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Friday, April 29, 2011
April 29, 2011 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 10:37 AM :: 6319 Views :: Kauai County News, DHHL, Maui County News, Congressional Delegation, Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party

Crisis? Arrivals up 9.1% spending up 16.9%

Conspicuous Gallantry: Medal of Honor for Kaho’ohanohano, Svehla

British Hawaii: U.K. flavor in the former 'Sandwich Isles'

Immigration Files: UH Manoa Counseled Obama Sr. “about his Playboy Ways”

Taxpayer Giveaway to Billionaire Clinton Cronies among Key Measures Being Voted Today

Among some of the key measures being taken up today:

Senate Bill 651: Relating to mortgage foreclosures. The bill establishes a temporary mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program. Conferees said they appeared to have agreement on most of the details, but wanted to give it a final review. Conferees indefinitely deferred (essentially killing) a separate measure, House Bill 879, which authorizes planned community or condominium associations to pursue nonjudicial foreclosure for outstanding liens. The bill also  authorizes payment plans for outstanding liens under certain conditions and allows an association to acquire a unit through credit bidding at auction.

SB318 and HB1308: Proposals granting tax credits to companies that invest in digital media and the motion picture industry in Hawaii. (Taxpayer giveaway to billionaire Clinton cronies….)

SB1358: A measure requiring the Department of Public Safety to develop a plan for reopening the Kulani correctional facility, implement transfers and house newly sentenced individuals. The report would be due to the 2012 Legislature.

SB1363: A proposal that would require businesses to charge a fee for every single-use plastic checkout bag issued to a customer. Conferees have disagreed over the amount of the fee, with the House standing firm at 10 cents per bag. Senators had sought to go as high as 25 cents, but today said they could agree to the House’s 10-cent fee. The latest proposal from the Senate would not pre-empt county ordinances that already prohibit or restrict single-use plastic bags.

One measure that appears headed for defeat is SB1458, establishing a medical marijuana pilot project in a county to be determined.

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Legislators cross swords with voting seniors at own peril

Chances are if you are a senior and a member of AARP, you got a call this week from Barbara Kim Stanton, its state director, urging you to fight Gov. Neil Abercrombie's plan to tax state pensions.

In an effective demonstration of grassroots, high-tech democracy, the AARP's "robo" call asks members to lobby their state representative.

"Just enter your zip code and we will automatically connect you to your representative's office," Kim Stanton says in her call.

She reports that on the first day, 60 seniors punched in their zip codes and left messages.

The AARP is becoming an effective lobbying force at the Legislature, thanks largely to Abercrombie directly running a tax raid against them. The pension tax, Kim Stanton says, will directly hurt her members' pensions.

"If you are an incumbent, next year you better have a good explanation why you are doing this money grab," Kim Stanton says.

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House Wants Pension Tax, Senate Doesn’t

Lawmakers, however, chose not to use state general funds to finance scheduled pay raises for the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly as part of the faculty union’s six-year contract reached two years ago. Instead, lawmakers directed the University of Hawaii to cover the faculty raises from special funds.

Lawmakers also made about $120 million a year in state programs cuts, but gave the Abercrombie administration the discretion over how to make about up about half of the amount through the governor’s restructuring efforts.

The big-ticket revenue-generating bills on the table tomorrow to close the deficit would suspend general excise tax exemptions on targeted business activities, divert money from a rental car surcharge to the general fund, cap itemized deductions on higher-income taxpayers, repeal a state tax deduction on higher-income taxpayers, and impose a pension tax on higher-income retirees.

State Sen. David Ige, the lead Senate budget negotiator, said today that the Senate would not agree to a pension tax, preferring instead to expand the repeal of the state tax deduction to cover more taxpayers.

State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, the lead House budget negotiator, said the House was not ready to give up the pension tax as an option and argued that it fits within the House’s philosophy of directing tax increases on higher-income taxpayers.

SA: Draft budget raises spending

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Arrivals up 11.8% despite calamity

Visitor arrivals to Hawaii increased 4.2 percent in March despite a 17.9 percent drop in tourists from Japan.

