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Tuesday, February 15, 2022
February 15, 2022 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:41 PM :: 2557 Views

Tax Hikes at the 2022 Legislature: Why the Push to Increase Hawaii Taxes

Maunakea telescope to be decommissioned this summer

Hawaii Family Forum Legislative Week in Review

Green: Safe Travels program could end in March

HTH: … On Monday, 498 new COVID cases were reported statewide, 86 of which were on Hawaii Island. Green said 170 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID, a 52% decline from the state’s peak of 353 in January.

“This means that we will soon be able to get back to our normal lives much more than we have been for a long time,” Green said. “What does that specifically mean? That means that, sometime in March, we should be able to begin to move away from Safe Travels restrictions, and the last thing that will likely go will be the mask mandates.”

Green said he predicts that there will be fewer than 100 COVID patients in the hospital statewide in the next seven to 10 days. If the state can maintain that number for a week straight or more, it can safely begin to drop programs and restrictions, he said.

Other states have begun dropping mask mandates already, Green said, but he added that state health officials have said that Hawaii’s mandate likely will be the last COVID measure to end….

He estimated that, if hospitalizations decrease as predicted, Gov. David Ige could announce an end to mask mandates around the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, Green said he is not highly concerned about BA.2, a new omicron subvariant, which is even more transmissible than omicron.

“There will be variants for years,” Green said. “I don’t think even the most conservative individuals are suggesting … that we would stay in lockdown or keep rules like Safe Travels in place for the next two, three, four years.”

Green also said that the state’s federal funding for COVID mitigation will run out around April, and National Guard personnel deployed to help manage the pandemic will be redeployed elsewhere in mid-March. Without that infrastructure, and with BA.2 being less severe than omicron, Green said that continued restrictions will not be feasible or necessary….

(Translation:  We just had our biggest-ever wave of COVID but 2022 Elections are coming.  These COVID restrictions were useful in 2020 to deal Trump a crisis unsuited to his narcissism -- but it works against Democrats holding the House and Senate in 2022.)

SA: Lt. Gov. Josh Green sees restrictions easing in coming weeks

read … Green: Safe Travels program could end in March

Another Department of Planning and Permitting employee pleads guilty to accepting bribes

SA: … A building inspector in the city Department of Planning and Permitting pleaded guilty Monday to an indictment accusing him and others of accepting bribes to accelerate building projects.

Jason Dadez is the third of five current and former DPP employees to plead guilty to the federal charges of being tied to a pay-to-play scheme that involved accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from architects, contractors and others. He pleaded guilty to a charge that involved accepting a $1,000 check from the owners of a restaurant in Waipahu and corresponding with an architect about a residence on Ala Wai Boulevard.

A federal indictment issued in March describes bribery occurring between 2012 and 2020 in which Dadez accepted thousands of dollars in cash payments, gifts and other items of value in exchange for conducting official city business.

Former DPP employees Kanani Padeken and Jennie Javonillo — both held building plans examiner posts — previously pleaded guilty to similar charges.

Architect William Wong was also indicted. Wong, who was not employed by the city, pleaded guilty in 2021, admitting he paid about $89,000 in bribes to DPP employees.

Former DPP employee Wayne Inouye and current employee Jocelyn Godoy have pleaded not guilty. The charges against Ino­uye, a former building plans examiner, allege that he accepted and solicited nearly $100,000 worth of cash payments and gifts from architects, contractors and third-party reviewers between 2012 and 2017. He was retired when the group was indicted. Ino­uye’s trial is set to get underway April 22.

The charges against Godoy, an employee of the department’s data access and imaging branch, similarly allege that she accepted and solicited bribes from an architect and third-party reviewer. However, it does not specify a total figure. Her trial has been continued until Aug. 29.

When the indictment was released, Dadez, Padeken and Godoy were put on immediate leave with pay  (LOL!)

RELATED: Free Golf, Methamphetamines, and Building Permits

read … Department of Planning and Permitting employee pleads guilty to accepting bribes

2 former state lawmakers accused of taking bribes expected to plead guilty in court

KITV: … Two former state lawmakers accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for legislative actions will make their first court appearance on Tuesday.

Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former state Rep. Ty Cullen are both expected to plead guilty….

Both are charged with honest service wire fraud, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Their willingness to plead guilty could result in a reduced sentence….

