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Friday, May 22, 2020
May 22, 2020 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 8:57 PM :: 3438 Views

Pandemic no excuse for government hostility to sunshine laws

Hochberg: Governor can be sued over State of Emergency

COVID Count: Four New Cases out of 669 Tests

COVID Count: No New Cases out of 559 Tests

Caldwell provides re-opening requirements for Oʻahu churches and restaurants

Legislature Passes $1B Stop-gap Budget Cuts, Adjourns

Final Public Health Recovery Task Force Report

Why Honolulu Rail Should be Torn Down Now

Hawaii Now 3rd Highest Unemployment in USA

Hawaii Rural Roads & Bridges Have Significant Deficiencies & High Fatality Rates

Without intervention, Hawaii government could run out of operating funds next year

SA: … Hawaii’s economic situation is so dire that state government could run out of operating funds by June 2021 if lawmakers and officials don’t find a way to slash expenses and increase tax collections.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said Thursday during a joint hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism that current government operations cost $677 million a month — much of which is contributed by tourism.

Hawaii’s tourism has collapsed amid COVID-19 fears and government lockdowns and, according to the state’s chief economist, Eugene Tian, recovery could be at least five years out.

When asked about the state’s financial position, Craig Hirai, director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, informed Senate committee members that by year’s end “we could have a cash-flow problem. We also have a budget problem and a bond-rating problem.”

Hirai said the state probably has enough operating funds to get through the calendar year but might not have enough to get through the upcoming fiscal biennium, which ends June 30, 2021.

State Department of Taxation Director Rona Suzuki said preliminary tax numbers for the May report include just $238 million in general excise taxes, transient accommodations taxes and income taxes. Suzuki said that number could rise; however, Dela Cruz said it’s still likely to be less than half of the $699 million outlined in the May 2019 report.

Scott Murakami, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said he expects, given tourism’s decline, that at least 150,000 people will continue to be unemployed in Hawaii for some time….

read … Without intervention, Hawaii government could run out of operating funds next year

Hawaii lawmakers try to move COVID-19 relief money out of Ige’s reach

SA: … Simmering frustration between Gov. David Ige and the state Legislature approached the boiling point Thursday as lawmakers voted to move more than $1.3 billion into the state’s “rainy day” budget reserve fund — where lawmakers would control it — and the Senate authorized a committee to issue subpoenas to pry information loose from the administration.

Senate Bill 75 would deposit nearly $636 million in federal CARES Act money into the rainy day budget reserve fund, while Senate Bill 3139 would transfer $452 million in other state funds into the rainy day reserves. SB 3139 also would authorize the Ige administration to transfer another $258 million to the budget reserve fund.

Both bills won final approval Thursday from the Legislature in an abbreviated session called to address issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures now go to Ige for his consideration.

Lawmakers also authorized Ige to borrow up to $2.1 billion from the federal government to cover state operating costs, and voted to distribute more than $175 million in CARES Act funding to Maui, Hawaii and Kauai counties….

Ige declined through a spokeswoman to say if he intends to veto any of the bills, but state Budget Director Craig Hirai has warned lawmakers that moving the CARES Act money to the rainy day fund could prevent the state from distributing the cash before the federal deadline at the end of the year.

For example, lawmakers are not permitted to appropriate more than 50% of the money in the rainy day fund in any one fiscal year, Hirai said. But any CARES Act money that the state fails to spend by Dec. 30 would have to be returned to the federal government.

Leading lawmakers have said they reconvened at the Capitol last week to identify funding Ige can use to balance the state budget so it won’t be necessary to impose public-worker pay cuts and furloughs next year.

Ige has said his administration must cope with a $1.5 billion budget shortfall over the next 15 months, while lawmakers contend the shortfall is only about $1 billion….

Sens. Russell Ruderman and Laura Thielen on Thursday criticized the decision to deposit large sums in the rainy day fund at a time when many Hawaii residents cannot afford food or rent, with Ruderman telling his colleagues that “we need to be the government that helps the people.”…

read … Hawaii lawmakers try to move COVID-19 relief money out of Ige’s reach

Citing frustration with Ige administration, state Senate forms investigative committee

HNN: … State senators have formed an investigative committee, saying they’re frustrated by a lack of transparency from Gov. David Ige’s administration during the pandemic crisis.

On the Senate floor Thursday, lawmakers said the investigative committee will have the power to subpoena state officials to compel their testimony.

