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Thursday, February 3, 2011
February 3, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 1:44 PM :: 17271 Views

Two Civil Unions Bills to be heard Tuesday

US Senate repeals part of Obamacare: Inouye, Akaka left out in cold among 17 bitter-enders

Roll Call: Akaka offers no indication he will run in 2012

Aquarium Diver: State has found no decline in fish stocks

SB715: Repeal Ethanol Mandate to be heard Thursday

Abercrombie Accepting "Long Term" Applications for BOE Vacancy

Abercrombie’s Kupuna Tax would soak State Retirees $3894/year

Gov. Neil Abercrombie's proposed tax increases will take a bite ranging from barely more than $100 for a welfare recipient to thousands for a state government retiree, a Civil Beat investigation has determined.

We looked at the potential financial impacts on a sampling of Hawaii residents and found:

  • For a single young professional in the private sector: a minimum of an extra $242.
  • For a state employee: a minimum of an extra $247.
  • For a state retiree: a minimum of an extra $3,894.
  • For a welfare recipient: a minimum of an extra $123.

These are the financial proposals considered for this story with links to the legislative bills that explain them in more detail:

  • Alcohol Tax: Increasing Hawaii's six alcohol taxes by 50 percent. Expected to generate an extra $20 million annually.
  • Soda Tax: A new "sugary beverage" fee of 10 cents for containers 12 ounces or less, and 25 cents for anything bigger manufactured in or imported into Hawaii. Expected to generate $50 million annually.
  • Vehicle Taxes: A $20 increase of the flat-rate vehicle registration fee, from $25 to $45. Doubling the vehicle weight tax, which currently ranges from .75 cents ($0.0075) to 2.75 cents ($0.0275) per pound. The registration fee would raise an extra $20.6 million. The weight tax increase would generate an addition $33 million.
  • State Income Tax Deduction: Eliminating deduction for state income taxes paid. Expected to raise $99 million in fiscal 2012.
  • Pension Tax: Taxing pension income for retirees who earn more than $37,500. Expected to generate about $30 million annually starting in 2013.
  • Repeal of Medicare Refunds: Eliminating reimbursement of Medicare Part B for state retirees. The move is expected to save the state $42 million a year.

AP: Vehicle fee hike pending in state Legislature

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Sabotaging RTTT:  HSTA, HGEA fight Bill giving superintendent power to revamp failing schools

For a third consecutive year, the state Department of Education is seeking support for a measure that would give the superintendent extraordinary powers in attempting to turn around failing schools, including replacing all or most teachers and contracting with private entities to oversee improvements at schools.

The unions for teachers and principals strongly oppose the bill, saying shifting personnel would circumvent their contracts and unfairly punish individuals for the overall poor performance of a campus.

The department, though, says the bill is more important than ever as the state moves toward sweeping educational reforms under federal Race to the Top initiatives.

The measure, House Bill 339, was advanced by the House Education Committee yesterday despite the union concerns and is poised to go before the House Finance Committee. In previous years, similar bills have received overwhelming support in the House, but stalled in the Senate.

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Judiciary Committee Hearing On Appointment Of Judge Sabrina McKenna FRIDAY

Inverse Condemnation: On Friday, February 4, 2011, starting at 10 a.m. HST, we will be live blogging the Hawaii Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor's hearing on the appointment of Judge Sabrina McKenna as an Associate Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court. Our Damon Key colleague Rebecca Copeland will be in the room covering it.

We live blogged the Governor's announcement of Judge McKenna's appointment here.

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Okomoto Confirmation hearing: Violence, threats, and restraining orders

The only jarring note came during Okimoto’s hearing and involved an ongoing legal dispute among employees in the personnel office of the state Airports Division. Okimoto previously served as airports administrator.  (Any hint of this stuff has ben enough to derail Lingle appointees again and again, but not this Abercrombie appointee.  No double standard here, eh?)

Two workers in the personnel office have sued the state and the airports personnel supervisor, Lisa Matsuoka, alleging that she engaged in acts of workplace violence, threats and intimidation of fellow employees.

The problems surfaced in 2008 when Matsuoka and other workers in the personnel office sought restraining orders against each other.

Okimoto was among several state employees who were subpoenaed by Matsuoka to testify in her behalf in that restraining order case, but he was never called to the witness stand….

Last year the state attempted to move Matsuoka back to the personnel supervisor’s position, provoking a lawsuit against the state by two personnel workers.

Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura in December ordered the state to establish separate work sites for Matsuoka and the other employees.

Any communications between them must “be conducted through neutral third parties,” Nishimura said.

The suit is still pending. Matsuoka’s lawyers in the Attorney General’s office have filed a motion for summary dismissal of the case.

(Aren’t they magnificent?  We must immediately raise taxes on all fixed income seniors to support these glorious heroes of the People’s Republic.) 

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Young: Budget will only be Two months late—$50M to $250M in new spending

Kalbert Young said departments have submitted requests to the Budget and Finance Department and that he hopes to present a preliminary plan to legislators by the end of next week, with the target of a full budget submittal by month's end.

Department requests account for about $250 million in new spending, while the administration had only allotted for $50 million as a placeholder for Abercrombie's initiatives in the budget sent to lawmakers in December, Young said.

"So there will have to be some prioritization in terms of what can actually be submitted if we're going to hold it to $50 million," Young told the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  (They won’t hold the line.)

Sen. David Ige, the committee chairman, delayed a decision on the nominations of Young and Tax Director Fred Pablo, saying he wanted to give them more time to meet first with all members of the Senate (and sort out whose pet departments will get that spending.)

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SA to Legislature: Decide on gambling without letting people vote

A Commission on Thrift found three years ago that mainland households with incomes below $13,000 spend 9 percent of their income on lotteries, while those making $130,000 or more spend 0.3 percent of their money on lotteries. The average household lottery bets total about $525 a year.

Those known effects should give legislators pause in embracing lottery or any other gambling practice. All gambling discussions revolve around the pursuit of economic dollars, true, but it is the effects of gambling on Hawaii's social fabric that must be paramount in the deliberations.

Lawmakers should not be so afraid of the issue that they refer the question to voters on whether to inject slot machines or lotteries into the state Constitution.

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Judicial Secrecy: Abercrombie, Hifo defend Lawyers’ right to deceive clients

I respect Hifo’s work as a judge and former journalist, but I’m sorry, the right of attorneys to mislead their clients and partners doesn’t trump the public’s right to fairly evaluate the performance of the governor and Judicial Selection Commission in handing out robes to jurists who will lord over us for 10 or 20 years.

Before local lawyers feel too sorry for themselves about the modest amount of public scrutiny we’re asking for, they should remember that in many other states, lawyers who want to be judges must put their names on public ballots.

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The Weaning:  Some Inouye Cronies learned to survive without Earmarks

Honolulu-based high-technology company Oceanit won't be getting the $10 million Inouye had sponsored for the 2011 budget that would have helped the company develop a system to track satellites and space debris - something akin to an air-traffic control system for space.

Marketing Director Ian Kitajima said the company would be able to develop the technology regardless. Only now it will probably have to move more slowly because it won't be able to dedicate as many people to the project.

"I think everyone across the country, not just in Hawaii, is making adjustments for the fact that earmarks aren't going to be in the current budget," Kitajima said.

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HB1244: Will Churches Have right to refuse to perform Gay Civil Unions? 

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled three civil unions measures for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium.

  • House Bill 1244 allows for refusal of solemnization of same-sex marriages and civil unions on religious grounds.
  • House Bill 1453 establishes civil unions and provides to civil union partners the benefits and obligations conferred upon a couple by marriage. It also provides for termination of civil unions through the judicial system.
  • Senate Bill 232 is the civil unions bill passed last week by the Senate — the bill that is essentially the same as House Bill 444 from last year.

Two other civil unions bills, one in the Senate and the other in the House, that address questions about taxes and benefits, have yet to be scheduled hearings.

RELATED: Civil Unions Bills to be heard Tuesday

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Atheists Panic: Hawaii Senate Invocation Ban Goes Too Far

Civil Beat: Despite the claims of a group that has sued the Hawaii Legislature, legislative invocations are not unconstitutional. Even the ACLU concedes that point.

Yet the Hawaii Senate has ended the practice, becoming the first legislative body in the nation to do so. The House may follow suit.

They're going too far.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1983 decision that framed how the law applies to invocations did not call for God to be kicked out of our deliberative chambers. There's no need for either the Senate or the House to do so today.

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Haters should be removed from MLK Day March

As I was standing on the sidewalk along Kalakaua Avenue watching the parade and sipping coffee, I noticed some Palestinian flags. As the “Palestinians” approached with their anti-Israeli banners, I remained in my place and brought attention to the text on my T-shirt: “JESUS loves people” and the menorah. When one of the “Palestinians” noticed my T-shirt, he shouted angrily at me, “You are killing Palestinians!”

