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  • Lawmakers Reluctant to Pass Care Home Bills that Cost State Money

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Despite concerns from the departments of Health and Human Services, Hawaii lawmakers are pushing forward bills that would help the adult care-home industry make more money while potentially compromising the quality of services provided to those most in need.

    Residential care facilities serve thousands of residents in hundreds of homes statewide, but operators say they have struggled to make ends meet because state payments have failed to keep pace with increasing costs.

    In a budget year with limited discretionary spending, the Legislature has mostly shelved solutions that would come out of taxpayers’ pockets. But the alternatives have raised eyebrows and created uncertainty.

    Lawmakers are working in the Capitol to address numerous concerns facing the adult care home industry.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    House Bill 600 changes the ratio of Medicaid to private-pay clients who are allowed in community care family foster homes, known as CCFFHs.

    The state currently lets this type of home have up to three clients. Two must be on Medicaid and one can pay out of his or her own pocket.

    The bill would flip this by allowing two private-pay clients and one Medicaid recipient, which could leave the poor with fewer places to go for long-term care — something health officials highlighted and supporters of the legislation acknowledged.

    Testimony on the bill from care home operators overwhelmingly shows they want it to pass to help them bring in more income, which they say would allow them to improve services and help them avoid having to

  • Health Department Scraps Request to Delay Posting Inspection Reports

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Reversing course, the state Department of Health is now telling state lawmakers it won’t need to wait until July to start posting adult care home inspection reports online.

    A department representative told a House committee Wednesday that it can shelve legislation seeking the extension that Gov. David Ige had included in his package of bills to the Legislature.

    A law passed in 2013 required the department to post the inspection reports for adult care homes on its website starting with those inspections completed after Jan. 1, 2015. The deadline came and went, coupled with excuses as to why the 18-month lead time was insufficient.

    Keith Ridley of the Department of Health discusses bills concerning care homes at a legislative hearing in February. His office changed course Wednesday, saying it can start posting inspection reports online later this month.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    In February, the Developmental Disabilities Division, which oversees one of seven types of care homes, started posting its inspection reports online. There are 295 homes under its jurisdiction, with each providing care for up to two people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

    Now the Office of Health Care Assurance, which is in charge of the other six types of homes, says it can follow suit and start posting its inspection reports by “early- to mid-March.” The office oversees more than 1,600 facilities providing care for several thousand people in neighborhoods throughout the state.

    Currently, those inspection reports can only be obtained by formally requesting the records in writing from the Department of Health, waiting up to 15 days and paying for the copies and time

  • New Online Tool Aims to Make State Budget More Transparent

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Did you know the state plans to spend $27.6 million this year on overtime costs alone for public employees?

    Or that $103 million has been budgeted for nearly 3,000 vacant positions?

    What about Hawaii spending twice as much on welfare programs now than it did six years ago?

    All of this information — and so much more — is available in a couple clicks with a new online tool that the Senate and House minority caucuses unveiled Wednesday.

    Sen. Sam Slom gestures while questioning Mayor Kirk Caldwell at Ways and Means meeting at the Capitol room #211. 4 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Dubbed the Hawaii Open Budget Initiative, the goal is to make the state budget more transparent and useful to the public.

    There are multiple categories and ways of manipulating the data in colorful charts that make it much more accessible. Considering the operating budget alone is $13 billion, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers.

    “State departments and agencies are required to disclose information, but they usually publish information in static format, like in a PDF,” Sam Slom, the Senate’s sole Republican, said in a release. “With the Hawaii Open Budget site, people will for the first time be able to work with the numbers to create their own version of the budget and envision their ideal state economy.”

    Rep. Gene Ward, one of seven GOP members in the House, said the state keeps the budget close to its chest like a poker player.

    “With this budget website, all

  • With Clayton Hee Gone, Campaign Finance Reform Is Moving Forward

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Independent groups bombarded Hawaii residents last fall with advertisements trying to persuade them to vote for certain candidates or against particular ballot issues, including the measure on Maui to ban GMOs.

    For nearly 10 weeks after the August primary, political action committees stuffed mailboxes with fliers and saturated the airwaves without having to say how much money they were spending or account for where the donations originated.

    It wasn’t until eight days before the November election — two weeks after absentee ballots were mailed out and a week after early walk-in voting began — that these groups had to file their campaign finance reports with the state and publicly disclose the millions of dollars that private companies and unions had spent trying to sway the outcome.

    Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, chair of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, asks questions during a hearing in February. He’s been giving more campaign-finance bills a chance to be heard than has happened in a long time.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Hawaii lawmakers are looking at making a simple change to fix this longstanding problem in time for the 2016 elections. Senate Bill 508 would add an additional reporting requirement in early October to break up the long period between filings.

