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  • Senate Confirms Suzanne Case to Head State Land Department

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The state Senate on Friday unanimously confirmed Suzanne Case to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    “Ms. Case’s wide range of experience at The Nature Conservancy, which ranges from land acquisition, to watershed management, to the restoration of near-shore marine resources, makes her well suited for the position of Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources,” Sen. Laura Thielen, chair of the Senate Water and Land Committee, said in a release.

    “Her ability to create partnerships in order to accomplish her agency’s mission will also serve the Department well,” Thielen said.

    Suzanne Case stands with Gov. David Ige at an April 7 press conference announcing her nomination to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The Senate confirmed her Friday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    After withdrawing his first choice of Carleton Ching over concerns about his lack of qualifications, Gov. David Ige’s second choice more than met public muster.

    Case, who worked for The Nature Conservancy for 28 years, has broad experience protecting natural resources throughout the islands and internationally.

    “I deeply appreciate the Senate’s vote of confidence to serve as the Chair of DLNR and I’m very excited to start as quickly as possible,” Case said in the release. “It’s a very important job for Hawaii and I will give it my all.”

    Read past Civil Beat coverage here.

  • State Budget Negotiators ‘Still Have a Lot of Issues’

    · By Nathan Eagle

    House and Senate budget negotiators still have hundreds of funding requests they disagree on after a half-hour conference committee meeting Friday, the second time they’ve met to work out a final spending plan for the state.

    Gov. David Ige joined the packed room to watch as Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke rattled off a dozen or more items — mostly minor — that they’ve reached common ground on.

    “We still have a lot of issues that we are a little bit far apart on,” Luke said.

    Gov. David Ige attends the budget conference committee hearing Friday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    She said lawmakers will take the weekend to discuss differences and the committee will reconvene at 2 p.m., Tuesday.

    Ige said afterward that he thought it would be helpful to attend and support his departments’ funding requests. Ige, who chaired the Senate Ways and Means Commitee before he became governor last December, looked comfortable flipping through the budget worksheets on his iPad as his former colleagues conducted the meeting.

    May 1 is the deadline for all fiscal bills to pass conference committee. The legislative session ends May 7.

    Here is a list, compiled by House staff, of what was agreed to in conference committee on Friday:

    $5,123,726 FY16 for the Department of Education school food service programs
    $102,846 FY16 and $213,978 FY17 for 4 Vector Control Worker positions for increased surveillance at state ports
    $545,030 FY16 and $545,030 FY17

  • Civil Beat Poll: Who’s Not to Like? Hawaii Leaders Popular With Voters

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii voters are generally quite content with their top elected officials but the support varies by island, age, gender and income, a new Civil Beat Poll shows.

    We surveyed 780 registered voters April 7-9, asking their opinion of U.S. Reps. Mark Takai and Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, Gov. David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and President Barack Obama.

    Gabbard was the only one more popular than the nation’s commander in chief, garnering a 64 percent approval rating to his 60 percent. Hawaii loves its native son and up-and-coming congresswoman.

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard congratulates then-state Rep. Mark Takai after he won the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional District race in 2014. Gabbard is more popular than President Obama in a new Civil Beat Poll; Takai is also viewed favorably, but many voters are still unsure about the new congressman.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    The poll included land lines and cell phones, and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. The margin of error for Oahu-only respondents is 4.2 percent.

    Caldwell was the next most popular with 52 percent of Hawaii voters surveyed having a positive opinion of the mayor.

    The mayor did better on Oahu, with 54 percent approval, than the neighbor islands, 46 percent. But voters who had a negative opinion of him were also higher on Oahu at 33 percent compared to just 14 percent on the neighbor islands.

    Ige, now almost five

  • Why Are So Many of Hawaii’s Environmental Posts Still Unfilled?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    There’s growing concern over who Gov. David Ige will choose to fill several key positions guiding land and water use policy, environmental protection, longterm planning and development — all of which can help shape Hawaii’s future.

    Questions are also being raised about why the governor has yet to make certain appointments, particularly since the deadline has passed for those that require Senate approval to be confirmed before this legislative session ends May 7. That means the nominees will serve on an interim basis until the Senate meets again, either in special session or when the next regular session starts in January.

    For many in the environmental community, disdain over who Ige has chosen not to keep, coupled with persistent uncertainty over who will take their places, has given way to speculation that these issues are less of a priority for the new administration.

    Gov. David Ige has yet to say who he wants to head the state Office of Planning, Office of Environmental Quality Control and other agencies responsible for land and water use.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Ige maintains that it’s about picking people who share his mission of changing the culture of government.