“This is what is necessary for the Senate ... to obtain the information expeditiously about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, who represents Kaneohe.

The conflict erupted last month when Ige Chief of Staff Linda Chu Takayama told department heads not to share their crisis plans with legislators.

At the time, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz blasted Takayama.

“Linda, what I don’t get is ... you’re saying that you want to work with the Legislature but yet you go and you ask the departments not to respond," Dela Cruz said.

But Ige said the Senate has been unreasonable with their information demands. He said he worries that the committee will bog down the state’s effort to deal with the pandemic and its economic fallout.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said he agrees and worries that the effort could backfire.

“It actually could have a negative effect in that you may have administrative officials not wanting to be specific or not wanting to provide certain kinds of information for fear of being under penalty of perjury,” Saiki said.

“It’s really not constructive at all and I really don’t believe the Senate is going to obtain information that it would not have been able to receive without an investigative committee.” ….

KITV: Senate creates investigative committee with subpoena power

read … Citing frustration with Ige administration, state Senate forms investigative committee

Head of DBEDT Refuses to Testify After Legislators Cancel Ige Recovery Czar Funding

CB: …In what appeared to be the first major unveiling of Ige’s overarching economic recovery plan, the meeting agenda showed McCartney would be joined by his key lieutenants, who are in charge of helping to create jobs for Hawaii. But when time came for the department’s presentation, McCartney said the department would not participate.

McCartney repeatedly alluded to bullying and harassment by senators and cited the Senate’s anti-harassment policy and Senate rules. He held up a paper copy of the Senate’s anti-harassment policy and insisted the committee abide by it.

“We have to change the way we have a conversation with each other,” he said.

At anther point he said, “Yes means nothing if you can’t say no” when he was asked why he couldn’t talk to the committee.

The meeting did nothing to shed light on a recovery plan that has been anything but clear. Ige has created a new position to guide the recovery: the Hawaii Economic and Community Recovery and Resiliency Navigator. And Ige filled the position with Alan Oshima, who previously was the chief executive of Hawaiian Electric Co., the Oahu power utility.….

What This is About: Lawmakers cut Recovery Navigator money: “There really wasn’t a plan. The plan was to only pay for consultants”

KITV: Head of DBEDT claims Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting a 'hostile environment'

HSM: Hawai‘i State Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 reconvenes Tuesday, May 26

read …: McCartney refused to discuss the administration’s plan to revive the economy.

Bumbling State May Need Two Months to Lift Interisland Quarantine

KHON: … The state is looking to lift the 14-day quarantine requirement for interisland travelers. But don’t book those flights yet. Officials say there’s still a lot of work before it can be done safely.

When asked if the quarantine could be lifted within a couple of months, the governor would not commit to a timeline. He says the state has to make sure it has everything in place to be able to spot and track travelers who can spread the virus.

“We have to create a new system of screening of healthcare providers, of being able to test those who we believe are infectious. Most importantly, to be able to isolate them and keep them isolated from infecting others,” said Gov. David Ige….

Officials say new challenges lie ahead that still need to be figured out. Among them, what to do with out of state passengers who then fly interisland days after they arrive….

Temperature screenings will still be done at the airports.The state also received $36 million to install thermal screening at airports as an improved way to spot those with a fever. But Sakahara says the pilot project for that is still up to two months away….

read … State looks to lift quarantine order for interisland travelers

DOH Says Its COVID-19 Testing Capacity Has ‘Increased Dramatically’

CB: … During a press conference Thursday with Gov. David Ige, Anderson said the number of available test kits has grown from 12,300 two weeks ago to more than 38,000 currently. During the last few weeks, the number of labs on Oahu and the neighbor islands that can process tests has grown from five to 11.

He also noted the average number of daily tests performed in the state has gone from 418 to now 691. The state’s total capacity for testing — the number of tests that can be given daily — is as high as 3,600….

“This number is expected to increase significantly over the next few weeks and we have no doubt we’ll be able to test 5,000 or more if necessary,” Anderson said….

read … DOH Says Its COVID-19 Testing Capacity Has ‘Increased Dramatically’

CARES: Harry Kim has Two Days to Figure out How to Spend $80M

HTH: … How would you spend $80 million? Mayor Harry Kim had less than two days to submit a plan to the state Legislature, and now that SB 75 passed and is on its way to the governor, a plan is taking shape.

