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  • State, County Lawmakers Want to Explore Public Utility Option for Hawaii

    · By Nathan Eagle

    More than 40 state and county lawmakers united Thursday in a commitment to explore the potential of public utilities in Hawaii.

    Their announcement comes as the Public Utilities Commission considers approving the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

    HEI owns Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu; Maui Electric Co., which serves Maui, Lanai and Molokai; and Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island. Kauai, the only county now not powered by an HEI subsidiary, gets its energy from Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

    Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang stands next to Rep. Chris Lee as Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin and other state and county lawmakers look on, Thursday, at the Capitol.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “Public utilities don’t need higher rates to make profits for shareholders, and as a result they tend to have significantly lower rates than for-profit utilities across the country,” state Rep. Chris Lee, who heads the House Energy and Environment Committee said at a news conference in the Capitol.

    He was flanked by 20 other lawmakers who support looking at fundamentally changing the monopoly for-profit utility model that has served Hawaii for the past 100 years.

    Among the supporters was Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who said the county will be the biggest consumer of electricity in the state, even surpassing the military. Council members Ikaika Anderson and Kymberly Pine joined him.

    House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, along with fellow Republican Rep.

  • A Growing Consensus that the Hawaii State Hospital Must Expand

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The perpetually overcrowded Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, site of hundreds of assaults on staff by patients and a host of other problems over the past 20 years, has won the support of a key advocate for change — the new state health director, Dr. Ginny Pressler.

    She plans to ask the Legislature for $150 million next session to build a state-of-the-art forensic facility at the hospital to add more beds, specialized care and better equipment. Right now virtually every patient is in the hospital on a court order, but with the expansion, mentally ill people who aren’t in trouble with the law could also be served.

    Pressler recognizes it’s a big request, and it’s unclear how much it will cost to operate the facility once it’s built, but she said the state can’t afford to wait.

    “This is one of my top priorities,” Pressler told Civil Beat. “If we don’t build a new forensic state hospital like right away, we are going to have another crisis. I want to prevent that.”

    Hawaii Department of Health Director Ginny Pressler wants to build a new forensic facility at the state hospital.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The hospital has been plagued by crises for more than two decades.

    In 1991, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state for violating the constitutional rights of patients. Substandard care, over-prescribing medicine, leaky buildings and unsafe conditions were all reported.

    The state went under federal court oversight after failing to turn things around. That lasted until 2004 when the state was

  • What’s Happening to Hawaii’s Push for Criminal Justice Reform?

    · By Rui Kaneya

    As he marched into the executive suite at the Hawaii State Capitol, a brown-nut lei around his neck, Neil Abercrombie was beaming.

    It was June 20, 2012, and the then-governor was about to sign into law two landmark measures — Senate Bill 2776 and House Bill 2515 — that were close to his heart.

    The measures were aimed at overhauling Hawaii’s troubled criminal justice system by making it more efficient and shifting resources to efforts that promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism — under a program called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The ultimate goal: dramatically reduce the state’s inmate population and achieve significant cost savings along with it.

    A former probation officer, Abercrombie was all for JRI.

    In June 2012, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law two bills that promised a sweeping overhaul of Hawaii’s criminal justice system.

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    “With the enactment of these bills, I believe we’re taking the next step forward in our commitment to control our criminal justice system, exercising resources in a sensible and clear-sighted, clear-headed manner in Hawaii, and strengthening the capacity for people to return to society,” Abercrombie said, as he addressed a bipartisan group of lawmakers and advocates who had gathered for the bill signings.

    JRI’s adoption represented Hawaii’s boldest foray into criminal justice reform, a movement that has taken hold nationwide in recent years with bipartisan support in the belief that an incarceration-based system has had enormous moral and financial costs.

    More than three years later, JRI isn’t living up to its lofty expectations.

    According to

  • 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

  • How Hawaii Lawmakers Spend More Than $400,000 Without Accounting for It

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii taxpayers write a check every year to neighbor island legislators for more than $400,000 to cover expenses the lawmakers don’t have to account for.

    The 25 members who represent Kauai, Maui and the Big Island automatically receive $175 per day to be used primarily for food and lodging while the Legislature is in session from January to May. They are not required to keep receipts — it’s more of an honor system, similar to what some private companies do.

    They can also request the same per diems during the interim, but are required to fill out a form explaining why the money is needed. Civil Beat inspected those expenses for the period ending June 30.

