Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor to Hold Hearing on Marriage Equality Bill

Honolulu- The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor will hold a hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 1, Relating to Equal Rights, on Monday, October 28, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. at the State Capitol Auditorium. The hearing will follow the convening of the Second Special Session of 2013 called by Governor Neil Abercrombie.

Listening to public input, we’ve strived to strike a balance between the concerns expressed by both sides of this issue,” said Senator Clayton Hee, Chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. “We have also done our best to provide the public with ample opportunity to review the measure posted online to offer further input. Everyone wishing to participate may do so by submitting testimony.”

Testimony is currently being accepted. The deadline to submit testimony is Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

Members of the public wishing to submit testimony may do so online, via email, in person, or by fax. More information about the hearing and how to submit testimony can be found on the Committee’s hearing notice at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/splsession2013b/Hearing%20JDL%2010-28-13.pdf.

If the bill passes out of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.

To review the draft bill, receive more information about special session, and keep updated about the bill’s status, please go to: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/splsession.aspx?year=2013b.

During special session, the Senate will also take action on numerous interim appointments to boards and commissions requiring Senate confirmation. Confirmation of these appointments is the responsibility of the Senate; if the Senate elects not to take action on the appointments, the individuals appointed cannot continue to serve and are ineligible for another interim appointment to the same position.

The Hawaii State Senate will convene in special session on October 28, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in the Senate Chambers.  Floor sessions for the remainder of the special session will convene at 11:30 a.m., unless circumstances require otherwise.

Monday’s hearing will be broadcast live by Capitol TV on Olelo Channel 53.

Senate Committee on Accountability Held Hearings to Shed Light on the Failed UH Concert

Senator Donna Mercado Kim, Vice Chair of the Hawaii State Senate and Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Accountability

By Senator Donna Mercado Kim

The Senate Committee on Accountability recently held two hearings to shed light on the failed concert fund raising attempt by the UH Athletic Department. In the wake of the UH administration and Board of Regents’ unwillingness or reluctance to explain what had happened to a confused and frustrated public, we gave the Regents, President M.R.C. Greenwood, Chancellor Tom Apple, Jim Donovan, and Rich Sheriff an opportunity to clear the air. Our hearings were open to the public and televised live.

Neither myself nor any of my Senate colleagues called for Dr. Greenwood’s dismissal. In fact, it was made clear at the onset of the hearings that our purpose was to simply bring openness and accountability to UH governance, qualities that had been sorely lacking during this unfortunate event.

The recent action of the BOR to review Dr. Greenwood’s contract has many speculating that it was due to “political pressure.” The Regents should have been forthcoming with the public that it was Dr. Greenwood’s attorney who demanded that the BOR give her a vote of confidence or “buy out” her contract, which then forced them to hold a private meeting and hire their own attorney to advise them.

President Greenwood and her PR consultants have cleverly twisted the issue of accountability into an issue of “political interference and micromanagement.” Yet, she testified at our hearings that no one ordered her to create the $200,000 new position for Jim Donovan and that the governor only provided advice that she had solicited.

It should be noted that Dr. Greenwood has been very visible at the Legislature during her tenure, more so than any recent UH leader. When I was Ways and Means Committee chair, she called often for my counsel on myriad UH concerns. It’s ironic that she’s now construing well-meaning advice to be inappropriate political meddling.

The President needs to take responsibility for what has happened at the UH rather than deflect blame with innuendos of her being the victim of a “campaign of false statements.” Please, President, in the interest of openness, elaborate on these so-called false statements.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist David Shapiro’s assertion on this matter regarding my disagreement with former UH President Evan Dobelle was vintage Shapiro: a cynical half-truth. What riled legislators, and UH insiders, was that Dr. Dobelle squandered $1 million for renovations to College Hill, pledged to raise private funds to deflect criticism, and failed to do so. He promised and failed to raise $150 million in private funds for the Kaka‘ako medical school. He appointed friends or former associates to highly paid UH positions and hired others as consultants. I was very candid about these problems in a report, entitled “Dangerous Equations,” which I co-authored with Dr. Amy Agbayani, Dr. Ralph Moberly, and State Rep. Mark Takai.

