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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
March 9, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 2:14 PM :: 9895 Views

Taxes, Spending, and Bans: Kona Meeting to focus on Legislature

House Raids Highway Fund, Raises Vehicle Taxes

VIDEO: House Republicans defend Prepaid Healthcare Act against Obamacare

Hope Probation Launched in Hilo

Recktenwald seeking comment on Judicial Nominees for First, Fifth Circuit

State Akaka Tribe, Instant Runoff Voting, Elected Attorney General, Healthy Dope all Crossover

The House approved a bill that would require instant runoff voting in county elections when there is no primary or runoff possibility, such as in recent special elections for Honolulu City Council vacancies. Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank their candidate preferences, a process that produces a winner when no candidate receives a majority after the first ballots are counted.

In the Senate, senators backed a bill that prohibits larger businesses from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags to customers because of the potential hazard to the environment.

The Senate also agreed on a bill that would transfer oversight of the state's medical marijuana program to the state Department of Health from the Department of Public Safety. Some medical-marijuana advocates believe the Department of Public Safety has taken a law enforcement — rather than a health care — approach to the issue.

Senators approved a constitutional amendment that would ask voters whether the state attorney general should be elected instead of appointed by the governor, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. Attorney general elections would be nonpartisan, and the attorney general would serve a four-year term.

Senators also moved a bill that would recognize native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with the right to self-government, a state version of a federal recognition bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that has stalled in Congress over the past decade. A separate state bill would create a process for Hawaiians to establish a first nation governing council and a roll of Hawaiian constituents.

State Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki) said that while federal recognition for Hawaiians might be stalled, state recognition is both necessary and achievable.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said state recognition seeks to do "what the Akaka Bill was not able to do for nearly 12 years."

Slom said the concept of Hawaiian recognition is divisive and should be put to a vote of all Hawaii residents.

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Pension Tax Passes: “One day, with inflation, all pensions will be taxed”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie originally proposed taxing the pension income of retired single people who earned $37,500 a year or married retirees who make $75,000 combined, a proposal that was attacked by the AARP and other groups representing retirees.

Tuesday, the State House approved the pension tax for much higher income retirees. Single seniors would have to earn $100,000 and married couples would have to make $200,000 before the pension tax would kick in.

"It only affects about 3,000 taxpayers and these are taxpayers in very, very high incomes," said State Rep. Isaac Choy (D-Manoa, Moiliili), an accountant who spoke in favor of the pension tax during debate on the State House floor.

"Because we set the limit so high, one day, with inflation, all pensions will be taxed. But that date will be 15 to 20 years in the future. I believe that's enough warning for anybody," Choy added. (Google: Boiling Frog)

All eight Republicans in the State House voted against the pension tax, including State Rep.George Fontaine of Maui, who's a retired police officer and pension recipient.

“Are we just gonna say 'Well, it's OK, because it's the rich retirees and everybody else is safe.’ Now that's not fair either. It's like we'll take from the rich and pay for the bills and that's not correct," Fontaine said.

Shapiro: Will a higher threshold make the pension tax palatable?

AP: Hawaii legislators advance taxes on pensions for the wealthy, liquor and timeshares

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Shapiro: Abercrombie can't get away from pledge to not raise GET

Gov. Neil Abercrombie was asked whether he's abandoned his campaign promise of no general excise tax increase, and he displayed the obfuscatory powers of a guy with a master's degree, a Ph.D. and 40 years of political tap dancing.

"No, but we'll just see what transpires," he said. "There's always variations on themes that come up. And we have to see how that manifests itself."

Such circular rhetoric has been typical lately as Abercrombie tries to squirm out of his unequivocal pledge to not raise the GET to balance the budget….

If a GET increase is enacted on Abercrombie's watch — especially in his first year — it'll be a broken promise that hangs around his neck like George H.W. Bush's infamous "Read my lips: no new taxes."

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Oshiro Looking at up to $300 Million in Budget Cuts as House Passes Tax Hikes

In the last two years we cut about $2 billion in government services, probably impacted 3,000 to 4,000 workers,” said Oshiro after a lengthy House floor session in which more than a dozen tax and fee increases were approved for sending over to the Senate for consideration.