    Rep. Kaniela Ing has used his per diem during the interim between sessions more than any of his neighbor island colleagues.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The $175 per day may sound insignificant to some, but it adds up. The roughly 105 days that neighbor island lawmakers get the automatic per diems during session comes out to about $270,900 for the 17 representatives and roughly $144,000 for the eight senators.

    “Basically, the idea is that a member would have to maintain a residence on Oahu during the session, so they would need funding for every day” during session, House Chief Clerk Brian Takeshita said.

    Some members may rent an apartment in Honolulu, for instance. Others may stay in a hotel and then go home on weekends.

    Per diems are in addition to

  • Study: Hawaii Caregivers Providing Unpaid Care Worth $2.1 Billion

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Advocates for the elderly in Hawaii are hoping a new study puts additional pressure on state lawmakers to pass legislation next session that helps overloaded family caregivers.

  • Ige Vetoes Sex-Trafficking Bill, Seven Others

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Updated 5:35 p.m., 7/14/15

    Hawaii Gov. David Ige has followed through on his previously announced plans to veto eight bills.

    That includes measures to combat sex trafficking, allow University of Hawaii graduate students to unionize and clarify the order of succession for lieutenant governor.

    Tuesday marked the deadline for the governor to veto any of the eight bills he put on his intent-to-veto list last month. All eight were officially vetoed Monday and then transmitted to the Legislature.

    Gov. David Ige has vetoed a sex-trafficking bill that was described as convoluted and potentially detrimental to prosecuting pimps. He vetoed eight bills in all.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    House Democrats met in caucus two weeks ago to review the list of bills Ige said he planned on vetoing. House Speaker Joe Souki and Senate President Ron Kouchi also met to discuss the issue last week.

    “There was no sentiment to come back to override,” House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said Tuesday.

    Saiki said the concerns the governor had with the bills can be dealt with next session, which starts in January.

    Ige vetoed a bill that would have extended the authority of UH to maintain a separate accounting and financial management system; a bill that would have required estimated future debt service for proposed Capital Improvement Projects to be included in the budget documents submitted to the Legislature; and a bill that would have repealed the ethanol facility tax credit and established a five-year renewable fuels production tax credit.

    Another bill he vetoed would have increased the dollar threshold with

  • How Hawaii Lawmakers Spend Up to $13,000 a Year — Each

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Updated 3:15 p.m., 7/8/2015

    Hawaii lawmakers have had a rocky relationship with state Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo ever since he was appointed in 2011.

    Many have been less than thrilled with his strict interpretation of the Ethics Code and opinions on what gifts they are allowed to accept from lobbyists, or what events they can attend with complimentary tickets.

    Legislative allowances have been another sore point. But a Civil Beat review of nearly $4 million in state lawmakers’ expenses over the past four years shows they are changing their habits based on the commission’s advice even if they don’t like it — including not billing taxpayers for their dry cleaning or charitable donations.

    SidebarEthics Commission Tells Lawmakers How They Should Spend AllowancesJun 19Hawaii House Reps Spend on Refrigeration, Mediation, TranslationOct 22State Senators Spend Allowances on Everything from Salt to Travel AbroadOct 22

    “We’ve tightened up use for personal items, partly due to the attention it’s gotten by the Ethics Commission, but partially also because it made sense,” said House Chief Clerk Brian Takeshita, who reviews and approves expenses for the 51 state representatives.

    State lawmakers on the House floor as the 2015 legislative session convened in January. Most lawmakers spend a sizable portion of their annual legislative allowance on food, leis and other expenses for opening day festivities.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But some expenses continue to raise eyebrows.

    Rep. Bob McDermott, a well-known critic of the state’s controversial Pono Choices sexual health curriculum, spent almost $2,500 to fly Dr.

  • Ige Signs Law Creating Farm-to-School Program in Hawaii

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Gov. David Ige signed a bill Tuesday that is intended to increase the amount of local food students eat in Hawaii’s public school system and boost their understanding of its importance.

    Senate Bill 376 initially called for creating two farm-to-school coordinator positions but state lawmakers scaled it down to one before passing it in May. The funding is only for one year too.

    Still, supporters applauded the new law.

    “It’s a really great start but there’s a lot more work to do,” said Lydi Morgan Bernal, coordinator of the Hawaii Farm to School and School Garden Hui.

    Gov. David Ige holds Senate Bill 376 after signing it into law as Act 218, Tuesday, as supporters stand around him.