That gain, along with strengthening summer bookings, is building optimism within the industry.

March was on track to be one of the strongest tourism months in five years before bookings from Japan plummeted following the tragic magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that left tens of thousands dead or missing and crippled a nuclear power plant….

Even so, visitor statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority yesterday brought mostly good news. A total 633,365 visitors came to Hawaii in March and spent $980.7 million, up 11.8 percent from a year ago, the HTA reported.

"March represents the 11th consecutive month of a double-digit increase in overall spending, with four of five major market areas posting gains in visitor arrivals and higher average daily spending," said Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive.

Strong visitor arrivals from Canada, which rose 34.7 percent, also helped buoy state tourism.Arrivals also increased 3.4 percent from the U.S. West, 7.2 percent from the U.S. East and 65.8 percent from cruise ships.

(Note that this news is released after a month in which the Legislature has budgeted predicated on Abercrombie’s Tsunami Doom and Gloom Opportunism.  Timing is everything.)

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Hawaii lawmakers reach deal on state budget, Required $500M in New Taxes

Hawaii legislators agreed on a final version of the state's $11 billion annual budget Thursday before determining exactly how to pay for it.

Pending tax increases reaching $500 million over the next two years would fund the spending plan, which lawmakers said would balance the state's $1.3 billion projected shortfall over that time.

A 28-member conference committee voted unanimously Thursday to approve the budget….

Political Radar: Return to Sender

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Legalized Gambling Proposal Gains New Life at Hawaii Legislature

a proposal to change that in Hawaii gained new life this afternoon at the Hawaii State Legislature.

Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Big Island, facilitated a “gut and replace” of Senate Bill 1247. The measure, introduced by Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-Makiki, originally dealt with the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Specifically it “Abolishes the Aloha Tower Development Corporation (ATDC).  Transfers the ATDC assets to the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA).  Establishes the Aloha Tower Complex under the jurisdiction of HCDA. Makes an appropriation.  Effective July 1, 2030. (SB1247 HD2)”

The most current legislation establishes a gaming development district and grants a renewable 20-year license for one stand alone casino within the district.  The proposal also establishes a casino gaming control commission. In return, the casino would pay a 15 percent tax on gross receipts. The legislation also creates a state gaming fund and a “compulsive gambler program.”

Lobbying the legislature is a new group, Citizens for a Better Way, which details essentially the same plan at its web site http://citizensforabetterway.com/inthenews.html

The group is believed to be affiiliated with a Michigan-based organization, Marketing Resource Group, which is a registered lobbyist here and which represents several gambling entities in Michigan, including MotorCity Casino, Gateway Casino Resorts and Barwest Gambling, LLC., according to the company’s website. The company’s client list also includes a business called Hawaii Entertainment, LLC. That firm is not registered to do business in Hawaii.

MotorCity Casino was among a group of investors that lobbied unsuccessfully here in 2002 for legalized gambling.

The most recent lobbyist disclosure form filed here by Marketing Resource Group, covering Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 of this year, said the firm’s expenses during that period totaled $3,769.63 paid to Hawaii professional lobbyist John Radcliffe.

CB: Hawaii Lawmaker Throws Dice on Casino Gambling

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HSTA/DoE Wins Big! Longer school day requirement in Hawaii delayed

A conference committee of House and Senate legislators voted 8-0 to approve the bill Thursday, sending it to final votes in each chamber next week.

The legislation delays a law passed last year meant to boost the amount of instructional time children receive each day.

Teachers and their labor union complained that they shouldn't be required to do more work without more pay, which the Department of Education estimated would cost $55 million a year.

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Big Win for Obama, Enviros: Maui town faces $6 gas amid record price surge

In its weekly fuel gauge report, AAA said the current average in the state of Hawaii for regular gas was $4.566 on Wednesday. Premium was at $4.74. That compares with $3.572 a gallon for regular gas and $3.848 a gallon for premium a year ago. The statewide average price for regular gas has been steadily climbing since April 20 when it first broke a rec­ord price of $4.51 set on July 31, 2008, AAA said.