Personally, I feel that President Greenwood should be retained and held accountable to correct the UH’s problems. While I can’t speak for other legislators, I can tell you unequivocally that there’s been no call from the Senate committee to remove President Greenwood or interfere with the school’s autonomy.

However, what we do demand is openness and accountability from the UH administration and Board of Regents. As public servants entrusted with overseeing the state’s only institution of higher learning, they have a moral and legal responsibility to uphold the law and the oath they took. We expect no more and no less.

MILESTONE IN PUBLIC SAFETY: REFORMS FOR PAROLE AND PROBATION:

A DIVERSE LIST OF LEGISLATION MOVES HAWAII FORWARD IN PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUES

By Senator Will Espero, Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Government Operations, and Military Affairs

The 2012 legislative session has been a milestone year for public safety, and in particular, corrections and judiciary system reform.  From prevention measures to more victim resources, transitional issues to parole and probation, many areas touching our corrections and judicial system were addressed.

At the front end, SB2261 provided $336,000 for the successful Weed and Seed Program active in several Oahu communities.  These prevention funds will help operations which battle drug use and promote healthy drug-free programs and projects.

At the tail end, HB2226 provided $250,000 to codify the statewide automated victim information and notification system.  This program was initially started with federal funds, and will now be incorporated into our state government providing a valuable tool and resource for victims of crime to utilize.

SB2536 establishes a Clean and Sober Home and Halfway House Task Force to address issues and matters pertaining to these housing facilities and their impact on neighborhoods and residents.  Many released inmates end up in these halfway homes, and the homes are needed to help inmates as they transition from prison to a free society.

The reentry intake service centers were given new direction and work through SB2866.  Re-entry has taken a more visible role in the Abercrombie administration, and HB2599 will assist the department in creating a successful re-entry  component in our prison system.

The cornerstones of this session relating to corrections and judicial reform can be found in HB2515 and SB2776. HB2515 primarily changes our probation system by lowering probation terms from 5 to 4 years in certain situations and allowing certain 2nd time drug offenders to be released on probation.

The major changes for this session can be found in SB2776 which had support from Governor Abercrombie, the Hawaii Judiciary, Legislative leadership, and many legislators and stakeholders as well.  Improvements in the pre-trial detainee processing, two additional Paroling Authority Members, use of validated risk assessments, increases in victim restitution payments, and added staff positions in PSD will begin needed changes in our corrections system.

HB2599 reconstitutes the Re-entry Commission and will allow non-government stakeholders an opportunity to work with re-entry staff and monitor re-entry services.

Finally, SB2158 allows cash to be received on weekends to allow people to get out sooner versus later if they do not have access to cash.

One can see the wide spectrum of legislation which will impact and improve our corrections and judicial system. With changes and reform, the issue of returning the approximately 1700 inmates incarcerated on the mainland can truly begin. Eventually, the $45 million being spent on the mainland will be spent in Hawaii employing our residents, circulating in our local economy, and helping our inmates with their re-entry and rehabilitation efforts.

Moreover, the safety of our island residents is paramount, and these measures do not jeopardize public safety or endanger neighborhoods and communities.  Improvements and efficiencies in our corrections and judicial system will benefit our state and benefit all the people of Hawaii.

Hawaii State Senate Accomplishes Priorities in 2012 Legislative Session

By Senator Brickwood Galuteria, Senate Majority Leader

The Hawaii State Senate accomplished many of its priorities set forth at the beginning of the 2012 Legislative Session. The overarching themes and priorities of the Senate were in alignment with Governor Abercrombie’s “A New Day in Hawaii.”

Although Hawaii is experiencing a steady economic recovery, many people are still unemployed, especially in the construction and trade industries. Realizing this reality, the Senate made job creation and creating a sustainable economy top priorities through its flagship initiative, The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012. To accomplish this goal, the Senate was able to include in excess of $414M for repair and maintenance projects in the Capital Improvement Program portion of the Budget for fiscal year 2013, pursuant to House Bill 2012.