“I’m going in tomorrow and looking at cutting into the base anywhere from $120 million to $150 million (annually) and I’m not even considering any of Gov. Abercrombie’s adds of $50 million for the next two years.”

That includes added spending Abercrombie had proposed last month on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid services. He said there will be funding to end state worker furloughs, Employees’ Retirement System funding and some adjustments to ongoing operational costs.

He said cuts will primarily come from the big four cost areas of health, human services, education/higher education and public safety.

“You’re going to see the reaction from the DOE, from health and human services,” said Oshiro, noting the budget proposals will also include paring money for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Attorney General’s office.

“But again, we’ve got to go where the big expenditures are – the big four.”

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Statewide Plastic bag ban Passes Crossover

The Senate breezed through about 200 bills in the first hour with the body’s only Republican, Sen. Sam Slom, raising objections to many of the proposals.

Among those passed by the Senate were bans on nepotism, creating a museum for Hawaiian music and dance, a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags and removing money from the Hurricane Relief Fund.

Poised for later passage was a change to the ethics law allowing nonprofit groups to provide free admission to fundraising events. Also a number of fee and tax bills were on the agenda, such as an increase in the motor vehicle registration and weight tax, which passed with two “no” votes.

The state House, with twice as many members as the Senate, planned for a long day, with the speaker estimating debates could last until evening.

Key issues that did not make the deadline include any gambling bills and the governor's proposal to tax sugary drinks.

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Bill allows lawmakers, state employees to be bribed with free tickets to non-profit events

The push to amend the state's long-standing gifts law comes after the commission advised legislators they would be violating the law if they accepted $200 tickets as gifts from lobbyists to attend a recent fundraising dinner for the Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs. That guidance raised the hackles of some legislators, who routinely accept such complimentary tickets.

And who heads HIPA?  READ: Gaming Industry Lobbyist, Progressive activist screen Abercrombie cabinet picks

HR: Another Free Dinner For Legislators

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Senator Brickwood “Buzzy G” Galuteria says critics of $200 bribe bill lack knowledge

Friday's editorial regarding ethics legislation at the state Capitol was obviously crafted without full knowledge of the research and exchange of ideas that went on before the legislation was introduced for discussion by the Senate Judiciary Committee ("Strengthen state ethics law," Star-Advertiser).

According to his criminal record, Galuteria’s street names include: “Buzzy G”, “Buzzy” and “Brick”   

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State-run Bank replaced with a Task Force

The House Finance Committee gutted the original bill and replaced it with a task force, but that did not deter a sprawling floor debate about whether the state should get into the banking business. Several House Republicans said banking should be left to the private sector, suggesting that the government was too inept to run a business, while Democrats countered that the federal government had to bail out private-sector banks during the recession.

RELATED: HB853: State-Owned Bank to be run by Takamine, Abercrombie

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Budget for New Transit Authority: $21 Million

It will cost $21.1 million to run the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) in its first year, according to documents posted to the city's new budget website.

The documents provide the first glimpse of the new authority, which will be responsible for establishing all fares, fees and charges for the city's $5.5 billion rail line, as well as managing and overseeing planning, construction, operation, maintenance and expansion.

The spending plan, which must be approved by the City Council, would give HART….

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CDC Survey: Teens in Hawaii Have Less Sex, More Babies Than Peers

About 44 percent of high schoolers in Hawaii said they have had sex, compared with 46 percent of high schoolers nationally, according to the latest National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of those who had sexual intercourse, more than half — 52 percent — did not use a condom, versus 39 percent nationally.

"That is the saddest fact," said Katie Reardon, director of government relations and public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Hawaii. "Hawaii's rate of teens having sexual intercourse is lower than the rest of the country, and we know from the (CDC) survey that kids are engaging in sex at a later age — which is great — but they're not doing so safely."

Hawaii consistently ranks among the top third of states with the worst teen pregnancy problems, said Judy Clark, executive director of the Hawaii Youth Services Network, a coalition of more than 50 agencies and organizations serving youth.

"We are usually ranked anywhere from 12th to 17th, and we're usually ranked sixth or seventh for the appearance of chlamydia," she said.