In Hana the area's only gas station was charging $6.03 for a gallon of regular gas as of Tuesday. The price for premium gas was $6.25 a gallon.

"Everybody is complaining," said Nani Kahu­ila, who works at the station in the remote East Maui community. "But what you going to do? … You got to pay it. Fifty dollars doesn't go very far nowadays."

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Tax Set at Ten Cents, But Passage Not Yet In The Bag

The Hawaii Senate and House have bridged the biggest gap between their differing versions of what would be the nation's first statewide fee on single-use checkout bags.

But passage is still not in the bag.

"I clearly feel this bill is going to go down to the wire tomorrow," House Environmental Protection Committee Chair Denny Coffman told Civil Beat Thursday. "I don't expect to know until the close of business tomorrow."

Senate Environment Committee Chair Mike Gabbard started Thursday's conference committee hearing with a concession to Coffman's demands: "We are willing to go along with the 10 cents."

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Crisis? Kauai County declares fiscal position sound

According to Kaua‘i County Council Finance Chair Tim Bynum during a council meeting on Wednesday, the county can afford new police cars, new staff positions and even create progressive tax breaks for homesteaders.

Apparently, while Hawai‘i’s other counties were lowing property taxes during the housing bubble, Kaua‘i County kept their tax rate the same, thereby creating large surpluses, he said.

As a percentage of Kaua‘i County revenues, taxes for the Homestead Class, meaning homes occupied by owners, rose from 7 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2010, though the exemption level and tax rate of $3.44 has remained the same.

As a way to employ underutilized surpluses, Bynum suggested raising the homeowner exemption level by $20,000. Currently, the exemption is $48,000 for those under the age of 60, $96,000 for people between ages 60 and 69, and $120,000 for those 70 and older.

The adjustment would cost an estimated $1.5 million, Bynum said.

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City Lawyers Told Council Members What Not To Ask On Rail Fact-Finding Trip

City lawyers told the leaders of the council Transportation Committee what questions not to ask on a rail fact-finding mission to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Copenhagen, committee vice chair Ernie Martin told Civil Beat.

Martin on Thursday declined to talk about what they were told not to ask or to give specifics about his conversations with officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles about Ansaldo Honolulu, the company city officials picked for a $1.1 billion rail contract.

"You understand that the process is under protest right now," Martin said. "We were cautioned to be very careful in terms of the types of questions we could ask."

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle announced the city wanted to award the Design, Build, Operate and Maintain contract to Italian rail manufacturer Ansaldo Honolulu in March. The two companies that lost their bids for that contract are both challenging the decision, and calling into question the city's procurement process.

As officials are reviewing the protests, the city is also planning to request approval from the City Council for more money and legal assistance to fight rail-related lawsuits.

Martin and City Council Transportation Chairman Breene Harimoto planned the trip to cities familiar with the Italian rail manufacturer amid concerns about the decision, including reports from other cities about problems with Ansaldo.

Martin acknowledged leaders from cities that have dealt with Ansaldo offered him advice about working with the company, but he wouldn't disclose what that advice was.

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Redistricting panel's rules inhibit public's participation, groups say

Three public advocacy groups have asked the state Reapportionment Commission to rescind its decision to require only three days' public notice for its meetings.

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Common Cause Hawaii and Americans for Dem­o­cratic Action asked the commission for six days' notice as required by the state Sunshine Law.

The commission is redrawing election district boundaries to reflect population changes in Hawaii. In a letter Tuesday, the groups also asked the commission to remove a new rule requiring members of the public to make a request to testify 48 hours before a meeting.

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Legislators extend shield law protecting journalists' sources

House members gave unanimous approval to House Bill 1376. The so-called “shield law” was set to expire June 30.

Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai) was the only member to speak on the bill, saying he felt the shield law should be made permanent.

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Hope Probation Strains Hawaii Criminal Justice System

Hawaii’s highly-praised HOPE probation program is stretching the state’s criminal justice system in two directions as increasing numbers of HOPE violators occupy limited prison space and HOPE absconders add to law enforcement’s long list of un-served arrest warrants, a Hawaii Reporter investigation shows.