    Governor’s Office

    Ige has tapped Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui to spearhead the initiative.

    “This program will ensure that our kids have nutritious meals as they learn about locally grown produce and cattle,” Tsutsui said in a statement. “This is a tremendous opportunity, and I look forward to working with the program coordinator, various state departments and agencies and the community to make sure we continue to move forward.”

    Across the nation, farm-to-school programs are reconnecting students to a better understanding of the food system and where their food comes from, the governor’s office said in a release.

    The programs introduce students to healthier eating habits and help them become familiar with new vegetables and fruits that they and their families will then be more willing to incorporate into their own diets, the release says. The farm to school coordinator will

  • Sex Trafficking Veto Sets Stage for Comprehensive Reform

    · By Nick Grube

    Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Monday that he plans to veto a sex trafficking bill that many in law enforcement have said will make it more difficult to lock up pimps and madams.

    Ige is threatening to veto Senate Bill 265 despite protests from several advocates who have asked him to ignore the legal advice of his attorneys and enact a law that they believed would greatly improve prosecutors’ ability to take down sex traffickers and protect victims.

    But while Ige said he supported the intent of SB 265 — which passed unanimously in the Legislature — sloppy language and concern over how the bill would interact with other sections of the penal code gave him pause.

    Gov. David Ige plans to veto a sex trafficking bill that has been described as convoluted and potentially detrimental to prosecuting pimps.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “I am committed to improving the laws regarding sex trafficking but this is on the list because of concerns raised by the Attorney General and three of the four prosecutors in the counties,” Ige said during a Monday press conference. “The unintended consequences of this measure would be loopholes (in the law) and may actually make it more difficult to prosecute sex-trafficking crimes.”

    The governor asked Attorney General Doug Chin to work with local prosecutors on a new bill that Ige hopes will address sex trafficking in a comprehensive manner and allow for aggressive prosecution of traffickers.

    RelatedHonolulu Prosecutor to Hawaii Governor: Veto the Sex Trafficking BillMay 18Hawaii’s Latest Sex

  • Governor Plans to Veto Eight Bills; Rail Tax Extension Survives

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced Monday that he currently plans to veto eight of the 252 bills the Legislature approved this past session.

    Bills to combat sex trafficking, allow University of Hawaii graduate students to unionize and clarify the order of succession for lieutenant governor were among those he’ll potentially veto.

    Monday was the deadline for the governor to submit his list of bills that he intends to veto. He has until July 14 to actually do so — or change his mind. The 101 other bills Ige has yet to take action on will become law, with or without his signature.

    The most notable bill not on the governor’s intent-to-veto list is legislation that will allow Honolulu, with approval from the City Council, to extend the half-percent General Excise Tax surcharge to fund the $6 billion rail project, now facing a nearly $1 billion shortfall.

    Gov. David Ige answers media questions Monday about his list of eight bills that he currently plans to veto. He has until July 14 to decide for sure.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The surcharge is currently set to expire in 2022. House Bill 134 would extend the sunset date five years, far less than what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell sought.

    The legislation also lets the neighbor-island counties levy a similar half-percent GET surcharge for public transportation projects and gives them the same sunset date of 2027.

    The bill will become law since it wasn’t on Ige’s intent-to-veto list, but it may do so without his signature in part over information that surfaced Friday suggesting Caldwell misled the Legislature when lobbying for

  • Intent to Veto: What Bills Will Survive Gov. Ige’s Veto Pen?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii lawmakers sent more than 200 bills to Gov. David Ige last spring but he still has to decide what he’s going to do with nearly half of them.

    Legislation to establish medical marijuana dispensaries, authorize the counties to levy a surcharge on the General Excise Tax and make it easier for someone to change their birth certificate so it aligns with their gender identity are among the 114 bills pending action by the governor.

    Monday marks the deadline for Ige to submit his list of bills from the 2015 session that he intends to veto. The session ended May 7, and the governor has until July 14 to veto bills, sign them or let them become law without his signature.

    Gov. David Ige has until the end of the day Monday to submit the list of bills he intends to veto. Ige is seen here during a press conference May 26.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Ige’s predecessor, placed 11 bills on his intent-to-veto list last year. He went on to veto seven of them plus a line-item veto in the overall state budget bill, which passed.