The projects will focus on smaller repairs and maintenance to extend the useful life of existing state-owned assets and facilities; energy conservation and sustainable improvements; and health, safety and code requirements. State departments and everyone statewide will benefit from this funding. All trades in the construction industry will prosper with the creation of more than 4-thousand shovel-ready jobs, as well as businesses that provide goods and services to the industry.

To further support tourism, strategic investment was made through the development and implementation of new initiatives to significantly increase visitors. China in particular is a rising market for Hawaii’s tourism industry, with unprecedented growth potential. Looking ahead into the future, the Senate supports an emerging market, such as Space Tourism. It has the potential of being a billion dollar global industry that could significantly increase state revenues, provide new aerospace jobs, and rejuvenate economic development in the Kalaeloa area.

The steady economic recovery allowed for the reinforcement of the safety net. The Senate Majority is mindful of the struggles Hawaii’s most vulnerable citizens suffer and supports efforts to assist them. Child welfare, domestic violence shelters, MedQuest, and various shortfalls across the Department of Human Services were addressed in the State Budget. Non-profit organizations were also provided assistance for the continuation of services and community programs statewide.

The Senate has notably underscored education as a top priority. Through the State Budget, key investments were made in the weighted student formula, student meals, Community Schools for Adults and student transportation. The Senate believes early life experiences lay the groundwork for a child’s lifelong learning. Affordable and accessible high quality programs for all children are critically important for their success. Working in concert with the Governor’s Early Childhood Education Initiative, the Legislature passed a measure that establishes the Early Learning Council and the Early Learning Advisory Board. For higher education, funding was appropriated for much-needed capital renewal and deferred maintenance for the University of Hawaii system. Funding was also appropriated to address significant growth in student enrollment at the community colleges.

The Senate Majority strives to make Hawaii a model for the rest of the country by continuing the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Realizing that reducing electricity costs depends in part on diversifying energy sources, the Senate passed bills addressing geothermal exploration. The Legislature also passed a measure that creates a regulatory framework for an interisland electric transmission cable.

In the area of technology, the Senate calls for investing in the State’s IT infrastructure to improve government and its services to the public. The State Budget makes significant investments in software upgrades, integration in information technology, and the modernization of databases, to name a few. The Senate also supports the Governor’s broadband initiative to enhance services and ensure that every citizen has access.

With many priorities accomplished, the Senate Majority still has a lot of work ahead and looks forward to continuing to serve the people of Hawaii.

The Time Is Right to Invest in Hawaii

By Senator Brickwood Galuteria, Senate Majority Leader
Senator David Y. Ige, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means
Senator Michelle N. Kidani, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Oversees Capital Improvement Projects for the Senate

The time to invest in Hawaii’s future is now.  The Hawaii State Senate firmly believes this as evidenced by its recent unanimous and bipartisan passage of The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012, Senate Bill 2012.  This measure is an aggressive $500 million general obligation bond-funded Capital Improvement Program package that will create jobs by investing and stimulating our local economy from all corners of the State and can become available as soon as it is passed out of the House and the Governor signs the bill.

The need for capital improvements authorized by Senate Bill 2012 is great.  There is a backlog of over $1 billion in repair and maintenance projects for aging State facilities, from schools to hospitals. The measure aims to significantly reduce the repair and maintenance backlog list at 225 schools statewide and all 10 University of Hawaii campuses. The improvements will extend the useful life of State facilities and put people to work right away by fixing roofs and windows, and other basic essential repairs. The investment now will far outweigh the cost in the future, mitigating the need to fund replacements and reducing other future maintenance costs.

Making improvements to our State facilities now is cost effective. With Hawaii currently experiencing the lowest interest rates in recorded history, significant savings have accrued from the State’s most recent bond issuance.  Additionally, many bids for construction work are coming in significantly below budget.  According to an assessment from the University of Hawaii, repair and maintenance bids have come in about 18 percent below what was estimated over the past six months. This means taxpayers are currently getting an excellent value for construction projects now being implemented.

