parents to help … call the attention of lawmakers on the work that remains to be done to improve America’s schools,” stated the report. The study found that Hawaii ranks 37th overall in education systems. Meanwhile, Hawaii has the fifth-safest school system in the country. To determine school safety, the report used youth incarceration and bullying rates, as well as the percentage of students who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. WalletHub also looked at school spending, and found that the Aloha State ranks 17th in the nation for spending on education. Source: WalletHub
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  • Hot Enough For You? It’s Likely to Get Worse

    ·By Chad Blair
    Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it, goes the old line. Folks in the media, however, can at least offer perspective. Unfortunately, it’s not comforting. The Washington Post has an article looking at when summer temperatures peak across the country. In Hawaii, that’s in August and September and into early October. Given that the thermometer has hit 90 degrees or so several times this month in Honolulu, Kahului and Hilo, it’s best to prepare for the worst. Drink fluids. Buy fans. Sleep naked. Repeat.
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  • Maui County Council Chair Questions Enforcement of Lobbyist Law

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Maui County Council Chair Mike White wants Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration to breathe life into the county’s 34-year-old law requiring lobbyists to register. In his column Sunday for the Maui News, White said the requirement is seemingly ignored, given that a member of the public recently had to file a formal records request to access the list. Aside from the list not being easily accessible online like it is in other jurisdictions, he said the list was so short it seemed obvious the law wasn’t being enforced. The law, which is similar to that of other counties and the state, requires people to register as a lobbyist if they submit testimony to the council or otherwise urge the county to make policy or administrative decisions and are being compensated for their service. “It’s futile to have good laws if they aren’t being enforced,” White said. “And it’s hard to understand why public records that could be useful to council members and government watchdogs are kept from public view.” Read his complete column here. Maui County Council Chair Mike White is questioning the administration’s enforcement of the lobbyist registration law. County of Maui
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  • Report: Need for Micronesian Translators in Hawaii Courts

    ·By Chad Blair
    Requests for translation services in Hawaii’s court system “have soared,” the Associated Press reports, “fueled by an influx of migrants” from the Compact of Free Association nations. The COFA treaties allow citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau to live and work indefinitely in the United States. In turn, the U.S. has total defensive control of the vast region. The Hawaii Supreme Court building with King Kamehameha Statue and signs. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The AP story focuses on a case involving a Marshallese man accused of shooting a woman and a police officer on the Big Island. The defendant’s right to hear his proceedings “in the Marshall Islands tongue” has led to delays in the case. The exact number of COFA citizens in Hawaii is difficult to pin down, with recent numbers estimated to be around 15,000 to 17,000. But that number may be higher, given what the AP has found: “About 15,000 people in Hawaii speak Chuukese, said Robin Fritz, foreign service officer for the Federated States of Micronesia Consulate in Honolulu. The Republic of Marshall Islands Consulate in Honolulu estimates 3,000 to 4,000 people in Hawaii speak Marshallese.” While Chuukese and Marshallese comprise most of the COFA population in Hawaii, there are others from Palau, Yap, Kosrae and Pohnpei. The total number of COFA citizens — our newest immigrant population in the islands — may be approaching 20,000.
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  • Honolulu Ethics Commission Loosens News Media Policy

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    The Honolulu Ethics Commission has rescinded its restrictive news media policy, and adopted a new version that allows its executive director to speak to the press without needing permission and to comment on the potential impact of advisory opinions. The commission adopted its first media policy in June, which blocked its executive director, Chuck Totto, from sharing concerns about the commission and commenting on advisory opinions. Chuck Totto at Thursday’s Honolulu Ethics Committee meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The June news media policy passed after a city attorney criticized Totto for saying that ethics violations by two former City Council members could nullify their votes on the Honolulu rail project. The new version adopted Thursday still bars the commission’s staff from interpreting formal advisory opinions and findings in news releases, but allows the staff to comment on hypothetical situations that the opinions might impact. The latest news media policy was drafted by Vice Chair Michael Lilly. The commission adopted the draft after deleting paragraphs 4 and 7. Honolulu Ethics Commission News Media Policy from Civil Beat
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  • Where are Honolulu’s Most Expensive Homes Selling?