    It’s one of several measures moving forward that would reform campaign finance laws by boosting transparency, improving accountability and reducing conflicts of interest. Lawmakers and political observers say this has been the most progressive legislative session they’ve seen in at least a decade

  • Special Committee Finds Rep. Say Qualified to Continue Serving

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A special six-member House committee, chaired by Rep. Karl Rhoads, wrapped up its investigation Friday into where Rep. Calvin Say actually lives.

    The committee unanimously found Say qualified to continue representing District 20 as he has for the past three-plus decades. It’s unclear when the full House will vote on the recommendation, but it will be no sooner than Thursday.

    The residency challenge arose again in January — the fifth time in nine years — when a group of voters filed a petition asking the House to decide if Say lives in Palolo as he claims or if the amount of time he has acknowledged spending at his in-laws’ Pauoa Valley home in District 25 constitutes grounds for expulsion or other consequence.

    Calvin Say greets supporters after a hearing Feb. 13.

    Say did not attend the five-minute hearing Friday but he issued a statement after the decision.

    “The House special committee has done its due diligence and found, like other investigative bodies before it, that there is no basis for this challenge,” Say said.

    “For me, I hope we can finally put this behind us and get on with the people’s business. Throughout the nine years of these challenges, I have seen these matters put squarely in the hands of my constituents and they have seen fit to return me to office each time. I look to focusing on matters of concern to my constituents and to all of the voters of Hawaii.”

    Rhoads said after the hearing that the committee found no compelling

  • Proposed $500,000 Vanpool Grant the Latest ‘FrankenBill’

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Updated 2:40 p.m. 2/26/2015

    A two-sentence state law to boost bicycle safety morphed this month to include a $500,000 grant for Honolulu to help run a vanpool program on Oahu.

    The evolution of Senate Bill 128 provides the latest example of Hawaii lawmakers shortcutting the legislative process, spurring some would-be supporters of the proposal to come out against it.

    “We are extremely unhappy that they continue to do the gut-and-replaces,” said Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters.

    State lawmakers at the Capitol have been criticized for shortcutting the legislative process.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The nonprofit submitted comments opposing the bill ahead of Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

    “Acting in a less than open manner undermines citizen trust in government,” League of Women Voters President Ann Shaver wrote a letter Tuesday to Judiciary Chair Jill Tokuda. “The League of Women Voters is very disappointed and urges that the measure be deferred.”

    Mason and other open-government advocates have for years harped on the practice of cutting out original language and pasting in something different that still falls under the bill’s broad subject area, which in this case is “relating to motor vehicles.”

    The groups point at how it can limit public input and make it harder to keep track of what’s actually in a bill as it moves forward.

    In 2013, lawmakers took a bill aimed at registering people for a future Hawaiian government and added a section more than 7,000

  • ‘Emergency’ Money Moves Swiftly Through Hawaii Legislature

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii lawmakers are working through requests to dole out $30 million to five state agencies that are running out of money to meet immediate needs.

    The Attorney General’s Office, Department of Human Services, Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, the Governor’s Office and the State Public Charter School Commission have asked the Legislature for emergency appropriations to see them through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

    Such requests are taken up individually and often move fast, unlike the overall state budget bill that won’t be hammered out until near the end of session in May.

    Hawaii lawmakers are working to find $30 million in emergency money for state agencies.

    401(K) 2012/Flickr

    The governor’s office has already received legislative approval for the extra money it says it needs.

    Gov. David Ige asked for $670,400 to meet payroll shortfalls related to the gubernatorial transition, which required vacation payouts to departing employees. Some of the money will also pay “equipment leases, professional development dues, travel, protocol expenses and media subscriptions.”

    The other emergency funding requests have cleared preliminary hurdles without much opposition.

    Interim Attorney General Russell Suzuki said his department needs $1.1 million to cover “extraordinary litigation expenses.” 

    Such requests are taken up individually and often move fast, unlike the overall state budget bill that won’t be hammered out until near the end of session in May.

    The AG wants the money for expert witnesses and specialized legal counsel to defend the state in multiple class-action lawsuits, including claims filed by 2,781 people against the Department of Hawaiian

  • House Lawmakers to Make Recommendation Friday on Rep’s Residency

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A special committee of House lawmakers is set to continue its work Friday on a petition challenging the qualifications of Rep. Calvin Say to represent the 20th District.

    A small group of voters believes the speaker emeritus actually lives in another district with his wife and kids instead of the Palolo home he maintains to be his primary residence.

    The six-member committee, chaired by Rep. Karl Rhoads, began its work with a quasi-judicial hearing Feb. 13 that allowed both sides to briefly make their case.

    Rep. Calvin Say listens to testimony during a hearing on a petition questioning his residency, Feb. 13. A special committee is expected to make recommendations Friday on what action the full House should take.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The committee has spent the two weeks since then reviewing additional evidence and preparing a draft report with recommendations on what action the full House should take.