    In 2013, Abercrombie had 10 bills on his intent-to-veto list and ended up vetoing three of them, plus a line-item veto of a bill providing pay raises to union workers. None of his actions were overridden by the Legislature.

    Ige’s administration has been reviewing the 252 bills that cleared the Legislature over the past

  • An Unprecedented Year for Transgender Americans

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Though 2015 is only halfway through, it’s already been a game changer of a year for the transgender community, both in Hawaii and far beyond.

    Here at home, a long-sought change to Hawaii law allowing transgender individuals to amend their birth certificates without mandatory “sex change” surgery finally passed the Legislature in May. It rightly recognizes the reality that many trans individuals can’t have such surgery and are disadvantaged daily by birth documents that don’t agree with their gender presentation and identity. It now awaits the approval of Gov. David Ige, who has indicated he’ll sign it.

    The LGBT community and its allies celebrated that key point of progress Saturday at Honolulu Pride, where state Rep. Chris Lee and attorney Rebecca Copeland — the legislative introducer of the birth certificate bill and its chief community advocate, respectively — served as grand marshals of the annual event’s parade and expo, attended by thousands in Waikiki.

    State Rep. Chris Lee and attorney Rebecca Copeland, who led the successful effort this year to reform Hawaii’s birth certificate law for transgender people, served as grand marshals of Saturday’s Honolulu Pride celebration.

    Honolulu Pride

    Just a couple of days prior to that, the U.S. Air Force changed its policies to make it harder to expel transgender service members because of their gender identity. This follows the Army’s adoption of a similar policy in March. The Air Force’s new rules say that diagnosis of gender dysphoria or self-identification as transgender will not automatically trigger involuntarily

  • Not All Warm and Fuzzy: Care Home Bill Would Have Forced Out a Patient

    · By Nathan Eagle

    State lawmakers faced a dilemma in the waning days of the legislative session as they considered a bill promoted as a way of reuniting a couple married 67 years.

    On its surface, the story was solid. Noboru Kawamoto, a 94-year-old decorated World War II veteran, and his wife Elaine have been separated for several months, ever since he moved into a type of care home that only allows one private-pay client.

    He needed nursing-facility care but wanted a residential instead of institutional setting. He found that in a community care foster family home in Kaneohe operated by Jonathan Hanks.

    House Vice Speaker John Mizuno, on the House floor April 27, continues to look at ways to get around state regulations so a married couple can live in the same community care foster family home.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    But under current law, only three clients are allowed in a CCFFH. And two of the three must be on Medicaid — the low-income demographic that these state-regulated homes were created to serve.

    House Bill 600 would have allowed the Department of Health to make an exception for private-pay couples who are married or in a civil union to live in a CCFFH.

    But another consideration was at play. The care home Noboru lives in already has three clients, so someone would have to go. And that someone would be on Medicaid if the Kawamotos were both to live there.

    “I was so focused on getting Elaine and Noboru back together, I didn’t

  • Final Pieces Fall Into Place for State Senate Reorganization

    · By Nathan Eagle

    New Hawaii state Senate President Ron Kouchi announced the final lineup of committee chairmanships and leadership positions Friday morning, mostly settling unresolved posts from the rocky transition to power.

    He found a home for all but a few members of the Chess Club faction of the Senate who lost out when Donna Mercado Kim was deposed two days before the legislative session ended May 7.

    The initial lineup, announced May 6, did not give a committee chairmanship or leadership position to Sen. Les Ihara, majority policy leader during Kim’s three-year reign as president; Sen. Russell Ruderman, who headed the Agriculture Committee; freshman Sen. Gil Riviere, or Kim.

    The Hawaii State Capitol’s second floor, home to most Senate offices.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The new leadership had assigned Sen. Laura Thielen, who had chaired Water and Land, to head a newly merged Health and the Environment Committee, and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland to lead the Human Services Committee, but they were pending confirmation.

    Chun Oakland later accepted her assignment, but Thielen rejected hers after making an effort with others on the outs to reach a deal with leadership to also give Ruderman and Kim chairmanships.

    At one point, Thielen said there was a deal to give hers the Environment and Ocean Resources Committee, Ruderman the Health Committee and Kim the Government Operations Committee, but it fell apart.

    Kouchi has said he didn’t want a polarizing figure like Ruderman, a self-described environmentalist, or for that matter Sen. Clarence Nishihara, a friend of the biotech industry, to head Agriculture. Instead, he found a more neutral and approachable