Another top priority of the bill is to develop sustainable and renewable energy resources, such as photovoltaic technology.  Investing in renewable energy and upgrades to information technology initiatives throughout schools, hospitals and office buildings will ultimately lead to cost savings and a reduction of the State’s carbon footprint. For example, photovoltaic projects currently underway at 15 Kauai schools are expected to save the Department of Education an estimated $30 million over the life of the project while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Among the significant benefits of addressing the capital improvement needs contemplated in Senate Bill 2012 are the thousands of jobs that will be created for our unemployed and under-employed workers. While our economy is showing signs of stabilization, the unemployment rate is still high, at over six percent.  The construction industry has been particularly hit hard during the recession.  Hundreds of workers have been without a job for years. In Kona, times have been tough for 85 percent of its union members. Many are financially strapped; some face foreclosure.   Their counterparts statewide share in their struggles.

The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012 will give a big boost to the economy and put people to work by appropriating funds for shovel-ready jobs for all trades in the construction industry – from carpenters to consultants.  Small and large companies would be able to bid on jobs through an expedited State procurement process.  According to estimates by DBEDT’s job multiplier, this measure could create or sustain more than 5,000 jobs.   That means jobs that will put money in workers’ pockets, which will in turn mean spending in our local economy.

This bill will benefit everyone as it gets our economic engine running again.  The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012 creates a win-win situation for all.  The time is now to invest in Hawaii for our future.

 

Current Investments Lead to Future Savings

By Senate President Shan S. Tsutsui (D-Wailuku, Waihee, Kahului, Paia, Lower Paia)

If you had the option to shell out a dollar today, to help you save $10 tomorrow, would you do it? Would you spend money to save money?

Sound investments that spell big savings for the State are one of the numerous ways in which the Senate seeks to fulfill its vision of breathing new life into our economy, transforming the way we operate and building a better and more sustainable Hawaii.

As part of this vision, Senate Bill 2012, “The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012,” aims to help the Aloha State and its residents.  We need to get people back to work, while generating savings now and in the future.  SB2012 is an aggressive, $500 million general obligation bond-funded capital improvement measure that addresses repair and maintenance projects and is designed to create an estimated 5,000 jobs statewide.

By investing significant funds today, SB2012 allows the State to save money and generate revenue by fixing existing State buildings that are badly in need of repairs and are not being fully utilized. Instead of spending money to lease private properties elsewhere, addressing needed repairs would allow the State to use its vacant or underutilized buildings to house its own displaced employees. The projects contemplated include those that have been long deferred and must to be undertaken eventually.  Maximizing the utilization and extending the useful life of existing state-owned facilities will, in the long run, prove to be a priceless investment for Hawaii.

Additionally, there’s no better time to build. This bipartisan initiative takes advantage of today’s historically low interest rates, which makes current conditions favorable for companies and governments to borrow. The current supply-demand imbalance helps keep costs down by encouraging competition among companies vying for projects. In fact, delaying much-needed repairs to public facilities would unnecessarily increase a project’s price tag, since it would cost more to fix structures in the future when infrastructure damages worsen and drive up construction costs.

Another facet of the measure endeavors to decrease the long-term cost of government through the installation of energy efficient technology, which would allow the State to provide higher levels of services, all for a lesser cost. Understanding nature’s valuable benefits, the State is already moving forward with efforts to reduce the cost of school operations.  The Department of Education recently announced a contract for a pilot project for the installation of photovoltaic systems for 15 public schools. The agreement provides the State solar power without any up-front costs, and the third party providers will be afforded a mechanism to claim tax credits. It will ultimately save the State an estimated $30 million over the life of the project.  If the State were to similarly install PV systems at all 255 of our public schools, the State could realize a savings of over $500 million over the next 20 years. Efforts like these result in cost savings and a lesser drain on the State’s general fund resources – all while reducing our carbon footprint, which continues to be another priority of the Senate.

By investing in the types of projects included in SB2012, we’ll immediately help get our economy back on track and realize big savings in various ways. But most importantly, we’ll give our keiki a safer and better learning environment, provide our kupuna with better medical facilities, and improve state infrastructures for our residents and visitors.

