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Wednesday, February 16, 2022
February 16, 2022 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:06 PM :: 3335 Views

Former Hawaii State Legislators Plead Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud

DoH Declares Navy Water Safe in Zone Nearest Red Hill

Hawaii Towns Ranked for Money Management

Legislature Could Curb Corruption Today with Three Easy Steps

TGI: … Simply by amending their own internal rules the House and Senate could today:

• Ban the soliciting and accepting of campaign contributions during the legislative session;

• End the unilateral power of a committee chair;

• Require public votes to defer bills indefinitely, or to otherwise kill a bill.

read … Dealing with corruption is our collective kuleana

Senate to reopen meetings to the press--Still Keeping Public Out

TGI: … Senate President Ron Kouchi said Tuesday that the Senate will allow media members full access to the Senate gallery and press box during floor sessions.

This comes after Kouchi, who represents Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, announced his plans to reopen the state Capitol to the general public last week….

“With COVID-19 cases on the decline, Senate leadership will be working with the House, the governor and the Department of Accounting and General Services to formulate a reopening plan for the Capitol.”

According to Kouchi, there is no firm timeline for reopening to the general public, but they hope to finalize a plan in the coming weeks.

(Translation: Public will be kept out for remainder of session.)

Meanwhile, there’s still no timetable in sight for reopening Kaua‘i County Council meetings to the public, according to county officials, though councilmembers expressed hope that chambers would reopen soon….

read … Senate to reopen meetings to the press

Former Cocaine Dealer, Hawaii Sen. J. Kalani English, Says Bribery Was Beneficial to Public

HNN: … English retired last year, citing symptoms of “long COVID.” But court records showed he was already under investigation by that point. Cullen resigned last week after the charges against him were made public.

English and Cullen have admitted that they received bribes from local businessman Milton Choy to introduce -- then kill -- bills establishing government-funded cesspool replacement programs. Those programs would have benefited Choy’s industrial cleaning company.

During today’s hearing, English initially attempted to justify his actions, saying the cesspool bill was “beneficial to the people of Hawaii.”

“I think people should be enraged,” said University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore. “I think if you’re going to enter a guilty plea, then you will have to fall on the public’s mercy and you have to admit you’ve done wrong.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway also questioned English why he didn’t report the bribes from Choy in his annual gift disclosure forms -- even though he reported dozens of other gifts over the years, including $7 food items and snacks.

“I didn’t think about it your honor,” said English.

Political watchdogs said English’s response was unacceptable.

“That was a pretty lame excuse. His rationale there was ... the bribes didn’t come through his office -- if they had come through his office, everything is logged and everything is reported,” said longtime investigative reporter and Common Cause of Hawaii board member Ian Lind.

“But because it went into his pocket it didn’t go through his office so he told the judge ‘I never thought about it.’”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson later pointed out that in his plea deal English admitted that he “knowingly and purposely” failed to to declare the payments “because he didn’t want the public to know he was taking bribes.” English was later forced to concede that point.

Moore said the casual way in which the two former lawmakers accepted the bribes suggests that political corruption in Hawaii is much more common than people think.

“I think it is more widespread across county agencies, state agencies and the Legislature itself just because we’ve seen so many examples of this,” said Moore.

Back in 2019, local engineer Jim Lyon was convicted of paying $240,000 in bribes to an unnamed, former Department of Hawaiian Homelands official in exchange for $2.5 million in contracts.

Then last year, a federal grand jury charged five former building inspectors with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting of taking bribes from a local architect. Several have already pleaded guilty.

“There is a serious cultural problem with the corruption we have in our government institutions,” said Moore.….

read … ‘People should be enraged’

Big Joke: Technicalities in Pension Forfeit Law Ensure that We Will be Paying English and Cullen for as Long as They Live 

KHON: … “There should be stricter penalties for people who get convicted of these felonies where it’s not half, maybe we should take it all the way,” said Rep. Val Okimoto, House Minority Leader.

Even at half, whether anything gets confiscated depends.

First, there’s a date issue. tt only applies to crimes committed after the law was signed.

Only Cullen’s charging document alleges improprieties after June 2021.

The feds say English’s scheme lasted until the January before the new law.

Then there are the technicalities.

The ERS director tells Always Investigating “The ERS only commences forfeiture of a members’ pension or other benefit upon receipt of a court decree ordering the same To date, we haven’t received any such decrees.”

Even if filed “Anything that had vested before this went into effect, they would be eligible for,” said Rhoads. “The part that they might not be eligible for is that little increment between whenever the date that is determined to be the date. So it may be that it’s way less than half, maybe half of a tiny percentage, because of when the law passed.”

Translation: English keeps 100% and Cullen keeps 99% of pension.

read … English, Cullen may be first to experience new pension forfeiture law after bribery scheme involvement

Criminal started work at DPP in 2012, and almost immediately began taking bribes from a solar contractor

ILind: … According to the plea agreement filed in US District Court following the hearing, Dadez started work at DPP in 2012, and almost immediately began taking bribes from a solar contractor, who was not named by prosecutors.

Dadez admitted he had drafted and then processed solar project applications for the contractor. He was paid $100 for each photovoltaic solar panel application, and $25 for each solar hot water application, and received a total of at least $9,900, according to the facts admitted in the plea agreement.

