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  • 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

  • Ruderman Honored as Hawaii’s Small Business Person of the Year

    · By Nathan Eagle

    State Sen. Russell Ruderman has been named the Hawaii Small Business Person of the Year.

    He returned this week from Washington, D.C., where he was honored by the U.S. Small Business Association, according to a Senate news release Friday.

    “I’m truly humbled by this honor,” Ruderman said in the release. “I feel lucky to be able to combine my passion to support local people and local products with my love for business and entrepreneurship.”

    Sen. Russell Ruderman listens during a Ways and Means meeting March 3.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Ruderman is president and founder of Island Naturals, a group of natural and organic food stores on the Big Island. The company now employs 150 people at locations in Kona, Hilo and Pahoa.

    Those who nominated Ruderman for the Business Person of the Year award, described him as someone “willing to listen to people with different worldviews,” and “very humble and unassuming,” the release says.

    “When we had our orientation for new employees, he said he always wanted to work at a place where you can have fun,” says Sarah Naleimaile, who works in the Hilo store. “And that’s the kind of place it is. I’m actually excited to come to work every day.”

  • With Kouchi as the New Dealer, Senate Still Shuffling Its Cards

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Updated 10:45 a.m., 5/18/2015

    After 11 terms on the Kauai County Council and five years in the Legislature, Ron Kouchi is hardly new to politics.

    And yet his ascension last week to the state Senate presidency caught many off guard.

    The rare in-session coup to oust Donna Mercado Kim was surprising in and of itself, but more so for elevating to power a relatively unknown politician from a quiet neighbor island. Even some of Kouchi’s colleagues don’t know how to pronounce his name. (It’s “KOH-chee.”)

    Senate President Ron Kouchi, top, talks with Vice President Will Espero, left, Majority Leader Kalani English, right, and Judiciary and Labor Chair Gil Keith-Agaran on May 7.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    That’s partly due to his style. Kouchi operates behind the scenes, an expert dealmaker focused more on getting things done than grabbing headlines, according to lawmakers and others who have worked closely with him.

    “He’s a very competent leader as far as looking at the contributions of all of the individuals,” said Jay Furfaro, who served on the Kauai County Council with Kouchi until he was appointed to the Senate in 2010 by then-Gov. Linda Lingle.

    “Some thought he was a little too tough but he had to hold people’s feet to the fire and he never misrepresented himself,” said Furfaro, now the administrator of the county boards and commissions.

    Tim Bynum, who served on the Kauai County Council with Kouchi for two years, said he is “very thoughtful

  • Sign the Tobacco and E-Cigarette Ban

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Legislation now awaiting the governor’s signature advances the front in the war on tobacco in new and historic ways. Senate Bill 1030 would ban the purchase, possession and public use of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes by those under 21, making Hawaii the first state to outlaw tobacco for the 18- to 20-year-old set.

    Such products are already outlawed for minors. This bill wades into more difficult waters, so far only attempted by New York City and a handful of other metro areas, in making tobacco products illegal for young adults, but maintaining their legality for those 21 and older. (Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah, it should be noted, restrict tobacco sales to those under 19.)

    There is precedent for such regulation. Hawaii’s legal drinking age has been fixed at 21 for nearly three decades. Though 18-year-olds can join the military, vote, marry and otherwise be treated as adults in the eyes of the law in a range of other circumstances, society nationwide has long been perfectly comfortable with restricting their access to alcohol, under the guise that younger adults are more prone to alcohol abuse and attendant problems than those 21 and older.

    Hawaii is poised to ban purchase and public use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes for those under 21.

    Challiyil EswarChalakudy via Wikimedia Commons

    There is compelling reasoning and evidence that acting similarly on tobacco products and e-cigarettes would have tremendously positive public health benefits. As the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids points out,

  • Ige Was a Hands-On Guy With the Legislature — For Better or Worse

    · By Nathan Eagle and Anita Hofschneider

    Hawaii Gov. David Ige mostly lived up to his campaign promise to work collaboratively with the Legislature during the 2015 session, but his young administration’s communication with lawmakers frustrated some of the key players.

    Senate and House leaders said they did not mind their former colleague’s hands-on approach. Ige’s involvement behind the scenes fostered agreements on the overall state budget and bills to privatize Maui hospitals and reconfigure the Turtle Bay conservation deal.

    But he didn’t always have the golden touch, as evidenced by his cheerleading during a two-day confirmation hearing for his ill-fated nominee to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Gov David Ige during an April 30 press conference.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Sylvia Luke, who leads the House Finance Committee, said she and her Senate counterpart, Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, met weekly with Ige, his chief of staff, Mike McCartney, and Budget Director Wes Machida.

    “We had a standing meeting from the beginning of session to discuss some of the appropriation measures and some of the challenges,” Luke said. “That was very helpful.”

    She said having the House, Senate and administration working together helped produce “workable and decent bills” this session, which began in January and wrapped up Thursday.

    “Working with the administration was a learning curve for the administration as well as for us,” Senate Majority Leader Kalani English said. “We had to understand their style, their people — as far as who to contact for different issues — and what were their goals and objectives.”

    Legislative

  • Legislature Needs More Time To Deal With Increasingly Packed Agendas

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    If Hawaii’s 2015 legislative session were a movie, it would be one with plenty of subplots, lots of suspense and a surprise twist ending that no one saw coming.

    Lawmakers mowed through nearly 2,000 bills, bringing about 170 to the finish line, including major measures to extend a tax surcharge funding the Honolulu rail project, establish medical marijuana grow centers and dispensaries and protect 653 pristine acres on the North Shore from development, not to mention a $26 billion biennial budget.

    Though the rail project’s fat cost overruns and lack of transparency provided strong arguments to deny the GET extension, the project itself must continue to move forward. All eyes are now on Gov. David Ige and the Honolulu City Council, the next two stops for rail funding approval, to see what they’ll require by way of disclosure and oversight assurances to finalize the surcharge through 2027.

    Pressing issues of major public importance require more time to resolve. Let’s look at adding time for committee hearings beyond the 60 days each year of legislative session time mandated by the state Constitution.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    While the medical marijuana measure was too long in the making, we appreciate legislative leaders’ refusal to kick the can down the road any further, rescuing a measure that seemed dead with some fast-thinking procedural moves. We’re still scratching our heads over a fit of petulance by Sen. Josh Green that nearly torpedoed a deal, but we applaud the determination of Rep. Della Au Belatti, Sen.

  • Hawaii Lawmakers Quietly Dole Out Millions of Dollars in Grants

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A panel of state lawmakers spent the better part of a day last March listening to Hawaii nonprofits and others take advantage of the three minutes they were each allotted to make their case for government grant money.

    Silence ensued for the next six weeks and then a list of winners — a sliver of those who had applied — was announced without explanation as to why some charities were selected over others.

    More than 280 groups asked for a total of nearly $190 million from the state for fiscal year 2016, which starts July 1. They wanted money for everything from restoring Maunalua Bay and building a community kitchen at a charter school in Kona to programs providing free tax assistance and vocational training for poor women.

    Rep. Ty Cullen, seen here during a legislative hearing last week, handled grants-in-aid for the House.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The informational briefing March 20 was the only public meeting on grants-in-aid. The rest of the decision-making process happened behind closed doors, just as it has for years in the Legislature.

    House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke and Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda approved the final list of grants-in-aid last week after finishing their work on the overall state budget.

    The process involves the heads of nonprofits and others, including hired lobbyists, privately urging lawmakers to approve their grant request over others. Sometimes the lobbying comes from legislators themselves.

    The list was boiled down to 56 groups receiving $8 million in operating grants