Editorial: Threat of Axis deer

By Senator Gilbert Kahele
The following editorial was published in the September 20, 2011 issue of the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

Recently, it seems that there has been a spate of news headlines about invasive species with snakes, horned lizards, and flying squirrels. While I do want to prevent these exotic animals from making their homes here in Hawai‘i, I want to draw some attention to another animal that is already here in Hawai‘i, and could pose a threat to our home here on the Big Island.

Axis deer have established populations on the islands of Lana‘i, Moloka‘i and Maui. Most recently, a Maui reporter wrote an article in August entitled, “D’oh! A Deer,” that highlighted the devastating effects that axis deer has had on the people of Maui. With a voracious appetite, the deer are not picky when it comes to food. From pineapple to sugar cane to vegetables in local gardens, the deer does not discriminate in its diet. Their foraging also creates problems for ranchers as the deer can wipe out large grassy fields that their herds use as grazing areas. Add to this the fact that the deer’s feces can carry diseases that can be passed on to people and it becomes clear that axis deer is a serious problem.

What would a population of axis deer mean for the Big Island? Coffee and macadamia nut farms have been longstanding industries for the Big Island, with our burgeoning Ka‘u coffee industry beginning to receive international attention. The demand for ono local beef from our ranches in Ka‘u, Waimea, and other parts of the Big Island has grown as people heed the call to eat local. Also, our nurseries and beautiful anthurium farms – imagine the ravaging effects a herd of axis deer could have on these industries.

As outlined in a Honolulu Star Advertiser article on May 28, 2011 and based on the best evidence I have available to me, I believe that axis deer may be making its way to the Big Island. Knowing the negative impacts that will occur to the environment and our local industry, I am doing everything in my power to prevent this animal from establishing itself on the Big Island.

By working with the State Department of Agriculture, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the State Department of the Attorney General, and the Governor, I am hoping to nip this problem in the bud. I am working with DLNR to change Hawai‘i Administrative Rule 13-124 to designate axis deer as an injurious species to ensure that its possession and potential transport between islands is regulated. This is meant as an interim step to limit any transport of axis deer to the Big Island until the upcoming 2012 Legislative Session where I plan to introduce legislation meant to more permanently address this issue.

I cannot stress how vital I believe this issue is to the health of our local economy and ecosystem. I will continue to push for awareness on this issue, knowing that with early action we can protect our home, the Big Island.

Senator Gil Kahele

SB1520 Sends Signal to the Nation’s Capitol

By Senator Brickwood Galuteria

The following op-ed is in response to the signing of Senate Bill 1520, commonly known as the Hawaiian Recognition Bill. Senate Bill 1520, which formally recognizes Native Hawaiian people as “the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawai‘i,” was signed by Governor Neil Abercrombie on July 6, 2011.  

This week Governor Abercrombie signed into law Senate Bill 1520 recognizing the Native Hawaiian people as the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawai’i. While this piece of legislation did not receive a lot of news media coverage or public commentary in recent months, it is probably one of the most important Acts to pass our legislature in years.

The intent of SB 1520 is to move forward the process of healing the frustration that many Native Hawaiians still feel more than one hundred years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This legislation also sends a signal to the nation’s capitol that the people of Hawaii are in agreement with the Akaka Bill currently under discussion in Congress. Eventually, the signing of this bill should lead to not just recognition, but also the formation of partial self-governance by Native Hawaiians, the protection of cultural rights and the appropriate use of ceded lands

Once implemented, SB 1520 will establish a five-member commission, appointed by the Governor, which will define who Native Hawaiians are, and then prepare a roll of qualified Native Hawaiians. One Commissioner will be appointed from each of Hawaii’s four counties, with a fifth at-large member. The completed roll, or list, of Native Hawaiians will then be published and maintained for the eventual purpose of creating an organization that will serve the needs of the Native Hawaiian people. This Commission, in cooperation with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs which will provide funding for the roll, will report to the Governor and the Legislature by next January on the status of their work in case any modifications are needed to the process. Once the roll is completed and published, the Commission will be dissolved, as it will then be time to move forward on the next steps of establishing an organization that will allow a form of self-governance for the Hawaiian people.