    The meeting Friday is expected to include a discussion of the draft report and decision-making on it. The committee has compiled pertinent documents here.

    Read Civil Beat’s past coverage of the Say residency saga here.

  • Carleton Ching: It’s Time to Start Over

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    In a Hawaii Legislature dominated by Democrats, a Democratic governor can typically expect a supportive reception for nominees to key administrative posts. Not only is that considered courteous from an intra-party perspective, lawmakers typically hew to the idea that they ought to be deferential to the governor’s wishes to choose appointees for his/her administration.

    That this standard approach to gubernatorial business is running off the rails for Gov. David Ige is notable not only for the speed with which it has taken place — only two months into his tenure, when the word “honeymoon” is still commonly heard — but for the particular nominee whose selection has created a rift among legislators, environmentalists and the governor: Carleton Ching, Ige’s pick to serve as chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Vice president of community and government relations and lobbyist for leading developer/landowner Castle & Cooke, Ching has been assailed for weeks as a controversial choice to lead a department charged with protecting the state’s natural resources.  Twenty leading environmental groups, including the influential Outdoor Circle and the Sierra Club (which endorsed Ige’s gubernatorial bid), have come out in public opposition to Ching’s nomination. A petition against Ching’s nomination started by a Maui environmental activist has generated nearly 7,500 signatures — and counting.

    Gov. David Ige is the target of growing criticism for his nomination of a developer lobbyist to head the state agency charged with managing natural resources for the state of Hawaii.

    Cory Lum/Civil

  • Pension Promises Are Getting Harder for Hawaii Lawmakers To Keep

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Billions of dollars in the hole, Hawaii lawmakers are searching for ways to afford the health and retirement benefits promised to thousands of public employees.

    The unfunded liabilities problem — as unsexy as it might seem — has far-reaching implications.

    As an ever-increasing percentage of the state’s overall $12 billion budget goes toward paying public workers’ health and retirement benefits, fewer resources are left to maintain current government services, not to mention start new programs like universal preschool.

    Gov. David Ige’s finance director, Wes Machida, is hoping to convince lawmakers that more reforms are necessary to bring down the state’s unfunded liabilities.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    While recent reforms have helped Hawaii find better footing, the shortfalls are so severe that significant cuts, tax increases or a combination thereof may soon be necessary to make ends meet, especially as Hawaii’s sizable surplus dries up over the next few years.

    Wide-ranging proposals have swirled through the Legislature this session — some extreme, some bite-sized.

    Democratic leaders in the House pitched a plan to end health care benefits for retirees. Other lawmakers want to triple the use tax paid by wholesalers. Drastic measures like those are so politically unpalatable that the bills haven’t received so much as a hearing.

    Other legislative tweaks are moving forward though. The measures stand to save state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by making small changes, like adjusting how much retirement credit employees can get for accumulated sick leave.

    But even those more narrowly targeted efforts are having a

  • Ige Picks DeCoite to Replace Carroll in State House

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Gov. David Ige has chosen Lynn DeCoite to represent Molokai, Lanai and parts of Maui in the state House.

    She will fill the seat vacated earlier this month by the late Mele Carroll.

    “I’m confident Ms. DeCoite knows the issues facing the district and will listen to her constituents to address their concerns,” Ige said in a release announcing his decision Thursday. “She has deep roots in the community and is committed to overcoming the challenges by forming partnerships and working collaboratively.”

    Gov. David Ige, speaking to media during a press availability last week, announced Thursday that Lynn DeCoite will serve as House District 13 representative.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    He chose DeCoite from a list of three names submitted last week by Democratic Party officials. The other two were Lucienne de Naie and Lori Buchanan.

    “I’m deeply honored to serve the community in this capacity,” DeCoite said in the release. “This is an opportunity for me to help address issues like drought, food gathering and security, emergency response programs, and the promotion of economic development for small and large businesses.”

    Lynn DeCoite was appointed Thursday to serve as state House District 13 representative.

    Office of the Governor

    DeCoite lives in Hoolehua on Molokai where she is an owner of L&R Farm Enterprises and R.J.’s Snacks and co-owner of V-8 Ranch, according to the governor’s office.

    She has been an active member of the community as chair of the Farm Service Agency and president of the Molokai Homestead Farmer’s Alliance,

  • How Much Care Home Information Should Be on State Website?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The adult care home industry supported a bill Wednesday that would increase the number and types of facilities subject to having their state inspection reports posted on the Department of Health’s website.

    A House panel ended up scrapping the plan, but the industry’s willingness to support an expansion of the online posting of inspection reports represented a remarkable turnaround from two years ago when care home operators strongly opposed the idea.

