Senate Committees Hold a Hearing for a Bill Supporting Kupuna

The Hawaii Senate Committees on Human Services, Health, and Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on January 30, 2014 on Senate Bill 2228, a bill that would support the elderly in our communities. The measure would address the need for new executive-level positions and provide funding for programs that maintain the health of our kupuna. Various state and county agencies, advocacy groups and individual citizens testified in support.

Proposed by the Kupuna Caucus, the bill complements the priorities of the Joint Majority Package as well as the goals in the Governor’s State of the State Address. As our aging population grows, we must continue to support the health and well-being of our elderly.

The committees recommended that the bill be passed with amendments addressing some of the concerns of those who testified. The bill awaits a committee report, after which another hearing will be held on the revised bill.


Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, chairwoman of Senate Human Services Committee, reviewing written testimony for SB 2228 on January 30, 2014.

Hawaii State Legislature to Receive Update on Implementation of Hawaii’s Insurance Exchange

Honolulu- The Senate and House commerce and consumer protection, health, and human services committees will be holding an informational briefing to receive an update from the Hawai`i Health Connector and various state agencies regarding implementation of Hawaii’s insurance exchange and other matters relating to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The briefing will be held on Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013, in Hawaii State Capitol Conference Room 329 at 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“This informational briefing provides us with an opportunity to come together to discuss the progress and challenges being faced by the Hawai‘i Health Connector following its October 1 launch,” said Senator Roz Baker, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection. “Like many health insurance marketplaces across the nation the Connector is working hard to provide information and services to the public about their health insurance choices. We want to see how the system is doing and examine other issues that impact Hawaii’s health care consumers.”

“There are a myriad of issues that have arisen due to the interplay between the Affordable Care Act and Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act,” said Representative Angus McKelvey, chair of the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. “By engaging in a constructive discussion between the stakeholders and their respective counterparts we can better identify and address these issues.”

The following individuals have been invited to participate:

  • Coral Andrews, Executive Director, Hawai‘i Health Connector
  • Gordon Ito, Insurance Commissioner, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
  • Tom Matsuda, ACA Implementation Manager, Officer of the Governor
  • Ed Wang, Prepaid Health Care Program Chief, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
  • Dr. Kenny Fink, Administrator, Med-Quest Division, Department of Human Services

The Hawai‘i Health Connector is the online health insurance marketplace for Hawai‘i. A non-profit organization, the Connector was established by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 2011 (Act 205), in order to comply with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The Connector’s insurance marketplace program launched earlier this month.

This informational briefing will be broadcasted by Capitol TV.

No public testimony will be accepted.

For more information please the Notice of Informational Briefing: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2013/hearingnotices/HEARING_SEN_CPN-HTH-HMS-CPC-HLT-HUS_10-09-13_INFO_.HTM.

Hawaii’s Electrical Rates to be Discussed

Honolulu –  The Senate Committees on Commerce and Consumer Protection and Energy and Environment will be holding a joint informational briefing on Tuesday, January 29 at 8:30 a.m. in the State Capitol’s Auditorium.  

The purpose of this informational briefing is to receive information on factors that impact electric rates, the rate- making process and to identify potential solutions to reduce the adverse impacts of increasingly high electric rates on consumers statewide.

As electrical rates continue to climb, it is important for us to look for ways that could reduce rates and help lessen the burden of high utility costs on our constituents,” said Senator Roz Baker, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection.

The Committee is interested in information about efforts to create an integrated electrical grid using available renewable energy and firm power to benefit consumers with lower rates and reach our green energy goals efficiently and cost-effectively.

We want to hear the strategies the PUC and the utilities plan to use to incorporate more renewable energy onto the grid,” said Senator Mike Gabbard, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment.

The Committee is also interested in hearing what potential challenges may arise and the strategies that will be used address those challenges.

The following organizations are invited to participate:

· Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Hermina Morita, Chair

· Jeffrey Ono, Executive Director, Division of Consumer Advocacy, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs,

· Robbie Alm, Executive Vice President, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc.

· Sharon Suzuki, President, Maui Electric Company, Ltd.

· Jay Ignacio, President, Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc.

· David Bissell, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

 

The briefing will be broadcast live on Oahu on Olelo channel 53.  For neighbor island broadcast information, please call the following public access organizations:

  • Kauai:  Ho’ike Community Television (www.hoike.org), phone (808) 246-1556 (no web-streaming).
  • Maui:   Akaku:  Maui Community Television (www.akaku.org), phone (808) 871-5554 (web-streaming available).
  • Big Island: Na Leo O Hawaii (www.naleo.tv), phone (808) 935-8874 (Hilo) or (808) 329-9617 (Kailua-Kona) (web-streaming available).