The latest data show that Hawaii has the 17th highest rate of teen pregnancy, and the 12th highest rate of chlamydia, the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States.

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McKenna to participate in Transgender Meeting

Panel members include: Hinaleimoana Falemai, cultural director and advisor for Halau Lokahi Public Charter School, founding member and former president of Kulia Na Mamo Hinaleimoana; Amy Donahue, treasurer for Pride at Work (AFL-CIO), Honolulu; Professor Hazel Beh, who has written extensively on sex and gender and the law and will speak on the issue of consent and intersex persons; and Tracy Ryan, executive director for Harm Reduction Hawaiʻi and board member of Kulia Na Mamo, a nonprofit dedicated to the empowerment and service of transgender people/mahu-wahine in Hawaiʻi.

In attendance will be Justice Sabrina McKenna and State Representative Blake Oshiro, both graduates of the William S. Richardson School of Law.

REALITY: The transsexual agenda for Hawaii schools

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Honolulu Ranked Safest Spring Break Destination

Honolulu ranked as the safest among the 25 locales, followed by Santa Barbara, Calif., Reno, Nevada, San Diego, and Steamboat Springs, Colo.

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Homeless at Keeau Beach Park moving out

Authorities estimate up to 200 homeless lived in the park. City officials said, as of Sunday, there were 236 vacancies in various homeless shelters on Oahu, like the Waianae Civic Center. But many of the homeless, like Gonsalves, would rather live in their tents.

MONEY FOR HOMELESSNESS INDUSTRY: Bills Relating to Chronically Homeless, Public Housing, Pass House

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Hawai'i Long Term Care Commission invites public testimony at hearing

The public is invited to comment on a draft interim Phase I report of the Hawai‘i Long Term Care Commission, which is administered by the Social Sciences Public Policy Center at UH Mānoa. The report will be the focus of a public hearing before legislators from 3-5 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, at the State Capitol Auditorium.

Among its initial findings, the Commission has learned that:

  • The burdens and benefits of long-term care touch both young and old, with more than 1 in 10 people in Hawaii either experiencing a disability or providing care for someone who does.
  • A large majority of Hawai‘i’s people lack sufficient funds or have only a limited ability to pay for nursing-home or at-home care, yet the number of the state’s disabled and those who provide caregiving services to them will rise as Hawai‘i’s population ages.
  • The most promising source of long-term care financing is public and/or private long-term care insurance.
  • The state’s management of long-term care is fragmented.

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Senate Approves Marijuana Decriminalization, votes to convert school to prison

Among hundreds of measures approved by the Hawaii State Senate today were proposals to decriminalize marijuana, classify some peeping toms as sex offenders, amend the procurement code and re-open Kulani Prison on the Big Island.

The bills will be sent to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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Inouye trying to save $22B in loan guarantees for green energy scammers

The U.S. Senate's Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, has introduced a continuing resolution (CR) covering funding for the remainder of fiscal-year 2011. Although the CR is not expected to obtain enough votes to pass the Senate, it received praise from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for sparing the Department of Energy's (DOE) loan-guarantee program.

The CR would preserve the $2.5 billion appropriated to the DOE for loan guarantees under Section 1705, according to an e-mail to members of SEIA. It would also preserve the DOE's existing $18.5 billion in loan-guarantee authority under Section 1703 and provide an additional $100 million in funding for loan guarantees for renewable energy under Section 1703, among other provisions.

In addition, the Senate's CR also provides funding for ARPA-E - an energy research program - at $200 million.

In contrast to the Senate's legislation, the House of Representatives' approved CR - H.R.1 - would cut funding to the program, among other cuts for renewable energy-related offices and programs.

Takai: Hawaii lawmaker sets example with electric car

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A Gift to the Peasants: State denies HECO biofuel surcharge

HECO did not give a price for the biofuel, but said it would probably be higher than the petroleum-based diesel burned at the Keahole plant. At the time, HECO estimated the biofuel would add about one-third cent per kilowatt-hour, or $1.86 a month, to a 600-kwh bill if the cost were spread across ratepayers on all three islands. The biofuel premium will be higher if it is entirely paid for by Hawaii County customers.