    Lawmakers did keep the part of the bill care home operators were most interested in — a section that would create a forum on the department’s website for the public to view available vacancies at their facilities.

    Rep. Della Au Belatti listens to testimony regarding care home legislation Wednesday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Lilia Fajotina, president of the Alliance of Residential Care Administrators, a group that represents many care home operators, said she believes in transparency and sees a serious need to have a place for consumers to go on the Department of Health’s website to find an appropriate care home.

    “There were issues or problems with inappropriate placements in the past where the resident or client does not have a clue where he or she was going to live and was not given the choice or (had) not even seen the home,” she said. “Discharge planners in the hospitals or long-term care facilities mostly just talk the patient who is being discharged or family into living in an area the resident or resident’s family do not prefer or desire for

  • Senate Committee Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A small hearing room on the fourth floor of the Capitol Building in Honolulu smelled faintly of pot and patchouli Wednesday as supporters of a bill to decriminalize marijuana took turns testifying before the Senate Health Committee.

    Under Senate Bill 596, getting caught with an ounce or less of pakalolo would result in a fine of up to $100, a civil infraction instead of a petty misdemeanor.

    “The case for enacting decriminalization legislation in Hawaii has strengthened with each passing year,” said Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Action Group. “Professional organizations are increasingly in agreement that keeping marijuana use criminal does more harm than good.”

    Michelle Tippens walks by wearing a lei of prescription pill bottles after testifying in support of decriminalizing marijuana Wednesday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Lichty pointed in her testimony to how changes to the law in the 19 other states (plus cities and counties) that have decriminalized marijuana have not affected use among either youths or adults and how polls in Hawaii support it.

    But law enforcement, Catholic groups and anti-drug advocates told the committee that marijuana is a dangerous, habit-forming drug that should not be legitimized in any way.

    “It seems somewhat odd that the state and county governments in Hawaii are continuously restricting the availability and use of tobacco products and at the same time would consider decriminalizing a proven mind-altering substance with its attendant ill effects on both the users and non-users of the substance,” Hawaii Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said.

    The committee, chaired by Sen. Josh Green, passed the bill after

  • Former Hawaii State Rep. Mele Carroll Dies

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Former Hawaii state Rep. Mele Carroll died early Wednesday after battling cancer. She was 50 years old.

    Fighting back tears, House lawmakers took a moment of silence to acknowledge their colleague’s untimely death during their floor session in the afternoon. A black ribbon marked her empty seat.

    “It is a very sad day for the House,” Speaker Joseph Souki said in a statement. “Mele brought to the Legislature a vigorous desire to serve and deep love for Maui, Molokai and Lanai and Hawaii in general. She will be greatly missed by everyone here at the Capitol. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”

    Former Rep. Mele Carroll in the House chambers. She passed away Wednesday.

    House of Representatives

    Carroll, a Democrat who represented Lanai, Molokai and parts of Maui, had resigned Feb. 1 for health reasons. The House said at the time that complications from her previous cancer treatments had arisen in recent months and she needed to spend time with family and friends.

    She died at 3:50 a.m. Wednesday with her family at her side, House officials said. Funeral services are pending.

    “Mele was an outstanding representative of her district, and we will remember the results she achieved and the Aloha spirit with which she conducted her work,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement.

    Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui extended his condolences as well.

    “As chair of the Human Services committee, she was a staunch advocate for people in need and loved representing the area she served,” Tsutsui said. “I will miss working with her on issues relating to

  • Should Hawaii Ban Circuses? Zoos? Aquariums?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    It’s been more than two decades since Tyke the African elephant burst out of a circus at Blaisdell Center, killing her trainer and injuring her groomer in the process.

    Police pumped 80-some bullets into the elephant to bring her down in the streets of Kakaako, where she died as spectators watched in horror.

    John Cuneo was the infamous owner of Tyke and over a dozen other elephants the feds eventually confiscated.

    A scene at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, 2009.

    Christian Haugen/Flickr

    His name and Tyke’s story have resurfaced in testimony to state lawmakers who are considering a bill that would prohibit the display or performance of a wild or exotic animal for commercial purposes.

    Dozens of people, animal-rights groups, circuses and even cattlemen are trying to influence Wednesday’s decision on the legislation by the House Consumer Protection Committee, chaired by Rep. Angus McKelvey.

    “The bill is just a step down a slippery slope,” rancher Alan Gottlieb wrote. “Today circuses and fairs and tomorrow zoos and aquariums?”

    Hawaii Humane Society President Pamela Burns says the bill doesn’t go far enough. The nonprofit is OK with exemptions for accredited zoos but wants the committee to remove an exception for animals that have been in the state for more than 300 days prior to the display or performance.

    The Honolulu Zoo, which is accredited now, is worried about what would happen if it ever lost its accreditation. And there are concerns that the Panaewa