 

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A Response to the Star Advertiser’s Foreclosure Report

Sen. Roz Baker

Chair, Commerce and Consumer Protection

The three-part “Foreclosure Special Report” published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on August 5-7, 2012 pointedly focused on the critics of the State’s recently amended foreclosure laws (Act 48 and Act 182).  It did not, at any time, offer perspectives from economically distressed homeowners who actually stood to benefit from the consumer protections under the new law.  Those homeowners were the focus of the Legislature’s actions.

In light of the issues raised by the Report, I believe the other side of the story needs to be heard in order to get a more balanced perspective on the foreclosure reform.

During the past four years, mortgage foreclosures in Hawai`i have increased to the point that we hold the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. As Chair of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, I, along with my committee and House colleagues, championed Act 48 to give distressed homeowners a fair shake and protect them against fraudulent mortgage schemes that were being perpetuated at the time. Some these schemes are continuing and the subject of investigation and action by both the Office of Consumer Protection and the Office of the Attorney General.

The subsequent Act 182, recently signed into law by the Governor, reflects state lawmakers continuing efforts to respond to evolving issues and when appropriate, amend the laws accordingly.   These two Acts evolved from two years of intensive scrutiny and recommendations from the stakeholder members of the Legislatively-created Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force and hours of committee hearings and deliberations.

Responding to the negatives

In an effort to respond to the negative stance taken by the Star Advertiser’s Foreclosure Report series, I approached the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Everett S. Kaneshige, chairperson of the Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force for their thoughts.  Director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Keali`i S. Lopez offered the following:

“We find it disheartening that lenders and their attorneys have been unwilling to approach the Mortgage Foreclosure Dispute Resolution Program that was created with Act 48.  They were invited to participate in the process of non-judicial foreclosure so that all parties could benefit from this type of mediation that ensures homeowners are being treated fairly.”

The Department’s responses to specific quotes (highlighted in bold below) in Part 1 of the Report are as follows:

“At the same time, a mediation program created by Act 48 that was supposed to help homeowners has never been used.”

The purpose of the mediation program was to provide lenders and borrowers the opportunity to meet face to face to agree on loan modification, or if that was not possible, a mutually acceptable solution to resolve the problem as part of the nonjudicial foreclosure process.  Doing so would save both sides’ time and money.  This program was a direct result of overwhelming testimony from homeowners at the Legislature who stated that the lenders refused to talk to them. 

Rather than look at the program as being a positive way to address the problem, the lenders refused to participate in the program because their attorneys advised them that Act 48 exposed them to new liability under the State’s Unfair and Deceptive Acts (UDAP) and Practices Law.  However, earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lender who engaged in an improper nonjudicial foreclosure had violated UDAP even before Act 48 was enacted.  This shows that lenders who did not follow foreclosure laws were always subject to UDAP, not just after Act 48 was enacted.

“Critics say it [Act 182] makes the law worse to the point where foreclosures will be further restricted.”

This is the lenders’ attorneys’ response to the provision in Act 182 that requires the attorneys to affirm the validity of the information contained in the foreclosure documents filed with the court in a judicial foreclosure.  Similar to the situation regarding UDAP and Act 48, courts had always required the lenders themselves to affirm the information that was filed.  It is arguable that a lender’s attorney had the same obligations under the existing rules which govern an attorney’s legal and ethical responsibilities. 

The new provisions were similar to those enacted in the state of New York and were designed to ensure that both the lender and its attorneys would take responsibility for providing the court with accurate information.  To the extent a lender’s attorney is uncomfortable with putting himself on the line for his client, then it is arguable that further information or research should be done before the case is filed in court.

As an alternative, the lender could instruct its attorney to file a nonjudicial foreclosure, which does not require any affirmation by the attorney.

“The law hasn’t made it easier for lenders to resolve problem loans, and many delinquent borrowers are taking advantage of foreclosure delays by keeping their homes while making no mortgage payments.”

Act 182 contains numerous changes and refinements to the previous law that makes it easier for lenders to resolve problem loans.  For example, the revisions to section 667-60, Hawaii Revised Statutes, now specifically describe what consists of unfair deceptive acts and practices. 

This removes much of the uncertainty that had previously existed under Act 48.  The problem of delinquent borrowers making no mortgage payments is a problem created by the lenders themselves because they stubbornly refuse to use the laws and processes available to them under existing law to process foreclosures more quickly.