    “Finding the right people for these public service jobs is difficult during a good economy when higher-paying private sector jobs are more plentiful,” Jodi Leong, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The governor is carefully considering a wide range of candidates for these jobs, and this process takes time.”

    Office of Planning

    Among the

  • Budget Agreements Reached on Zipper Lane, School Lunch Money

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A joint panel of House and Senate lawmakers have finished their first day of work in conference committee resolving differences between each chamber’s draft of the overall state budget for the next two years, expected to come in at roughly $26 billion.

    The Senate and House are about $250 million off in their proposed spending plans for fiscal year 2016, which starts July 1, and $290 million off for 2017. The Senate’s budget is more in line with the one Gov. David Ige proposed.

    The conference committee, chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. Jill Tokuda, spent about an hour Tuesday listing agreements they’ve reached so far, including $921,000 in each of the next two years for maintenance of the Zipper Lane on the H-1 freeway and $3.65 million in 2016 and 2017 to help the Department of Education handle increasing school lunch costs.

    Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. Jill Tokuda, center in blue, are the lead state budget negotiators. They announced numerous areas of agreement Tuesday.

    Courtesy of House Majority Communications

    The ZipMobile that sets up the lane to deal with traffic broke down in March, causing an hours-long traffic jam.

    The Hawaii Board of Education voted this month to increase school meal prices next school year due to higher food costs and labor contract raises.

    “As we set the budget for the current biennium, I am hopeful that we’ve turned a significant corner in creating a new mindset for state government to live within our means and not spend more than we take

  • Just Say No to Balfour for Water Commission

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Were it not for dustups on environmental issues, Gov. David Ige’s fledgling service as Hawaii’s CEO would be cruising smoothly along, with nary a bump in the road. But for the second time in less than four months, he’s staked his political fortunes to an inexplicable nominee for a key position whose candidacy is calling into question the governor’s values on the environment.

    William Balfour would serve a four-year term on the state Commission on Water Resource Management, one of Hawaii’s most powerful and important boards, if senators vote this week to confirm him. The Senate Water and Land Committee voted 5-2 in support of Balfour’s nomination on Friday, though senators were decidedly unenthusiastic.

    Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, who backed the nominee, seemed to sum up the grudging support, saying unless Balfour demonstrated a “lack of moral integrity, (he) should be given the opportunity to serve.” Added Sen. Les Ihara, also a “yes” vote, “ … you would not be my pick, my selection. But I do find that he is qualified.”

    Oh, the damning ring of faint praise.

    Water commission nominee William Balfour before the Senate Land and Water Committee, which voted 5-2 to support his confirmation.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    If this were a nomination to the cosmetology board or boxing commission, the former president of three sugar companies and a banana farm might not be the subject of an online petition that had rapidly surpassed 3,800 signatures (and counting) as of this writing. But a lifetime of representing big

  • Complete the Prescription for Medical Marijuana

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Hard to believe, but Hawaii is on the verge of taking its first significant step forward on the issue of medical marijuana since ours became one of the first states to legalize medical use 15 years ago.

    As Civil Beat editorialized in January, the state Legislature once again this spring undertook efforts to create a dispensary system — an effort that had failed multiple times in previous sessions. But Senate Bill 682 and House Bill 321 have each passed both the Senate and House with strong support, and assuming resolution of remaining differences in conference between the two similar measures, one should soon be headed to Gov. David Ige for signature.

    The legislation would finally address a legal contradiction the Legislature created in 2000 with passage of Act 228, allowing use of medical marijuana for seriously ill individuals. The law only allows for users to grow their own supply, and patients who can’t grow their own, have a caretaker do so or who are just bad gardeners are simply out of luck. More commonly, they turn to local pot dealers, running the risk of criminal charges in the process.

    A Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force meeting at the Capitol last September.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    This is an issue affecting at least 13,000 qualifying patients around the state, perhaps many more, and the Legislature is to be commended for — finally — mustering the political will to resolve the dilemma it created years ago. Any lawmakers who fretted that

  • House Works to Wiggle Out from Under Unfunded Liability Mandate

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Story updated 5 p.m., 4/21/2015

    Led by Rep. Romy Cachola, House lawmakers have pushed forward a plan that critics say would effectively undo a law passed in 2013 that forces Hawaii to finally get serious about paying down its massive unfunded liability in retiree health care benefits promised to thousands of public workers.

    But Gov. David Ige and his former colleagues in the Senate are not too fond of the idea, setting up a tense next couple of weeks as legislators try to negotiate a deal before the session ends May 7.