Kim laid out his plan in broad strokes that was less detailed than the other two neighbor island counties, but it satisfied top legislative leaders, who said they wanted to see federal CARES money sent to the island counties because they already had programs set up to get the money directly to those who need it….

“It was all broad categories,” Kim said. “We’ll come back to council to see how go to specific programs.”

Here’s how Kim divided the money:

• $28 million for childcare grants, household grants, technology improvements for rural areas to help support school closures and teleworking, student and senior technology tools and homeless prevention.

• $22.3 million for grants and support for small businesses, agriculture, energy, restarts, startups, nonprofits and the business community.

• $10.1 million for PPE, renovation needs for social distancing, computer and teleworking needs.

• $9.6 million for shelter needs for quarantine, homeless, contact tracing and services location, and other housing needs.

• $6.6 million for personnel costs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic response.

• $3.4 million for contact tracing program and implementation, compliance with reopening protocols, prevention and education, enforcement and community sanitation and disinfection….

read … How to spend $80M: Kim outlines uses for COVID-19 response funds

Regents delay action on new Maunakea proposal

HTH: … The University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted Thursday to postpone discussion of a new internal management structure for Maunakea governance until June.

During a meeting Thursday, Greg Chun, UH executive director of Maunakea stewardship, made a short presentation to the board about a proposed new management model for the university’s Maunakea governing bodies.

The proposed plan would combine the university’s current Maunakea governing agencies — the Office of Maunakea Management and Maunakea Support Services — into a single entity called the Center for Maunakea Stewardship.

Chun said the proposed plan will help address criticism of the current governing model, in particular questions of jurisdiction.

Because OMKM and MKSS both answer to different UH campuses — OMKM reports to the chancellor of UH-Hilo, while MKSS answers to the provost of UH-Manoa — governance of the UH-managed lands on Maunakea can be inefficient, with a confusing command structure, Chun said….

Chun emphasized Thursday that the proposed plan is entirely separate from another item included in last year’s resolution: consideration of wholly different governance models of Maunakea that could shift management of the mountain away from UH entirely.

Because the Board of Regents does not have authority to implement such sweeping changes to the mountain’s management, such models were not discussed Thursday…

Related: Restructuring of Maunakea management will provide greater accountability and transparency

read … Regents delay action on new Maunakea proposal

Current Board of Education Member May Not Be Renominated

CB:  … The Senate Education committee on Monday deferred decision-making on a vote to recommend to the full Senate the reappointment of Kili Namauu, who’s three-year term ends June 30.

In Monday’s meeting, committee chairwoman Sen. Michelle Kidani said Namauu’s answers during her confirmation hearing last Thursday were “inadequate or showed little in the way of results” in students’ education outcomes.

She also said the Board of Education’s swift approval of teacher pay differentials earlier this year was “particularly concerning to me, given the fact the board, and superintendent and governor made promises of money it could not guarantee, without the legislators knowing.”….

For anyone watching Namauu’s May 14 confirmation hearing before Kidani and Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the vice chairwoman, it was clear the board member was on the hot seat, not only when it came to the issue of teacher pay differentials but on the Department of Education’s overall COVID-19 response….

Both Kidani and Kim grilled Namauu on the lack of DOE’s ability to provide basic data points, such as the distribution of electronic devices to facilitate online learning or where students are not getting educational services during the time of the pandemic.

“We want (students) to go back (to school) sooner than later, and it won’t be sooner if there is no constructive plan,” Kim told Namauu. “And if the board won’t drive the plan with the superintendent, I don’t know who will.”…

Meanwhile, two new board members were confirmed Thursday by the Senate.

Lynn Fallin, who has more than two decades of senior-level policy and administrative leadership experience in Hawaii, and Shanty Asher, an education law specialist with Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, will serve three-year terms on the education board starting July 1….

CB: Senate Confirms Appointees To Land Board, LUC, Water Panel

read … Current Board of Education Member May Not Be Renominated

Honolulu Council Gets Another Open Meetings Violation

CB: … For the third time this year, the Honolulu City Council was found to have violated the state’s open meetings law, according to an opinion published this week by the Office of Information Practices.

The law states that meeting agendas must be filed no later than six calendar days before the event. After that point, items cannot be added if they are “of reasonably major importance” and action taken would affect a “significant” number of people.