    ·By Marina Riker
    Home buyers must pay more for a piece of paradise. Hawaii is known for one of the most priciest housing markets in the nation. For nearly three decades, property values rose steadily at an average rate of 5 percent each year in the Aloha State, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors. In some places, such as Leeward Oahu, property values rose by as much as 11 percent in the last year alone. On the North Shore and in urban Honolulu, there’s been a more than 8 percent jump at the same time. In the last six months, more than 65 homes on Oahu sold for more than $2 million, with one fetching $17.7 million. Civil Beat made a map of home sales over $2 million using recent data from Realtor.com. Each point on the map represents a sale, and the size of each point depends on the sale price. Click or zoom in on the map to find out more.
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  • Hawaii Senate President Wishes Breene Harimoto a ‘Speedy Recovery’

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    State Sen. Breene Harimoto has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and will be undergoing treatment soon, according to a Senate news release Thursday. In a statement, Senate President Ron Kouchi wished his colleague a speedy recovery. “Senator Harimoto is a valued member of our Senate body and a friend to all of us here at the Legislature,” he said. “Our thoughts are with Senator Harimoto and his family, and we wish him a speedy recovery.” Harimoto, 61, has expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of aloha. He has asked for privacy and prayers for himself as well as for his family in the coming weeks, the release said. Harimoto, a former Honolulu City Council member, represents the 16th Senatorial District, which includes Pearl City, Aiea and Pearl Harbor. He also served on the Board of Education. Sen. Breene Harimoto, pictured here during a Feb. 17 legislative hearing, was recently diagnosed with cancer. Cory Lum/Civil Beat
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  • Tom Brower to Press Charges Against Homeless Teens in Kakaako

    ·By Rui Kaneya
    State Rep. Tom Brower announced Thursday that he’s pressing charges against the homeless teens who allegedly attacked him last month in Kakaako. Brower, known for once taking a sledgehammer to 30 shopping carts used by homeless people, made his announcement at the corner of Ohe and Olomehani streets — the site where he got into an altercation June 29 and was taken to an emergency room with a head injury, bruised ribs and a laceration above his right eye. “We have seen an escalation in the number of assaults in the area, and those who commit these acts need to be held accountable for their actions,” Brower told the reporters. State Rep. Tom Brower returns to the site of his attack to announce that he’s pressing charges. Cory Lum/Civil BeatSince the altercation, Brower has been maintaining that he was attacked without provocation. But two boys, ages 14 and 17, told Civil Beat last month that the altercation started because Brower refused to stop taking pictures of their encampment without permission. “We asked him nicely to please stop taking pictures. He told us, ‘Just back off,’” said Isaiah Totoa, 17. Brower said the photos and videos in his camera would have validated his account of the event, but the boys said they deleted those files when he left the camera at the scene of the altercation. “I have no anger toward anyone involved; however this is not just about me,” Brower said. “This is about the health and safety of the public.
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  • The Cost of Living in Hawaii Means the Minimum Wage Is Really Only $6.67

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    At $7.75 per hour, Hawaii’s minimum wage is higher than two dozen states. But when you adjust for the high cost of living in the islands, that wage is only worth $6.67, according to a new analysis by the Washington Post. That’s lower than any other state, the newspaper found. The states that fare the best in the analysis are South Dakota, Oregon and Washington where the minimum wage, adjusted for cost of living, is $9.70, $9.37 and $9.18 respectively. In general, Honolulu salaries plummet when the cost of living in factored in, making it tough even for professionals to find well-paying jobs. The Washington Post story notes that a major factor diminishing the value of the Hawaii’s minimum wage is the state’s high cost of housing. That contributes to the state’s extremely high rate of homelessness and also drives some locals away. But some relief is on the way. Last year, the Hawaii Legislature passed a law that will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by January 2018. It remains to be seen what kind of a difference that will — or won’t — make. Click here to read the full article from the Washington Post. For more about Hawaii’s high cost of living, read Civil Beat’s exploration of the subject in Living Hawaii and personal stories from readers in Connections.
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  • Takai and Gabbard Vote Against Bill to Prevent Mandatory GMO Labeling