That amount represents quite a few applications written and then approved by Dadez. But if this were during the period when there was a large backlog of solar permit applications, it was a good deal for the contractor.

Dadez also admitted taking two bribes of $1,000 each from a Waipahu restaurant owner for processing a sign permit.

Dadez made a big mistake along the way by accepting some of the payments in the form of checks written on the accounts of the businesses involved. This guaranteed a paper trail for investigators to follow, as well as locking in the wire fraud charge because checks are cleared through the banking system’s electronic payments system.

Dadez is the third DPP employee to plead guilty to the federal charges, along with a Honolulu architect. Two others, including the city’s former chief plans examiner, Wayne Inouye, have entered not-guilty pleas and are awaiting trial. If Inouye doesn’t cop a plea and instead goes to trial, that will be one to watch, as it will likely reveal more about the extent of pay-to-play within DPP, which has a long history of public complaints regarding favoritism and lack of code enforcement….

read … Honest services fraud also used in targeting Honolulu’s planning department payoffs

Wage measures still alive: Senate, House bills would increase minimum hourly rate to $18

HTH: … A bill in the state House of Representatives that would increase the minimum wage cleared a committee hurdle Tuesday.

The House Labor and Tourism Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Onishi of Hilo, passed House Bill 2510 with amendments by a 6-2 vote. The “no” votes were cast by Sens. Sean Quinlan, an Oahu Democrat, and Val Okimoto, an Oahu Republican….

The bill, if passed, would raise the state’s minimum wage of $10.10 per hour to $11 an hour on Jan. 1, 2023, with $1 per hour raises yearly until the minimum wage reaches $18…

The Senate passed its own minimum wage bill unamended and forwarded it to the House, where it has received its first favorable floor vote. SB 2018 would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour on Oct. 1, $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2024, and $18 an hour on Jan. 1, 2026….

“The Senate bill only looks at the minimum wage. Our bill takes a different approach,” Onishi told the Tribune-Herald. “It’s looking at how we’re going to help families. The minimum wage is one component. We believe the research shows that a more gradual increase to the minimum wage has very little effect on the economy and on businesses versus steep increases in the minimum wage.”

Other provisions in the House version would increase food tax credits for lower-income people and provide a permanent and refundable earned income tax credit for qualified taxpayers….

SA: Hawaii minimum wage bill advances despite criticisms

read … Wage measures still alive: Senate, House bills would increase minimum hourly rate to $18

Bills limiting Hawaii governor’s emergency powers advancing

SA: … Bills moving through the Legislature would limit the governor’s emergency proclamation powers, two years after Gov. David Ige began issuing COVID-19 proclamations.

House Bills 1921 and 1585 would allow legislators to limit emergency proclamations they deem necessary. HB 1416 would do the same and, additionally, establish a 60-day expiration date for a proclaimed state of emergency.

Under HB 1585 both the House and Senate would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to limit the length of proclamations.

If passed, the governor would hold the power to veto any of the bills, and the Legislature could override a veto.….  

SA Editorial: Limit governor’s emergency power

read … Bills limiting Hawaii governor’s emergency powers advancing

Secrecy: Unlike Other Cities, HPD Refuses to Give Decrypted Scanners to Media

HNN: … Honolulu’s emergency communications system has been upgraded, meaning scanners from all the city’s public safety departments are now shut off to everyone else.

The change was part of a $15 million overhaul that switched all the scanners from analog to digital, encrypting the frequencies.

This allows the nine city departments to communicate on a single channel.

It also means a delay in Hawaii News Now’s ability to notify the public of major events and emergencies, like freeway closures or barricades in neighborhoods.

The Honolulu Police Department switched over their last group of scanners Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Prior to the change, all the local news outlets could hear the calls, get confirmation of what was happening, and then notify thousands of people with breaking news updates, push alerts and social media posts.

“Immediate information regarding any significant public safety issue,” said Jeffrey Portnoy, an attorney at Cades Shutte who specializes in First Amendment issues.

HPD’s Interim Chief Rade Vanic said months ago that they were working on an database alert system that the media can access in real time, but an HPD spokesperson said Tuesday that they had to abandon the idea after running into obstacles.

HPD will instead have a person in the communications section fill out a form and email it to news outlets instead if an event occurs that meets the criteria….

The change has been years in the making with cities nationwide making the switch.

Hawaii News Now’s sister station in Las Vegas, KVVU, said they were provided digital scanners from their police department years ago, when the conversion was complete….

The scanners allow the news outlets in Las Vegas to continue to monitor emergency situations.

HNN asked the office of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi if a similar agreement can be done here, but we did not hear back…

read … Overhaul of Oahu’s police scanners could lead to delay in reporting of emergencies

HB1519 Would Strike at Snake Oil Salesmen Taking Advantage of Sunscreen Ban

KHON: … HB1519 would make it illegal to sell sunscreens with ingredients not deemed “safe and effective” by the Food and Drug Administration without a prescription….

“It’s too dependent on the FDA rules and lists,” said Maui (Duckburg) County councilmember Kelly King. “Which don’t take into account the damage that could be done to the reef in the marine environment.”…

(Translation: Fake sunscreen recipes hyped by quacks should be allowed to fill in the gap left by the sunscreen ban.)

read … Bill to expand Hawaii’s sunscreen ban: For humans or the environment?

Legislative Agenda:

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