HR: Accused Child Kidnapper On Probation

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Lawmakers Finally Agree On Anti-Prostitution Bill

It's not a sex trafficking bill — but it sure comes close.

House Bill 240, which makes prostitutes eligible for witness protection and toughens Hawaii's prostitution laws, cleared a major hurdle Thursday and could well be headed to the governor's desk.

On Wednesday, the bill, which proposes doubling jail time for pimps and upping a repeat offense by johns from a misdemeanor to a felony, appeared to have stalled with lawmakers unable to agree on some wording.

But on Thursday afternoon, House Judiciary Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran announced that the House and Senate agreed on a new version that includes a more succinct definition of "fraud":

"A person commits the offense of promoting prostitution in the first degree if the person knowingly: Advances prostitution by compelling or inducing a person by force, threat, fraud, or intimidation to engage in prostitution or profits from such conduct by another.

'Fraud' means making material false statements, misstatements or omissions."

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Working together, we can break cycle of meth addiction

Behind many of the recent headlines describing violent crimes are stories of individuals acting under the influence of crystal meth or being driven by their need to feed their addiction.

However, it is not just anecdotal evidence that tells us that ice use continues to be our biggest drug problem. Ninety percent of Hawaii's federally sentenced drug cases involve methamphetamine and 48 percent of treatment admissions are meth-related.

This affects the families of those involved and all of us as taxpayers. The cost of meth abuse to Hawaii is estimated to be $500 million a year.

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Tsunami all clear put boaters at risk

“That all clear as we've learned just pertains to the shore side,” said vice director of State Civil Defense Ed Teixeira, “you know on land.”

Hours after officials in all four counties sounded the all clear tidal surges continued to batter harbors causing widespread damage. But instead of staying offshore in the safety of the open ocean some boat owners headed back to harbor believing the tsunami threat had passed.

“So a lot of our mariners began coming on in and got caught in a lot of swells,” said Teixeira. “People were placed at risk and so that's got to be the major lesson learned.”

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Arnold’s contract ordeal points to problems at UH

The University of Hawaii should be embarrassed. Apparently dots for the i’s and crosses for the t’s are in such short supply on campus that there aren’t enough to complete contracts for UH coaches in a timely manner.

Nobody in human resources or the chancellor’s office or the athletic department or wherever the bottleneck is thinks to borrow some from the English or linguistics departments. Maybe they’re a special kind only available from the mainland, kind of like the baseball stadium lights that are finally being replaced after months of Rainbows outfielders wandering around in partial darkness.

And by timely, we’re not talking weeks within the coaches’ date of hire — we’re talking months. We’re told part of the problem is that coaches exist in some bizarre category between labor and management, and there must be the proper level of agonizing over split infinitives and comma splices to ensure the rights of these six-figure-salaried union brothers and sisters.

Not sure how much of that I find necessary. Actually, I am sure. Zero. Head coaches, union members? Ridiculous. I mean, most of these guys would go for a 40-hour work day if they could.

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Hanabusa Hosts Art Competition from which she is Excluded

Hanabusa will host a reception for high school students who participated in the 2011 Kulia i Ka Nu'u Congressional Art Competition in a Saturday reception at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
The competition was open to students … in the 1st congressional district.

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Relic of 'Blessed' nun to return to Hawaii

A relic of the nun who succeeded Father Damien in caring for leprosy patients exiled to a Molokai settlement is returning to the Hawaiian islands from New York state, the Diocese of Honolulu said Thursday.

The relic of Blessed Marianne Cope was set to stop in Molokai, Maui, Lanai, Kauai and the Big Island before going on permanent display in a Honolulu cathedral. She is one of five so-called Blesseds in the country, the diocese said.

Mother Marianne cared for Hansen's disease patients at the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai in 1888, five months after the death of Father Damien, who gained sainthood in 2009.

She died on Kalaupapa in 1918 of natural causes and was buried there. In 2004, Pope John Paul II declared her "venerable," the first step toward canonization.

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