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Mark Takai voted against a bill that seeks to stop states from requiring companies to label genetically engineered food. The measure introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday with a vote of 275-150. It goes next to the Senate. The bill, HR 1599, is backed by the grocery and biotech industries and is known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Because it would overturn state laws that require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), opponents call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. Anti-GMO demonstrators hold signs at the Hawaii State Capitol building on Opening Day of the 2015 legislative session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Gabbard, who has been outspoken in her opposition to HR 1599 and co-sponsored HR 913 which would require federal mandatory GMO labeling, said in her floor speech that the measure “makes a mockery of transparency and leaves U.S. consumers in the dark.” “What are they so afraid of?” she asked. “Why deprive Americans of the ability to make educated choices about whether they want food with genetically modified ingredients? Why make the labeling of such food just voluntary? Why not require it, as we require basic nutrition information on processed foods now?” She discussed the local opposition to GMOs in Hawaii: My state of Hawai‘i is the number one state for experimental Genetically Engineered plant field trials, according to the USDA. Many of my constituents are very
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  • Red Hill Fuel Leak May Be Over 39,000 Gallons, KITV Reports

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    The Red Hill fuel leak — estimated at 27,000 gallons — may be closer to 40,000 gallons according to a new report by KITV. The underground storage tanks at Red Hill, which can hold 250 million gallons of fuel, spilled 27,000 gallons in January 2014, raising concerns about potential contamination of Oahu’s water supply. KITV reported Wednesday that documentation provided by a whistleblower estimated the leak to be far worse: 39,312 gallons of JP-8 jet fuel. But the Navy is denying that account and sticking with the previously reported number of 27,342 gallons. Click here to read the full report by our media partner, KITV. To read Civil Beat’s previous coverage of this topic, click here. Security fence at Red Hill Underground Fuel Facility. PF Bentley/Civil Beat
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  • UH Faculty Bring in $425 Million in Contracts, Grants

    ·By Todd Simmons
    External funding for research and instruction projects at the University of Hawaii surged to more than $425 million in the recently completed fiscal year — a jump of $33 million or 8.5 percent over last year and the first increase after three consecutive years of funding declines, UH officials disclosed Wednesday. Cuts in federal agency budgets over the past several years have limited growth in funded projects at most major research universities, such as UH. But a focus on areas of emerging scientific interest helped UH faculty researchers bring in $425,650,338 in contracts and grants for fiscal year 2015. “The entire state should take pride in our increase in extramural research funding,” said David Lassner, UH president, in a press release. “This not only advances the Hawaii Innovation Initiative and strengthens our economy, but benefits the people of Hawaii as our remarkable faculty and staff address challenges and opportunities of local and global importance.” University leaders pointed to multiple areas as driving the increase, particularly programs at their community college and university campuses serving Native Hawaiians in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Hawaiian culture and language, leadership development and campus renovations. Together, those efforts were responsible for $69 million in federal grants. UH Manoa’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute earned $8.5 million from the Office of Naval Research for evaluation and testing of renewable energy systems for smart and micro-grids. In addition to ongoing projects on neighbor islands, the initiative recently broke ground on two “net-zero” energy classrooms at UH
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  • Hirono, Schatz Split Votes on Highway Funding Bill

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. senators voted 62-36 on Wednesday to end debate on a motion to advance a bipartisan highway bill, in spite of several top Democrats voting to filibuster the legislation. Brian Schatz of Hawaii voted “aye” along with fellow Democrats like Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. But Mazie Hirono, Hawaii’s other senator, voted “nay” along with top Democrats like Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York. Cars on the H-1 freeway. The highway fund, which pays for the nation’s roads, bridges and highways and expires on July 31, “has been plagued by a cycle of short patches, making it difficult for local officials to plan long-term transportation projects that would improve the infrastructure in their states,” says The Huffington Post. “The legislation before the Senate would authorize spending levels for the highway fund for six years, but only shores up money for three of those years.” Some Democrats and Republicans are upset with the way the bill “scrapes” together funding for the bill, including $16.3 billion from a reduction in a Federal Reserve bank subsidy. The disagreements led to a lengthy logjam … until now. “The vote caught many senators by surprise,” says Roll Call. “Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore,. were warming up for the Washington Kastles Charity Classic when they got word of the vote. They dropped their racquets and got on the phone and prepared to pack it in and head back to the Capitol.” Sixty votes were needed to overcome
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  • Honolulu Among Top US Cities that Locals Leave