“Act 48 has inhibited a faster recovery in the housing market because foreclosures have been delayed and homeowner credit hasn’t been restored.”

Act 48 has only been on the books for one year.  While it may have had an effect in slowing down nonjudicial foreclosures (which was one of intended purposes in response to the previous situation in which owner occupants were losing their homes with little or no notice or opportunity to try to resolve the problem with the lender), it is unreasonable to claim that it is responsible for inhibiting a faster recovery of the housing market.  To the extent there were negative aspects to Act 48, these have been corrected in Act 182.

“Brewbaker contends that a relatively small number of Hawaii families beset by circumstances such as job loss or divorce were caught up in foreclosure after making un-risky home purchases.  He contends that far more people made risky purchases and are now coasting on benefits from Act 48.”

Brewbaker’s testimony is inconsistent with the overwhelming testimony received by the legislature over the last three years from owner occupants forced into foreclosure.  These were not speculative investors but ordinary citizens who, for various reasons such illness, loss of job or other unforeseen economic circumstances, found themselves unable to make their mortgage payment. 

To the extent that purchases were “risky,” the lenders have themselves to blame since they were ones who qualified the purchasers for the loan.  It is unclear how an owner who cannot make their monthly mortgage payment and whose foreclosure is delayed solely because the lender refuses to proceed with either a nonjudicial or judicial foreclosure can be considered to be “coasting”.

Publication of public notices

Certain aspects of the Report focusing on the publication requirements for public notice of public sale warrant further clarification.  Act 182 revised these publication requirements to encourage competitive pricing while also retaining the wide dissemination of public notice information.

Dennis Francis, the Star-Advertiser publisher, states in the Report that there “will not be competition among publications because Act 182 allows attorneys with financial incentives to direct auction ads to an affiliated company.”  There is no real evidence to substantiate the Star-Advertiser’s claim and any publication that wants to be deemed a publication of general circulation criteria for purposes of carrying public foreclosure sale notices can file petition for such certification in circuit court.

No mention is made in the Report that the Star-Advertiser itself has a financial interest in the publication of the notices of public sale.  Language in Act 48 inadvertently gave the Star-Advertiser a monopoly on Oahu, and the rates for these notices were subsequently increased approximately three-fold.  The Legislature did not believe it was prudent for the Star-Advertiser to continue with a state-sanctioned monopoly, so revisions to the publication requirements were made under Act 182.

Furthermore, the Star-Advertiser’s Report mentions that it lowered the rate for auction notices by half, but it does not state what percent of its revenues are generated by mortgage foreclosure ads, or how much it has benefited from the inadvertent monopoly under Act 48.  If the Star-Advertiser has superior circulation, service, and price, then it should compete for the business of publishing notices of public sale.

Bruce Kim, Executive Director of the Office of Consumer Protection, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, notes that although critics in the Report claim the amended law limits residents’ access to public notices, the existing requirements of mailing or delivering the notice of public sale remain unchanged.

A foreclosing mortgagee still must mail or deliver copies of the notice of public sale to the mortgagor or borrower at their last known address, junior creditors, the State Director of Taxation, and the Director of Finance of the county where the mortgaged property is located.  The notice of public sale also must be posted on mortgaged property.

Notifying renters

The Report also states that Act 182 could affect renters who are unaware that their rentals are at risk of foreclosure.  However, Executive Director Kim notes there is no empirical evidence cited in the Report that renters would be more aware of the status of their rentals if the publication is made in a newspaper of general circulation.  Both Act 182 and existing statute require the notice of public sale to be posted on the subject property 60 days prior to the public sale.

Executive Director Kim also points out that tenants have additional federal protection under the 2009 Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act.  Following the foreclosure on a federally-related mortgage loan, the foreclosing mortgagee or purchaser at a foreclosure auction must provide tenants with a 90-day notice before being evicted as the result of a foreclosure.

The bottom line

Act 48′s reform of the State’s foreclosure laws was a necessary response to lender abuses.  Act 182 builds on the work of Act 48 and once it is given sufficient time to be implemented, it will offer more assurances to lenders, while also maintaining essential consumer protections.  The result is a balanced process that works for both lenders and consumers in Hawaii.

Maui Senators Appointed to the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Group

Honolulu- The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has appointed Senators Roz Baker and J Kalani English as members to the newly created Hawaiian Electric Companies’ Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) Advisory Group. The Advisory Group was recently established by the PUC in response to the Commission’s Decision and Order on March 14, 2011 for a revised IRP Framework to govern energy resource planning by electric and gas utilities in the State of Hawai’i.