While this bill is historic, it should be remembered that the task of considering and developing a process for Native Hawaiian recognition did not just start with this legislation. It began decades ago when a number of individuals saw injustice and stepped forward to demand that Native Hawaiians be recognized for who they are and be treated accordingly. Those people, who had the courage to go against a history of injustice, should be given much credit for SB 1520.

This measure, as written, recognizes the history of this land, acknowledges present reality, and moves a process forward that should benefit all residents of the islands. While it helps to bring long overdue justice to the Hawaiian people it should not, in any manner, create a separate class of people above or beyond the rest of Hawaii’s population. It does, in fact, reaffirm the delegation of federal authority and clarify that it is consistent with the policies of the State of Hawaii. That is how it should be; we will all benefit in the end because of this legislation.

Senator Brickwood Galuteria
Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs Chair
Senate Majority Leader

Hawaii’s Homeless Initiative Brings Communities Together

By Senator Brickwood Galuteria

The following op-ed is in response to the Star-Advertiser’s editorial on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011, “Weak Start for State’s Homeless Initiative.”

The Star-Advertiser’s editorial regarding Hawaii’s homeless situation on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011, “Weak Start for State’s Homeless Initiative,” was far too premature and reactionary for a large community program that is really just now getting off the ground.

There is no question that homelessness has become a growing issue in Hawaii in recent years, as more and more people are seen camping out at beaches, parks and on the street.  However, your article made it appear that the efforts currently being undertaken to fix this problem are weak and ineffective.  The truth is much more complex, as it takes time to fund, organize and implement any program that impacts so many people.

First of all, this issue is definitely a priority of the Abercrombie Administration.  Before this year, there was no one person designated to coordinate the homeless efforts at the State, County and private levels.  Now, with the Governor’s appointment of Marc Alexander as the State Homelessness Coordinator, this effort can become much more focused and better managed.  Alexander is, in fact, immersed in meetings with stakeholders and participants to develop a plan that will be unveiled soon.

Also, there is now more coordination between various government agencies and the private sector because of the formation of the Legislative Urban Caucus Working Group, which combines representatives from the State Legislature, City Council, and various stakeholders, including representatives from HIS, Waikiki Community Center, and various city and state agencies and departments.  In fact, in just the past few months, the Urban Caucus has spent time updating the membership of the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness with new knowledgeable stakeholders, working to create a program that will provide education, vocational training and life-skill training to the homeless; and as well as seeking to fund one position with the Aloha United Way 2-1-1 line for referral services.  While all of these initiatives are not yet fully operational, they are definitely underway.

The same can be said of the phone call-in program that the newspaper criticized.  In the coming months it will be more publicized so that, over time, the public will become aware and hopefully use the call-in number on a regular basis.  It is but one element of a very detailed plan that will eventually involve thousands of people in governmental, non-profit and for-profit organizations.

It’s hard, but the public needs to be patient and the media must cover issues thoroughly and comprehensively before publishing opinions, especially in a one newspaper town. All of these efforts will take some time, but in the end they will bring people together from all facets of our community and have a positive impact on homelessness in our islands.

Expanding the ladder of opportunity

by Senator Will Espero
District 19

Democrats believe in extending the ladder of opportunity because the overall well-being of society improves as more citizens are able to reach their goals. As we and our neighbors achieve our own “American dream,” our well-being spills over into the community. That is why Democrats have traditionally invested in education, in job training, in strengthening families, and home ownership. Becoming better educated, acquiring valuable workplace skills, being able to buy a home of our own and shape our family lives in a positive way, all contribute to the stability and productivity of society.

Under the Bush Administration, federal financial aid was cut by $12.5 billion, drastically reducing the amount of student aid available for our high school graduates to attend college. Funding restrictions put the maximum Pell Grant at $4,050 for 2003-2004, up to $4,731 for 2008-2009. With rising tuition and other higher education costs, these Bush Administration reductions strained the ability of students to obtain the training they needed for the career goals they had.

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