    “Every time that I’ve talked to the money committees, I’ve made them aware that I have no intention of pulling the plug on prefunding,” Ige told Civil Beat in an interview earlier this month.

    State Rep. Romy Cachola, seen here on the House floor Tuesday, wants to create a rate stabilization fund to address the health fund’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded liability.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    House Bill 1356, introduced in January, says the state and counties just can’t afford to fully pre-fund Other Post-Employment Benefits.

    The state, which is responsible for roughly three-fourths of the $18 billion OPEB liability, has put down $217 million over the past two years and plans to ramp up to an estimated $500 million annual pre-funding payment over the next three years. Between pre-funding payments and the pay-as-you-go payments, the state will be paying more than $1 billion a year in health benefits for retired public workers.

    The House legislation proposes just

  • Lawmakers Blank Out Dollar Amounts for Dozens of Initiatives

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The House and Senate each passed hundreds of bills Tuesday, sending them back to their originating chamber often with big questions to be answered when it comes to funding.

    Medical marijuana dispensaries, the rail tax, public hospitals, transgender birth certificates, wrongful imprisonment, energy, bullying, mail-in elections and local food were on the long list of legislation that crossed over ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

    Some still resemble their original form. Others not so much.

    The state House and Senate each passed hundreds of bills Tuesday, but will negotiate funding for many initiatives over the next two weeks.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    In the coming days, conferees will be appointed to joint House-Senate panels that will hash out final versions — or scrap the effort entirely if an agreement can’t be reached.

    The generally chaotic conference committee process is set to start Monday and wrap up the week before the session ends May 7.

    But as the Legislature turns down the home stretch, the public is still in the dark when it comes to key details — namely, money.

    Take the Preschool Open Doors Program, for instance. Senate Bill 64 at one point last month in the Senate included $6 million in subsidies and $440,000 for three positions to continue running the early childhood education program. The House passed it unanimously and sent it back with $1 placeholders.

    A conference committee will negotiate the final amount or possibly abandon it. The public likely won’t know

  • Growing Criticism Over Ige’s Water Commission Appointments

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Public opposition to Gov. David Ige’s nominations to the powerful board that administers the state’s water code is mounting ahead of a key legislative hearing Wednesday.

    An online petition against longtime sugar-plantation boss William Balfour’s appointment to another four-year term on the Commission on Water Resource Management has garnered more than 1,200 signatures since the governor quietly sent his name to the Senate for confirmation.

    Emails are flying between environmental groups and others, calling on people to urge the Water and Land Committee, chaired by Sen. Laura Thielen, to reject Balfour because they think he has developers’ interests more at heart than the resources the commission is bound to protect.

    Gov. David Ige has appointed William Balfour, seen here at his home in Aiea last December, to serve on the Commission on Water Resource Management.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    There’s particular concern over Balfour voting in 2013 to deny the National Parks Service’s petition to designate the Keauhou Aquifer on Big Island for protection without giving the NPS the chance to present any evidence to the commission, said Steve Holmes, Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter conservation chair, in his testimony on the nomination.

    There’s also concern over who was not appointed.

    Ige has only asked Denise Antolini, a highly regarded University of Hawaii dean and environmental law expert, to stay on until June 30. She has served on the commission as an interim appointee since Oct. 29.

    “It’s puzzling why the governor would nominate someone that the Supreme

  • Senate Committee Sets Hearing for Ige’s New Choice to Head DLNR

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The Senate Water and Land Committee, chaired by Sen. Laura Thielen, has set a hearing for 2:45 p.m., April 17, to consider the appointment of Suzanne Case to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Unlike Gov. David Ige’s last nomination for that job, Carleton Ching, this one is expected to clear the committee with ease and go on to pass the full Senate. That’s because Case is an environmentalist as opposed to a lobbyist for land developers.

    The committee held a grueling two-day hearing last month on Ching before voting 5-2 against the appointment. Ige withdrew the nomination moments before the full Senate was set to vote on it.

    Ige just announced his choice of Case on Tuesday. Read Civil Beat’s coverage here.

    Gov. David Ige listens as DLNR nominee Suzanne Case talks during a press conference Tuesday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

  • Senate Republican Budget Cuts $1.59B Off Governor’s Proposal

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The Hawaii Senate Minority budget proposal, released Monday, calls for $1.59 billion in cuts to Gov. David Ige’s initial submittal.

    Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber’s sole Republican, said the alternative budget brings relief to “beleaguered taxpayers and small businesses” while balancing the state’s finances over the long haul.