The goal of IRP is to develop an Action Plan that governs how the Hawaii Electric Companies will meet energy objectives and customer energy needs consistent with state energy policies and goals, while providing safe and reliable utility services at reasonable cost, through the development of resource plans and scenarios of possible futures that provide a broader long-term perspective.

Members of the Advisory group were selected to provide the Hawaiian Electric Companies with the benefit of community perspectives by participating in the utility’s IRP process and representing diverse community, environmental, social, political, or cultural interests consistent with the revised framework’s goal. Individuals selected to be part of the group include state and county officials, and environmental, cultural, business, and community interest groups.

It is important that we invest time into understanding alternative energy futures now, so that we as a State can make responsible and responsive decisions regarding our energy needs,” said Senator Roz Baker, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection which oversees the PUC. “I look forward to working collaboratively with the IRP Advisory Group to help our State move forward towards a better and more sustainable future.” Senator Baker represents South and West Maui.

Hawai’i’s ability to move away from our dependency on imported fossil fuels and towards locally- produced renewable energy will be determined by our actions today,” said Senator J Kalani English, who represents Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe. “As the former Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment I understand the complexity of the issues surrounding energy and the impact it has on our State.”

Governor Signs Bills to Protect Hawaii’s Homeowners

On June 28, 2012 Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law House Bill 1875, Relating to Foreclosures, and House Bill 2375, Relating to Mortgage Rescue Fraud Prevention.

House Bill 1875 implements the 2011 recommendations of the mortgage foreclosure task force and other best practices, to address various issues relating to the mortgage foreclosures law and issues affecting homeowner association liens and the collection of unpaid assessments. The measure also makes permanent the mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program and the process for converting nonjudicial foreclosures of residential property into judicial foreclosures.

House Bill 2375 aims to increases consumer protection against fraudulent mortgage rescue services. Specifically this measure assists consumers by requiring the Office of Consumer Protection to educate consumers about fraudulent activities that may be committed against homeowners who face property foreclosures, liens, or encumbrances; and establishing criminal penalties and a mandatory fine for certain violations of the Mortgage Rescue Fraud Prevention Act.

Hawaii State Senate Confirms Maui Resident as Commissioner to the Public Utilities Commission

(Photo Caption: Maui Senators congratulate Michael Champley on his confirmation)(L-R: Senate President Shan Tsutsui, Senator J. Kalani English, Michael Champley and Senator Roz Baker)

HONOLULU –  The Hawaii State Senate today voted to confirm Maui resident Michael Champley as commissioner to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  Champley was appointed by Governor Abercrombie in September 2011 and began serving on the PUC on an interim basis immediately. His appointment was subject to Senate confirmation.

Mr. Champley’s extensive professional experience in the energy industry, commitment to public service, and proven leadership throughout his career are all important characteristics that make him an asset to the PUC,” said Senator Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui, and chairs the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee that recommended Champley’s confirmation.

Mr. Champley’s extensive experience and analytical skills make him an excellent choice for the PUC.  He has the reputation on knowing how to address complex and crucial issues relating to the utility industry,” said Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who represents Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Kahului, Pa‘ia, Lower Pa‘ia.

With more than four decades of experience in the industry, Mr. Champley has proven to have a thorough understanding of the regulatory process from a utility perspective and is highly qualified to serve as a member of the Public Utilities Commission,” said Senator J. Kalani English, who represents Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe.

Prior to his appointment, Champley worked as a Maui-based senior energy consultant focused on clean energy resource integration in Hawai’i. He has over 40 years of experience analyzing, integrating and managing complex economic, public policy and technical issues confronting an evolving regulated energy utility industry. Champley was a senior executive with DTE Energy, a major electric and gas energy company where he held various executive positions, including Senior Vice President-Regulatory Affairs and Senior Vice President-Power Supply.  Champley holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Dayton and a Master of Business Administration from Indiana University with emphasis in finance and public utility economics and regulation.

State-Federal Mortgage Servicing Settlement to be Discussed

 

HONOLULU – In reaction to a landmark state-federal deal with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses and fraud during the housing crisis, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection along with the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will be holding an informational briefing to discuss the settlement terms and its conditions.  The briefing will be held on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10am in conference room 229, at the State Capitol.

Attorney General David M. Louie, this past Thursday, formally joined attorneys general in 48 other states, including the District of Columbia, in a $25 billion deal with Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.  Oklahoma did not join the settlement and will not receive any money.