BACKGROUND: Naming Names: Who Will Cullen and English Rat Out?

read … 2 former state lawmakers accused of taking bribes expected to plead guilty in court

Buying A Corrupt Legislator In Hawaii Is A Surprising Bargain

CB: … What makes this cash-passing, quid pro quo method of bribery additionally astonishing is almost every special interest group today knows the way to buy influence is to make hefty legal campaign donations to politicians with the unspoken expectation of getting something back in return. Not hard cash payola.

The FBI probably engineered the overt way the two former lawmakers were allegedly bribed in hopes of building a bulletproof case against them. But court documents say even though the money was offered flagrantly, English and Cullen readily accepted the cash.

They were fearless.

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm says, “It was unsophisticated, very blatant. It reflects the fact that English and Cullen were comfortable. They did not think they would get caught.”….

Also surprising is the relatively small amount of money court documents allege English and Cullen took as payment for turning legislation.

From 2014 to 2021, Cullen accepted gifts and different cash payments sometimes as small as $2,000 for a total of close to $23,000. On one occasion, he allegedly negotiated with his briber to give him $5,000 rather than $3,000 because he was “paying plenty debt.”

The indictment says English also took different smallish payments — one as manini as $500 —  to make up a total of $18,000, …

Colin Moore, political analyst and director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa, said, “To throw away whole careers, to have to resign in disgrace and go to prison for amounts that are relatively small, is shocking.”

Moore said, “How casual they were in taking repeated small amounts of cash shows a certain arrogance, how they had no fear of getting caught. It was brazen stupidity.”

read … Buying A Corrupt Legislator In Hawaii Is A Surprising Bargain

Bribery News: Bill Would Ban Hawaii Film Officials From Appearing In Films

CB: … A Maui production’s controversial casting of the county film commissioner in a television movie has prompted an attempt to ban such hires….Roy Tjioe and Ricardo Galindez, principles of the local producer Island Film Group, said concerns about hiring government officials should be addressed by existing ethics rules. They noted that the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, was cast in the latest “Matrix” movie….

(Translation: We bribe local officials all the time.)

HB1495: Text, Status

read … Bribery to become illegal?

Make lawmaking more transparent

SA Editorial: … In response to the scandal, House Speaker Scott Saiki pointed to the passage last year of House Bill 670, which authorizes a court to order the forfeiture of half a public employee’s retirement upon their conviction for a felony related to their work.

Saiki has said the aim will be to harden the penalties. Revisiting this one, clarifying that felonies could mean sacrificing full benefits, would be a good place to start.

Other reforms should include making the reasons for introducing bills — as well as for shelving them — a matter of public record. It should not be possible to introduce a bill “by request” without disclosing who requested it.

Bills should have their purpose spelled out prominently so the changes being sought are clear. And when a bill is shelved, that shouldn’t be discretionary for committee chairs without putting it to a vote.

Other reforms? Start with banning political fundraisers, and the inevitable influence-peddling during legislative sessions. And it should not be possible to “gut and replace” a measure, changing its content entirely, without a hearing. This practice already has been slapped down by the state Supreme Court, and it should stay down.

Too burdensome for managing the usual load of bills? Fine. Consider limiting the bill count. Other states have done it.

Tightening of campaign-contribution disclosures, too, should be considered — so that donation “bundling” is more true and transparent.

Meanwhile, the FBI has indicated an interest in pursuing bribery cases. That’s good — fbi.gov/tips makes it easier for the public to help.

If Hawaii elected leaders persist in turning a blind eye to what is plainly a culture of corruption, voters should throw them out. They’ll get a chance to do so in August’s primary or November’s general election….

read … Make lawmaking more transparent

HSTA Boss to fill Hawaii House seat vacated by Ty Cullen?

KITV: … Cullen resigned last week after being charged in a bribery scheme involving a Honolulu wastewater company.

Corey Rosenlee, the former head of the Hawaii State Teacher's Association, and Doctor Inam Rahman, are both hoping to fill Cullen's former seat. The requirements to be in the running include living in the district, gathering five signatures and being a registered democrat for at least six months.

Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, tells KITV4 that there's at least another person who plans to also submit his application to the Democratic Party of Hawaii by the deadline on Thursday just before midnight.