    “These are two things the Senate Minority believes will stop the cyclical increasing of taxes and fees to sustain irresponsible spending, and will really help the working families in Hawaii who are struggling,” he said. “With this plan, the cost of living will be reduced by about $600 annually for the average family.”

    Sen. Sam Slom, pictured here during a hearing in March, and Minority staff released an alternative budget proposal Monday.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The bulk of the savings come from simply mirroring the $665 in spending cuts that House Democrats made last month before they sent their $25.7 billion two-year state budget proposal over to the Senate, which restored almost all of that funding. A joint conference committee will work out the final version later this month.

    Senate Minority Budget Director Paul Harleman, who prepared the alternative budget, said the additional savings come from $556 million in cuts by refusing increases in collective bargaining contracts; $315 million by maintaining executive spending restrictions that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration had put in place and imposing a hiring freeze on all vacant positions; $35.7 million from consolidating programs within the departments of Health and Human Services; and $8.2 million by cutting several low-priority government programs.

    Read the Minority

  • Deadline Extended for Governor to Nominate Cabinet, Board Members

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Gov. David Ige has two extra days to nominate someone else to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources and appoint people to fill empty seats on state boards and commissions.

    The deadline was Monday for the governor to make any remaining appointments that require Senate confirmation in order for lawmakers to consider them before session ends May 7. But the Senate has extended the deadline until the close of business Wednesday.

    “I thank the Senate for understanding the magnitude of this task,” Ige said in a release Monday afternoon. “We have hundreds of positions to fill, and we have made significant progress. We expect to fill the majority of the positions in the next two days.”

    Gov. David Ige answers a question during a Civil Beat editorial board meeting last week.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The most significant outstanding appointment is the DLNR post in his Cabinet.

    Ige withdrew his nomination of Carleton Ching to head the department on March 18 after significant public outcry. The Senate never voted on the confirmation but the governor believed there was insufficient support.

    If Ige doesn’t pick someone else to lead DLNR by Wednesday, Carty Ching, the interim chair, will steer the department until a nominee can be confirmed during next year’s legislative session or possibly a special session during the interim.

    Ige told Civil Beat last week that he would prefer to take the time to find a quality candidate to head DLNR but was very much aware of the deadline to get that person confirmed this session.

    Other Cabinet-level

  • Ige Appoints Bassett to Fill Cultural Specialist Seat on HCDA

    · By Nathan Eagle

    After being vacant for more than a year and a half, Gov. David Ige has found someone to fill the “cultural specialist” seat on the Hawaii Community Development Authority.

    Ige appointed Beau Bassett, a lawyer and filmmaker who is part Native Hawaiian, to serve on the board for a term that would end June 30, 2019.

    The governor has also appointed Mary Pat Waterhouse, who was budget director under former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, to serve as an at-large member on HCDA. Her term would end in 2019 as well.

    Gov. David Ige, pictured here in December, appointed two people Friday to fill vacancies on the HCDA.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation. The Human Services and Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, has scheduled a public hearing on both appointments for April 16.

    The two appointments, if confirmed, would fill the remaining vacancies on the board. In February, the Senate confirmed 11 nominations.

    The Legislature voted last year to shake up HCDA after Kakaako residents opposed decisions to approve several luxury high-rise towers.

  • Anti-Bullying Measure: A Bill Whose Time Has Finally Come

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Like so many other social challenges in Western culture these days, our understanding of student-on-student bullying, its causes and its effects has increased dramatically in recent years.

    In part, that understanding is the costly byproduct of efforts to make sense of numerous tragedies nationwide involving school violence, from the Columbine, Colorado, shootings to a seemingly endless string of bullying-related injuries and suicides. Federal statistics show that bullying affects about one-third of all school-age kids nationwide; schools, students, parents and government agencies are more sensitive than ever before to the destructive effects and are doing more to address them.

    At the federal level, President Obama upped the ante four years ago by hosting the first White House conference on bullying and launched the website, a collaboration of the U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice meant to widely disseminate information on bullying awareness and prevention. Last year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department released their first uniform definition of bullying to guide surveillance and research efforts on the subject.

    Nationally, about one in every three students are victimized by physical or online bullying. Hawaii students experience those issues at a greater rate than the national average.

    Twentyfour Students via Flickr

    Private organizations have joined the fight with new vigor. Groups like the Trevor Project and the National Bullying Prevention Center and many more have leveraged greater public focus on the problem, often enlisting high-profile corporate and