Palestinian hatred and aggression toward Christians and Jews is inappropriate in general, but especially so at a public march in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. I, therefore, advise that the State of Hawaii considers not inviting hateful and aggressive Palestinians to the Martin Luther King Day march in future.

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SB651: Homeowners lobby lawmakers for help fighting foreclosure

Frustrated with all the runaround they get from banks, homeowners are asking lawmakers to help them out especially when dealing with bankers thousands of miles away.

Some homeowners already strapped for cash felt the need to pay the expense to fly in from neighbor islands just to testify before lawmakers.

Lawmakers are expected to tweak Senate Bill 651 over the next couple days and bring it to committee vote this Friday.

KITV: Senate May Force Mediation In Foreclosures--Homeowner Horror Stories Leading To Reform

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City personal services contracts return to the public record

For the first time since former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s election in 2004, the city has filed its quarterly report on personal services contracts in the public Docushare system. The latest report covers the period from September 1-December 31, 2010, and includes the first months after Mayor Peter Carlisle’s election.

During the Hannemann administration, only the transmittal letter accompanying the report from the Department of Human Services to the city council was available through Docushare, while the report itself had to be requested from the city clerk.


Oi: Carlisle needs to dirty his hands to clean up City Hall's reputation

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Hotel Workers vs Enviros: Green program that made housekeeping people lose benefits and hours of work

“I’m here because of our treatment on Kaua‘i as second-class people,” she said. “They have a green program that made housekeeping people lose benefits and hours of work. That was stopped on the other islands, except Kaua‘i.”

Cade Watanabe, representing Local 5, said in a phone interview that the green initiative involved guests being able to opt out of having their rooms serviced in lieu of cash options. That program was stopped at all the Starwood properties except on Kaua‘i.

“The rooms get dirty,” said Isaac Silva of the Sheraton Kaua‘i culinary department. “The contract is not over and yet they’re cutting everything.”

According to several of the Sheraton Kaua‘i workers, when they reported to work with two union buttons, they were sent home by the general manager.

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Former President of Filipino Chamber of Commerce indicted in ‘Easy Mortgage’ Fraud

A 61-year-old woman and her 35-year-old son are the first two defendants to plead guilty in the largest mortgage fraud scheme so far uncovered in Hawaii.

Among the other defendants named in the indictments are Miguel's daughters Jennifer Garin Miguel and Geraldine Garin Miguel Lukela and former Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii president Stephen Callo.

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A Danger Demanding Sunshine — The Consequences of Hawaii's Public Pension Shortfall

One immediate consequence is this statement from the 85th Annual Actuarial Valuation Report as of June 30, 2010: "The [taxpayers] aggregate funding period [of the Actuarial Accrued Liability (AAL)] ... is not adequate to meet requirements of [Government Accounting Standard Board] GASB [Statement] No. 25."

That inadequacy triggers PL-88-122, which states the annual amount transferred to the HERS to fund the AAL "shall be subject to adjustment". Today, the amount is 19.7 percent of the police and fire payroll and 15.0 percent of all other payroll: $548 million in FY2010 and $604 (est.) in FY2011. (Government worker contributions are additional, but are not at issue, or at risk). The report states minimal compliance requires 22.33 percent and 16.23 percent, respectively — approximately $54 million more, but it recommends more than $54 million today "Otherwise, it is likely the [HERS] Board will need to go back [to lawmakers] ... for another increase ... " later.

An ancillary consequence is the risk that inadequacy will prompt bond rating agencies to lower Hawaii state and county bond ratings. That would increase the interest paid by the state and counties on already large public debt (adding to today's budget deficit), and on new debt like the billions of borrowing rail requires.

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Smug Civil Beat makes fool of itself covering Bachmann speech

"We as a nation began as a miracle ... We are the indispensable nation for the world. Whether France wants to admit it or not, they are thrilled that there is a United States. Germany too. We have been a great blessing to the world. We have used power for good. We were the first country to respond to the earthquake in Haiti ... the tsunami in Thailand."

(Note to Civil Beat Department of Fact Checks: Let's pass on this one, shall we? Although it's at least worth noting that former Clinton Administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright coined the term "indispensable nation.")

Despite her partisan rhetoric, a key message from Bachmann was a call to put aside divisions and unite to work for the betterment of the country.