Hawaii’s estimated share of the settlement is over $71 million. Under the agreement, $8.2 million will go to the State to help address future mortgage loan servicing practices, such as counseling and mediation programs and grants. Hawaii homeowners will receive $63 million from loan term modifications and other direct relief.  From the $63 million, $3.2 million will be paid directly to homeowners who were improperly foreclosed upon between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011. Those who suffered servicing abuse could apply and would qualify for up to $2,000 in cash payments.

The agreement forces an overhaul to mortgage servicing practices.  The settlement imposes new requirements that will address robo signing abuses, document deficiencies, dual tracking, relationships with active military personnel, forced placed insurance, technology systems, loss mitigations and servicing.

“This really is a landmark settlement.  Through some of the laws Congress and the Legislature have passed, and now with the vigor of the Attorneys General and our AG in particular a framework to protect the interest of Hawaii homeowners has been established.  There are going to be resources coming to this State to help homeowners and not just the ones who have been wrongly foreclosed but folks into the future.  I look forward to working with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and the Attorney General in tweeking Act 48, which this landmark settlement nicely dovetails, “  said Senator Rosalyn Baker, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection.   She introduced Senate Bill 651 during the 2011 legislative session, which the governor signed into law (Act 48) last May.

Act 48 aims to reform the foreclosure process by implementing additional protections for individuals facing foreclosure or who are at-risk of foreclosure. Among other things, the measure establishes a temporary mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program and authorizes conversion from nonjudicial to judicial foreclosure.

To view video click here.

Discussion of the Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force 2012 Report

On January 19, 2012, the Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force presented its report to the Senate Committee on Commerce & Consumer Protection and the House Committee on Consumer Protection & Commerce during a joint informational briefing.

The task force was created by the Legislature in 2010 by Act 162 to conduct an extensive analysis of factors affecting mortgage foreclosures in the state and to provide recommendations to the Legislature. The result of their work assisted in the 2011 enactment of Act 48 (Senate Bill 651), a measure that  reforms the foreclosure process by implementing additional protections to individuals facing foreclosure or at-risk of foreclosure.

During the joint informational briefing, the legislative committees were able to hear from the task force about refining the requirements and procedures specified in Act 48. The task force also looked ways that the dispute resolution and the counseling provisions in the law can work better for consumers.

Senate Committee on Commerce & Consumer Protection Chair Roz Baker explained that the committee will be looking at pieces of legislation and will introduce measures to implement the Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force’s recommendations. In conjunction with the tasks force’s recommendations, the committee will also be looking at statutes and procedures relating to lien foreclosures by condominiums and homeowner associations.

Highlights from the report’s final recommendations included include:

  • Make permanent the process under Act 48 for converting nonjudicial foreclosures of residential property into judicial foreclosures;
  • Address practical challenges in the operation of the mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program;
  • Establish an alternate power of sale foreclosure process specifically for condominium and other homeowner associations;
  • Provide planned community associations organized under chapter 421J, Hawaii Revised Statutes, with the same options as condominium associations with regard to association liens for assessments and the collection of unpaid assessments from tenants or rental agents;
  • Place time limits on condominium and other homeowner association liens for assessments, and prohibit such liens arising solely from fines, penalties, or late fees;
  • Provide specific language explaining the foreclosure process for the public information notice that must be distributed by persons intending to use the power of sale foreclosure process under part II of chapter 667, Hawaii Revised Statutes; and
  • Clarify, improve, and correct errors in the provisions of Act 48, Session Laws of Hawaii 2011.

The complete Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force report is available for download at: http://lrbhawaii.info/reports/legrpts/2012/mort.pdf.

 To view video click here.

State Launches Mortgage Foreclosure Dispute Resolution Program

On October 3, 2011, the Hawai’i State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) held a press conference to unveil the Mortgage Foreclosure Dispute Resolution (MFDR) Program.

The MFDR program is established under Act 48 (Senate Bill 651) and is designed to offer owner-occupants of residential property in non-judicial foreclosure the opportunity to meet directly with their lenders to modify their loans or work out an alternative to the foreclosure process.

Sen. Roz Baker, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection, and Rep. Bob Herkes, Chair of the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, attended the press conference. Both lawmakers’ committees worked on Senate Bill 651. Representatives from Faith Action for Community Equality (FACE) also joined DCCA officials at the press conference.

The program will be funded by fees paid by participating lenders and owner-occupants. Under Act 48, MFDR was required to commence on October 1, 2011, and will continue until September 30, 2014.

Starting on October 3, 2011, lenders may begin submitting non-judicial foreclosure notice filings through the program’s website, http://mfdr.ehawaii.gov/. To use the electronic filing system, a required subscriber account may be obtained by registering at http://portal.ehawaii.gov/subscriber-services.html.

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