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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

  • 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

  • Why Is House Speaker Joe Souki Going After Ethics Director Les Kondo?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Updated 2:15 p.m., 5/22/2015

    House Speaker Joe Souki is calling on the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to reject many of the new policies it has put in place since Les Kondo became its executive director in 2011.

    “I believe the Commission should examine its own past opinions from the 1970s through 2010 and disavow any directives subsequent to that time that alter past accepted practices,” Souki wrote in a four-page letter to the commission’s chair, Ed Broglio.

    The five-member commission has been reviewing Kondo’s performance over the past four months, his first formal evaluation in three years, and plans to take up the issue at its next meeting Wednesday.

    Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo, seen here at a state Ethics Commission meeting in July 2014, is under fire for his view of what the Ethics Code allows or prohibits.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    There have been rumblings that Kondo may be out of a job as soon as next week but Broglio said Thursday that he doesn’t think that will be the case.

    Kondo has liberally construed the Ethics Code over the past four years, issuing a series of directives and recommendations for lawmakers and state employees to follow.

    The guidance has irked many, evidently to the point that it prompted Souki to pen his April 27 letter to Broglio about the “dismaying pattern” he’s seen of the commission staff “trying to rewrite the Ethics Code” to conform to their own notions of ethical

  • Emergency Money Made Easy, If You’re a Democratic Governor

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Gov. David Ige was elected Nov. 4, took office Dec. 1 and hit the Legislature up for $670,400 a month later.

    His office needed the emergency money to cover payroll shortfalls, travel expenses and other transitional needs of the new administration.

    It’s a common request for incoming governors to make, but one that often receives little scrutiny, particularly for Democrats in deep blue Hawaii.

    Gov. David Ige attends a legislative meeting April 24 with his deputy chief of staff, Laurel Johnston.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    State lawmakers rushed to pass House Bill 930, unanimously agreeing to provide every cent Ige requested. He signed the legislation into law in late February as Act 2. 

    Few details of how the $670,400 was to be spent or how that amount was arrived at were provided prior to the vote — just a handful of categories and assurances that it was necessary.

    The governor’s office provided a breakdown of the appropriation this week in response to a Civil Beat request.

    Laurel Johnston, Ige’s deputy chief of staff, said the bulk of it, $359,000, went toward paying out unused vacation time to staff in the previous administration.

    The remainder included $12,000 in protocol funds to buy gifts and dinners for visiting dignitaries; over $100,000 in dues to the Western Governors Association and National Governors Association; and $52,000 to buy a 2005 Ford Expedition to chauffeur the governor and his security detail around in. The balance went for new Microsoft tablets for staff,

  • Honolulu Prosecutor to Hawaii Governor: Veto the Sex Trafficking Bill

    · By Nick Grube

    Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro wants Hawaii Gov. David Ige to veto a sex trafficking bill because he’s concerned the measure could make it more difficult to lock up pimps, johns and madams.

    Senate Bill 265 received unanimous support in the Legislature, and was lauded by advocates as a paradigm shift for a state that’s known for lenient enforcement of prostitution and sex trafficking. The bill’s main goal was to treat those forced into prostitution as victims instead of criminals, in part by providing them with witness protection services and the ability to collect damages.

    But Kaneshiro told Civil Beat that SB265 adds several new provisions to the state’s “promoting prostitution” statute that will effectively limit his ability to gain convictions in sex trafficking cases.

    Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro takes pride in his efforts to combat sex trafficking.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “This bill that was passed was passed under the claim that Hawaii does not have a sex trafficking law,” Kaneshiro said. “What they’ve done with this bill is create more of a problem for us.”

    In a three-page letter to Ige, Kaneshiro says SB265 will “severely restrict and deter” his ability to prosecute sex trafficking cases because he will need to collect more evidence of other illegal acts, such as extortion, kidnapping, fraud or deception.

    He also said that there are problems in the bill’s language that would made it difficult to prosecute a pimp for exploiting a minor if the pimp didn’t know the victim was under 18