After that, district officials plan to meet on Sunday to recommend three names to send to Gov. David Ige, who is expected to make an appointment for the seat by April 9. This new state representative will serve until the elections later this year….

read … 2 candidates emerge to fill Hawaii House seat vacated by Ty Cullen

Hilo’s ‘welfare doctor’ vindicated after winning legal battle over Medicaid payments

HNN: … The Intermediate Court of Appeals on Friday set aside a lower court ruling ordering Dr. Frederick Nitta to return $205,000 in Medicaid reimbursements paid to his primary care practice….

the Department of Human Services, which oversees the Medicaid program, argued that because Nitta wasn’t certified as a primary care physician in their system he wasn’t entitled to receive enhanced Medicaid payments for those services. It ordered him to pay back $205,000.

The ICA however turned to a recent recent federal appeals court ruling saying he’s entitled to the payments.

The ruling comes after the DHS accused Nitta of fraud in 2014, claiming he over billed the Medicaid program by more than a million dollars….

But a state judge dismissed the allegations, blaming a mistake involving wrong billing codes.

“The MedQuest people have a vendetta to put him out of business which is really crazy,” said his attorney Eric Seitz, who said his client has wracked up more than $250,000 in legal fees battling the state.

“There are not enough doctors to provide services so if someone comes in pregnant to see Dr. Nitta and he takes care of all of their medical need under regulations, he is entitled to receive the payments.”

The DHS did not respond to a request for comment but Nitta believes the harassment won’t end here….

RELATED: Class-action lawsuit accuses HMSA of denying needed medical treatments

read … Hilo’s ‘welfare doctor’ vindicated after winning legal battle over Medicaid payments

Shrooms to be legal next: Senators Approve Task Force to Outline Sales Pitch and Game Plan

MM: … A Hawaii Senate committee on Friday approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for (pseudo-)medical use for adults 21 and older.

(CLUE: I have …uh…’pain’…yeah, that’s it…’pain’….)

It’s one of several psilocybin measures—including one that’s broader in scope by decriminalizing the substance and requiring the establishment of therapeutic psilocybin treatment centers—that have been introduced and could be taken up in the legislature this session.

The Senate Health Committee unanimously passed the more modest proposal in a 5-0 vote, though one member formally noted his reservations. The panel also adopted an amendment that was recommended by the state Department of Health to protect department employees from facing ethics code violations if they participate in the proposed workgroup….

The text of the measure says that “because the State has a shortage of mental health professionals, the State should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its residents.(flooding the streets with drugs on the theory that more demand for mental health services will create more supply) ”

read … Hawaii Senators Approve Psilocybin Task Force Bill In Committee, With Decriminalization Measures Still Pending

Profiteering from Chemophobia: New Raw Elements dispensers installed on Maui ahead of non-mineral sunscreen ban

MN: … Four mineral sunblock dispensers are now installed along south Maui shores. Two are at the ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u Natural Area Reserve and a pair are to be installed at Mākena State Park where thousands of people enter the ocean at these locations daily. …

The Maui installations were inspired by a sunblock dispenser at Waialea Bay at Hāpuna State Recreation Area on Hawai‘i Island. Kelli Lundgren, board member of the Robert F. Orr Charitable Foundation, decided Maui needed dispensers. “As a volunteer at ‘Āhihi-Kīna‘u I’ve communicated with hundreds of visitors about the effectiveness and protection of mineral sunscreens. As people understand the mineral alternative and discover that sprays and bottles labeled “reef safe” actually can be harmful, they wanted an alternative.” …

REALITY: Chemical Company Behind Anti-Sunscreen Campaign

read  … Allowable Commercial Activity

Lease extension granted for some KIA properties

HTH: … After months of delays and complaints, the Board of Land and Natural Resources has authorized a tentative agreement for a 30-year extension for a lease in the Kanoelehua Industrial Area.

At Friday’s meeting of the BLNR, board members discussed extending the lease of a property under the terms of a 2018 law that allows lessees in the KIA to extend their leases with the state so long as they made improvements to their properties….

So far, less than a dozen lessees have applied for such extensions, and even fewer have been granted. But even those few applicants have been frustrated by long delays in the application process.

Jim McCully, a warehouse operator in the KIA, and a business partner applied for an extension for a 4.5-acre property in June 2019, but only in 2021 did the BLNR indicate that it would discuss the application at a meeting in October of that year. That meeting came and went without a discussion of McCully’s application.

Finally, however, the BLNR on Friday took up the matter and ultimately accepted a development agreement McCully submitted.

“It’s not a fully settled matter, and I’m only the third application to be processed,” McCully said. “But I am very pleased that the board followed the law.”..

read … Lease extension granted for KIA property

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