The council broke that rule when it added a bill relating to real property tax exemptions to the budget committee agenda five days before the Feb. 27, 2019 meeting, according to OIP. A resident named Brian complained to OIP that the topic of the bill was not “eligible to be added” because it “relates to property tax so it clearly is of significant importance and impacts a large amount of people,” the opinion states. OIP agreed, saying that the bill would reduce revenue from real property tax collection by a projected $10.3 million. ….

The bill was later referred back to the committee, which provided proper public notice at a subsequent meeting. Ultimately, it passed and members overrode a veto by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

read … Honolulu Council Gets Another Open Meetings Violation

Have Hawaii's Covid emergency proclamations expired?

PBN: … Technically, the proclamations from Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell declaring an emergency and invoking their ability to make rules with the force of law, have expired. They were issued March 4, and automatically expired 60 days later, on May 3….

I called ACLU Hawaii and spoke to Legal Director Matteo Caballero to ask, am I right about this? He spent some time doing his homework before getting back to me, which I appreciate.

“You’re not wrong,” he said, “though the matter is more complicated than that.”

Cabellero notes ACLU Hawaii isn’t taking a position on this question. “We’re concerned with government overreach and, while we understand it’s an emergency, we ask the government to act in ways informed by science, responsive to the situation, and taking civil liberties into account.”

As an attorney, however, my question here, gives him concerns about the separation of powers. “These are not small penalties [enacted for the Covid-19 situation], things have been declared misdemeanors, with $5,000 fines, and this is being decided by a single governor or by agencies, with no democratic process including the public input that would normally happen.”

One way to possibly put a stop to endless updates of emergency proclamations would be to challenge them in court, he said, cautioning, “I don’t think a challenge would prevail.” Overall, his interpretation when reading the emergency powers legislation, dating to 2013, is that there seems to be an intent to give broad powers to the executive branch. The 60-day automatic expiration is the only explicit limit, and the law is silent on the role of legislative bodies, like the Legislature or county councils, in emergencies. It doesn’t say governors cannot restart the 60-day clock with each new supplement — but I note it doesn’t say that they can, either, and it seems to me the 60-day limit was put there for a reason.

Caballero noted that other emergency proclamations, such as those regarding homelessness or the flooding on Kauai, have been extended well past 60 days as well, up to a year or more. But then again, they haven’t been challenged for having done so, either.

Your other option, he said, is to pressure state and county lawmakers to take up this issue….

read … Have Hawaii's Covid emergency proclamations expired?

Council resolution would scuttle Oahu construction landfill plans

PBN: … A Honolulu City Council committee is scheduled to make a decision on a resolution that would amend the county’s Land Use Ordinance to increase the distance required between a waste dump and a school to one mile, from 1,500 feet, which would scuttle PVT Land Co.’s plans for a new construction and demolition landfill in Leeward Oahu.

Resolution 20-119, which was introduced by Councilmember Tommy Waters on May 13, has the support of multiple unions, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

But in written testimony to the Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee, Stephen Joseph, vice president of operations at PVT Land Co., points out that the change to the Land Use Ordinance would “be devastating to the construction industry, which is an essential part of our economy, and to the health and safety of the people of Honolulu.”…

read … Council resolution would scuttle Oahu construction landfill plans

Young Bros Exploits COVID Crash to Push Massive Rate Hike

IM: …Young Brothers, LLC filed for a rate increase on June 5, 2019, and then filed a Short-Notice Tariff Filing to cut service, effective May 5, 2020.

The Public Utilities Commission asked for information….

YB responded on May 5, 2020.

Projected yearly losses have increased from $10.2M to $22.5M of which the loss due to Covid-19 is estimated to be $8.6M….

The Commission ordered YB to develop a Customer Service Mitigation Plan and to file the Plan and monthly updates with the Commission in Docket No. 2019-0117. The initial plan is due on June 18.

The Plan should provide monthly updates that include sailing schedules, advanced notice, and any subsequent approval of proposed changes to YB's Local Freight Tariff No. 5-A or operations, and a discussion addressing stakeholder comments.

The Commission also Ordered that YB submit a Cost Reduction Plan.

The Cost Reduction Plan should address the structural issues that led to estimated pre-Covid-19 losses and all active and prospective plans to reduce costs and/or to seek additional financial assistance….

(Translation: YB is transferring expenses from its non-regulated businesses to its PUC-regulated barge service in order to justify a massive rate hike.)

As Explained: Young Brothers Rate Hike Proposal Based on Fraudulent Numbers 

read … Backlash & Regulation -- Young Brothers & Covid-19

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