Speaking of "fact check" everybody knows it was James Chace who coined the phrase "indispensible nation", not Albright.  Duh!

And how is Bachmann's speech "partisan rhetoric" when it was Clinton and Albright who popularized Chace's words?  Double duh!

HNN: Tea Party leader visits Hawaii

SA: Bachmann's isle visit focuses on repeal of health reform

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WASHINGTON REPORT: Congressional Mood Will Bring Austerity to Territories

Guam - There’s more evidence Washington is serious about austerity measures that could crimp territorial budgets even further. Top Senate appropriator and Hawaii Democrat, Daniel Inouye announced he will enforce a 2-year ban on earmarks for member pet projects, in all Senate spending bills.

The Senate moratorium follows a similar ban by the House GOP majority and a veto threat by President Obama in his State of the Union Address.

And it signals a political shift by Democrats, who until last week, dismissed the moves as GOP posturing or an “applause line” by the President.

Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo suggested after the State of the Union, Obama’s veto threat was nothing new. “This is pretty much a pledge he made when he was running for President. At the very start of his presidency, he made comments that he wasn’t going to accept anything from congress, that was a major earmark.”

RELATED: The Tsunami and Mufi’s Samoan Connection

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Kamehameha Schools’ Endowment rises to $7.82 Billion

Kamehameha Schools’ endowment grew by $633.5 million during its most recent fiscal year as it regained some of the losses sustained during the 2008 Wall Street melt down.

The charitable trust’s latest annual report shows the fair value of the endowment climbed to $7.82 billion at the end of its fiscal year in June 2010.

But while earning a 13.5 percent return on investments, the endowment remains below the $9.44 billion Kamehameha Schools had at the end of the 2008 fiscal year, just prior to the market downturn that affected investment funds worldwide.

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Scant Details Available About Hawaiian University

Here's an education proposal that we hadn't heard from Gov. Neil Abercrombie: He wants to build a Hawaiian language university.

"We have an opportunity to organize a Hawaiian language university-within-a-university as a next step," Abercrombie said in his Jan. 24 State of the State address. "Language is a key element in ensuring that the Hawaiian culture remains strong and perseveres into the future for the benefit of all."

The measure that would make it happen is Senate Bill 1070, which proposes a Hawaiian language university and college be established at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. But a Hawaiian language college already exists there — and UH Hilo's chancellor says he was never consulted about the plans.

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Hawaii Targeting Growing Use of “Bath Salt” Stimulant

The drug reported can cause chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions, the office said.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported information from poison control centers showing the abuse of bath salts is growing. It said the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported there were 251 calls related to “bath salts” to poison control centers so far this year compared to 236 calls for all of 2010.

Two bills have been submitted to this year’s legislature to classify bath salts as a dangerous drug – HB1217 and SB1359.

The first hearing on the measures is scheduled to be heard Thursday morning by the House Public Safety and Military Affairs committee.

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NYSE asks Maui Land & Pineapple about 'unusual' trading activity

Maui Land & Pineapple Co.’s stock gained 19.8 percent Wednesday, prompting the New York Stock Exchange to contact the company regarding the unusual market activity.

Maui Land & Pineapple (NYSE: MLP) said in a short statement that its policy is not to comment.

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Atomic Monkey pushes Wind Farm Scam

Why would a nuclear powered simian want garbage electricity from subsidy-driven wind farms?  Must be making a buck.

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American Samoa government told to sell cable shares to overcome deficit

American Samoa’s US congressman, Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, says to resolve its money problems the government could sell its shares in the under sea fibre optic cable company.

American Samoa spent nine million US dollars on the cable, which connects American Samoa and Samoa to Hawaii.

It owns a third of the shares of the company that manages the cable, American Samoa Hawaii Cable.

(Opportunity for Al Hee & Sandwich Isles Comm.)

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Obama the Hobo of Punahou

I've talked with several people here who knew Obama when he was a kid. It seems, to more than a few folks, his rise to the pinnacle of power was not something they would have imagined in their wildest dreams. One of the president's former classmates said Obama never seemed particularly brilliant. With a smirk, she added he was not so hot at basketball, either.

In one of the 6th grade classes I taught this week, there was a boy who said his mom went to school with young Barack.

"What did she think Obama would be when he grew up," I asked the boy.

"A hobo," he replied.

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WikiLeaks: US vs China in battle of the anti-satellite space weapons

On the night of Feb 20, 2008, Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, was on a plane to Hawaii when his telephone rang….

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