Hawaii State Senate Confirms Judge Lloyd A. Poelman to Maui District Court

(Maui Senators congratulate Lloyd A. Poelman on his confirmation to District Court Judge for the Second Circuit, located on Maui.)

Honolulu- The Hawaii State Senate today confirmed the appointment of Lloyd A. Poelman as judge to the District Court of the Second Circuit, located on Maui. He was nominated by Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald and was subject to Senate confirmation.

Judge Poelman has established himself as a person of great integrity, judicial competence, and diligence,” said Senator Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui. “We are honored to confirm him to Maui’s District Court of the Second Circuit.”

Judge Poelman possesses the experience, temperament, and passion for justice essential to serve on a District Court,” said Senator J. Kalani English, who represents Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe. “I believe that the people of Maui will be well-served under his judgeship.”

I am pleased, along with my fellow Maui Senators, to support Judge Poelman’s confirmation,” said Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran, who represents Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Kahului. “I am confident that he will serve the people of Maui well in this position based on his knowledge, compassion, and demeanor.”

Poelman currently serves as a partner in the Wailuku firm of Poelman and Langa, where his practice includes personal and business law, personal injury, bankruptcy, insurance defense, property law, and estate planning. In addition, he serves as a per diem judge presiding in the District Family Court on Maui.

Poleman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School.

He will serve a term of six years.

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.

Maui to Receive Funding for Ma‘alaea-Based Special Emergency Response Vehicle Unit

Wailea, Maui- Governor Neil Abercrombie today signed into law a measure to establish a Emergency Medical Services Special Response Vehicle (SRV) in Ma‘alaea, Maui.

Senate Bill 498, relating to emergency medical services, appropriates $600,000 in FY 2013-2014 to create a twenty-four-hour, seven days-a-week, SRV unit based in Ma‘alaea, Maui.

“The establishment of an SRV unit based in Ma‘alaea will have a significant impact on the lives of our Maui residents, improving response times and health outcomes,” said Senator Roz Baker, who represents Senate District 6, encompassing south and west Maui. “Equipped with all the appropriate life-saving, emergency response equipment and staffed by advanced life support trained paramedics,  this vehicle will allow faster response times when resident ambulances are out of the district or called to remote areas.  This unit is vital to stabilizing patients in the initial stage of injury, illness or cardiac arrest and will ultimately save lives in south and west Maui.”

“The addition of this rapid response vehicle in Ma‘alaea will expand EMS and benefit more than just this community,” said Speedy Bailey, General Manager for American Medical Response Hawaii.

“This specialized paramedic unit will provide rapid, cutting-edge advanced life support and medical incident command for Ma‘alaea and the surrounding areas,” said David Kingdon, Paramedic with Maui County EMS and Instructor with the University of Hawaii. “The addition of this important EMS resource will greatly enhance our ability to adapt to the growing and changing needs of our community.”

Population growth in west and south Maui has increased significantly over the years, corresponding with a steady increase of approximately 1,000 emergency medical services-related phone calls per year. The population growth, in concert with increases in call volume, has impacted the timely response capabilities of the two ambulances that serve residents in these districts, especially if emergency medical services must respond from an “out-of-district” location. The new Ma‘alaea-based SRV unit will support the two ambulances already servicing Maui, helping to reduce death and disability among residents and visitors on the island.

 

Governor Signs Measure to Benefit Hawaii’s Honeybee Industry

(Senators Clarence Nishihara and Roz Baker join Governor Neil Abercrombie for the signing of Senate Bill 482 into law.)

Honolulu- Today Governor Neil Abercrombie enacted Senate Bill (SB) 482, relating to agriculture, into law. This measure helps to ensure the continued viability of honeybee stocks by encouraging beekeeping operations of all sizes throughout the State. Following the signing of SB 482 the Governor also proclaimed June 17 through 23 as “Hawaii Pollinator Week.”

Hawaii’s beekeeper operations play a critical role in the vitality of our honeybees,” said Senator Clarence Nishihara, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. “The enactment of this measure seeks to promote the honeybee industry by leveling the hurdles currently required for beekeepers to operate in the State.”