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    A Bloomberg analysis has found that Honolulu ranks fourth among American cities that lost the most residents between July 2013 and July 2014. University of California Los Angeles professor Michael Stoll hypothesizes that rising home prices are pushing out local residents, the article says. Scott Young, Nora Yolles-Young and their two children weeks before they moved out of the “ohana unit” where they lived in Honolulu. PF Bentley/Civil Beat That’s definitely a factor in Honolulu, where the median price of a home was $700,000 last month. The high cost of housing hurts families like the Youngs, who moved to Houston last year after feeling like they were “hemorrhaging money.” To learn more about the high cost of housing, read Civil Beat’s series on the cost of living. For readers’ perspective on how the cost of living affects their lives, check out Connections.
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  • Power Outages Across Oahu After Coal-Fired Plant Goes Down

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Hawaiian Electric Co. was working to restore power to homes and businesses around Oahu after the state’s only coal-fired power plant unexpectedly went down Wednesday. The 180-megawatt plant operated by AES Hawaii, an independent power producer, went out of service, prompting HECO to do targeted emergency outages around 11:23 a.m. to avoid a more widespread outage or damage to the electric system from an imbalance of too much demand versus too little available generation, HECO said in a news release. The plant has the largest single generating unit on island. PF Bentley/Civil Beat The outages affected customers in Waialua, Kahuku, Waihee, Kaneohe, the Kapiolani area, downtown Honolulu, Waiakamilo, Moanalua, Halawa, Moanalua and Waipahu. Power to most affected customers was restored shortly before noon, HECO said. “We apologize for this disruption and thank our customers for their patience. We understand any kind of an outage is disruption and we are working with AES to investigate this issue and bring their generator back into service,” Darren Pai, Hawaiian Electric spokesperson, said in the release. Hawaiian Telcom’s phone system also had troubles Wednesday morning. The company is working to restore service.
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  • Tulsi Gabbard Says Bill to Prevent GMO Labeling is Bad for Democracy

    ·By Anita Hofschneider
    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard criticized a bill Wednesday that would prevent states from mandating labels on food with genetically modified ingredients. The Hawaii representative spoke at a press conference at the U.S. Congress to condemn the bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas. The measure seeks to overturn the mandatory GMO labeling laws in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. The bill is known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act but critics like Gabbard call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard criticizes a bill that would preempt states from mandating labels on GMO foods. Courtesy of Tulsi Gabbard Gabbard later sent out a press release along with seven Democrats including Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, Nita Lowey from New York, Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, Peter Welch from Vermont, Chellie Pingree from Maine and Ann McLane Kuster from New Hampshire. In a statement, Gabbard said the measure takes away consumers’ rights and undermines local control. “Almost 90% of the American people want to know what’s in their food,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “The DARK Act would roll back steps taken by a majority of states and counties, including communities in Hawaii, to better inform people about the ingredients in the food they eat… This bill is bad for transparency, consumer rights, and democracy, and should be defeated.” A few hours after the press conference, Gabbard sent out an email to supporters asking them to sign a petition opposing the bill and
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Hawaii Gov’s Race Moves From ‘Likely’ Democratic to ‘Leans’

·By civilbeat

Check out this item from Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

On the Democratic side, keep an eye on Hawaii, where a surprising poll result showed Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) trailing former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R). Abercrombie beat Aiona by 17 points in 2010. We’ve gone back and forth on this race over the cycle, weighing Abercrombie’s unpopularity versus the state’s partisan lean: In addition to being heavily Democratic at the federal level, Democrats will have governed the Aloha State for 44 of the 55 years of the state’s existence assuming that Abercrombie serves out the rest of his current term.

But Abercrombie, who has irritated enough Democrats to spawn a primary challenge from state Sen. David Ige (D), might kick his office away. We’re moving this race from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.

Photo: Gov. Abercrombie at the Resilient Hawaii Forum, 2014. (Abercrombie Administration)

—Chad Blair

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