In its decision, the Public Utilities Commission said it would continue to consider HECO's request to buy biofuel from Aina Koa Pono but that HECO would not be allowed to pass any surcharge along to ratepayers on Oahu or Maui.

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99% Approve new Hotel Workers Contract

The contract, which union workers approved today by a 99 percent margin, includes a retroactive pay increase for workers, preserves full family medical and pension benefits and restores 75 previously subcontracted night-time cleaning jobs to the bargaining unit. The contract also improves housekeeper workloads, protects workers from personal credit-history discrimination and subsidizes employee transit passes.

The union would not say how much wages were increased. The average wage for Hilton union workers under the old contract was $16.67 per hour.

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UH Manoa: Seven Story Classroom building without elevators, chunks of concrete rain on pedestrians

Students with classes in Saunders Hall, a 7-story classroom building on the UH Manoa campus, as well as faculty and staff with offices located upstairs in Saunders (Economic, Geography, Political Science, Public Administration, Public Policy Center, Social Science Research Institute, Sociology, and Women’s Studies) have been told all of the building’s elevators “are out of commission until further notice.”…

This immediate crisis is just the latest in what have been chronic problems with the building’s elevators, apparently another instance of deferred maintenance in the heavily used building.

A small central courtyard on the ground floor of Saunders is closed, reportedly due to the danger of bits of falling concrete caused by spalling in the surface of the building.

(Luckily for these students, MRC Greenwood is receiving a $5000/month housing grant so they can move their classes to College Hill.)

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VIDEO: Abercrombie Visits Mayor Wright Homes

This means the Abercrombie admin will now stop stonewalling efforts to fix the hot water.  Instead they will turn around and take credit for the repairs they have been blocking for months.

CB: Abercrombie: Hold Me Accountable

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Fire captain's fate to be decided soon

Tim Sing, 22, was struck and killed the evening of Aug. 4, 2005, while walking on East Kahaopea Street in Panaewa.
Mossman pleaded no contest to leaving the scene of an accident causing death or serious bodily injury, a felony carrying a possible 10-year prison sentence.
Mossman waited until the following morning to report the collision to police and initially said that his wife, Huihui Kanahele-Mossman, was driving the truck and had "struck something" the night before.

Key Question: Has Mossman got his top three as Captain yet?

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Hawaii County back tracks building code changes: Dramatic revisions being sent to council

The proposals would modify statewide codes adopted in April. That legislation gave Hawaii's four counties two years to identify and pass local amendments. If the county doesn't adopt new plumbing, electrical and building codes by the April 2012 deadline, the state version of the codes automatically takes effect.
Opponents worry the new codes will increase the already high construction prices on the island.
There are no fee increases in the new building code, but there are a number of factors that could increase the cost of new construction and renovations. The new code, which would then apply to the entire structure, kicks in whenever repairs or renovations exceed 50 percent of the appraised value of the structure.

But other requirements of the state code, such as solar panels, roof and ceiling insulation, double-wall construction and other energy-saving designs could be non-negotiable and significantly increase construction costs.
Garnering particular controversy during public hearings was the requirement of 68-square-foot to 120-square-foot self-supporting "safe rooms" as an option to hurricane-resistant glass and shutters.

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Kauai Council questions impact of furloughs on overtime

When Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura told county engineer Larry Dill that it was her understanding that 10 percent of the overtime was due to furloughs, Dill said, “I don’t have that number.”

Solid Waste Coordinator Troy Tanigawa said employees at transfer stations usually work 10 hours per day, four days a week. Because of the odd scheduling, the facilities were overstaffed. Tanigawa called this a “redundancy.”

When the furloughs were implemented, that “redundancy” was lost. So when someone took vacation or sick leave, it caused an additional amount of overtime because the facilities need a minimum number of staff each day, Tanigawa said.

Despite saying that overtime increased during furloughs, Tanigawa said such an increase “wasn’t directly because of the furloughs.”

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Hawaii Artist, Historian Herb Kane Dies

One of Hawaii's most revered artists, Herb Kawainui Kane, 83, died Tuesday night, his family said.

Kane had battled illness for a long time.

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