Honeybees, as a primary pollinator of food crops, have a significant impact on agriculture in Hawaii.  Hawaii’s annual Farm Gate Sales from bee-pollinated crops is valued at $212,800,000. Unfortunately, vital honeybee populations are declining at a rapid rate due to the arrival of the varroa mites, nosema, and small hive beetles.

Small and large beekeeper operations are responsible for millions of healthy, pollinating bees throughout the State. Small beekeepers, however, have experienced significant barriers to beekeeping due to administrative and bureaucratic requirements.

It’s important that we continue to take the appropriate steps to curb the decline of Hawaii’s honeybee population,” said Senator Roz Baker, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection. “This law improves Hawaii’s current beekeeping requirements, helping to sustain small beekeeping operations and ensuring an adequate supply of honeybees throughout the State.”

SB 482 clarifies the maximum number of gallons of honey that can be sold by a certified honey house or food processing establishment without obtaining a permit from the Department of Health (DOH). The measure also exempts from the permit requirement sales of honey directly to retail stores that, in turn, sell the honey directly to consumers. Further, the bill requires honey producers to include certain wording on labels of each container of honey, take a food safety class and make records available to DOH.

Legislative Women’s Caucus Makes Easter Brighter for Individuals in Need

(photo caption: Sen. Roz Baker, along with Rep. Della Au Belatti, presents the Easter baskets to the Institute for Human Services.)

HONOLULU–  The Legislative Women’s Caucus donated more than 80 Easter baskets to The Institute for Human Services (IHS) today.

Baskets filled with essential household items, such as laundry soap, utensils, toiletries, and towels, will benefit clients at IHS.   The donations will help families and individuals get a head start when moving from being homeless to having a permanent home.

 

I am pleased that many offices supported our IHS Easter Basket drive and we thank all of them for their help,” said Senator Roz Baker (District-6, South and West Maui), who coordinated the Senate’s donations. “These baskets will make a huge difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens and will certainly make it a happy Easter for them.”

The Legislative Women’s Caucus began its “IHS Easter Basket” drive in February. House of Representative Della Au Belatti spearheaded the drive for the group. This was the third year the Caucus donated baskets that would go towards clients transitioning into permanent homes.  In prior years, the baskets were given to clients at the shelter.

The Legislative Women’s Caucus is a bipartisan organization which consists of the women Senators and women members of the House of Representatives.  The Caucus works closely with women’s organizations and concerned individuals across the State, as well as with the Governor, state agencies and other legislators to advocate for programs and services that benefit women.

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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Hawaii State Senate Unveils its Leadership and Committee Chairs

HONOLULU — Maui State Senator Shan S. Tsutsui (Sen. District 5) has once again been elected as the President of the Senate and will preside during the 27th Hawaii State Legislature, which will convene on January 16, 2013.  Senator Donna Mercado Kim (Sen. District 14) will also continue to serve as Senate Vice President and Chair of the Senate Committee on Tourism and Government Operations and Special Committee on Accountability.  Senator David Ige (Sen. District 16) will continue as Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, with Senator Michelle Kidani (Sen. District 18) serving as his Vice Chair.

The Senate acted quickly to organize after the November 6, 2012, General Election, with a primary goal of promoting an environment of cooperation and shared leadership and authority.  While much of leadership and committee chairmanships remained unchanged from the 26th Legislature, additional standing committees were established to provide greater scrutiny over important subject matter areas, as well as to provide a greater number of Senators the experience and authority to preside as committee chairs and vice chairs.

The Senate would like to buck the trend across the country of faction-based and partisan politics, which has too often delayed or stalled progress on important initiatives.  By sharing the power amongst more Senators, we hope to foster a more cooperative institution that can focus on and work towards the resolution of our most pressing issues,” said Senate President Tsutsui.

We are excited to have reached agreement so quickly.  This will allow us to focus our attention on the issues and begin preparations for the 2013 session,” said Senator Ige.

A complete listing of Senate Leadership and Committee Chairmanships is as follows:

President Shan S. Tsutsui
Vice President Donna Mercado Kim
Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria
Ways and Means, Chair David Ige
Ways and Means, Vice Chair Michelle Kidani
Read More»

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.

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