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Thursday, April 6, 2023
April 6, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:39 PM :: 1690 Views

Supreme Court: OHA Can Hide its Crooked Deals in Executive Session

Hawaii Minimum salary needed to be happy: $195,300

Coming Soon: 'Six ways to get around the visitor fee in Hawaii' 

Toxic cesspools, bribery at center of Hawaii lawmaker’s case

AP: … Cesspools — in-ground pits that collect sewage from houses and buildings not connected to city services for gradual release into the environment — are at the center of the criminal case against former Democratic state Rep. Ty Cullen. He has admitted to taking bribes of cash and gambling chips in exchange for influencing legislation to reduce Hawaii’s widespread use of cesspools.

The toxic pits proliferated in Hawaii in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. when investment in sewer lines didn’t keep up with rapid development. Today Hawaii has 83,000 of them — more than any other state — and only banned new cesspools in 2016….

Cullen faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Prosecutors have recommended he spend between two and two-and-a-half years in prison. His attorney has asked for a 15-month sentence, given what he called Cullen’s “substantial assistance” to investigators.

Related criminal cases have led to guilty pleas from the Honolulu businessman who bribed Cullen and a former Senate majority leader.

An estimated 16% of Hawaii housing units have cesspools, but the share is much higher on more rural islands like the Big Island, where more than half of the homes have them. They’re found everywhere from the mountains to the seashore and even in urban neighborhoods just miles from downtown Honolulu….

Such concerns have prompted the Legislature to draft bills to phase out cesspools. In 2017 the state enacted a law requiring homeowners to close their cesspools and hook up to sewer systems or install cleaner on-site waste treatment systems by 2050. The most common on-site alternative is a septic tank and leach field combination, in which bacteria break down solids inside a tank and a disposal field removes wastewater and pathogens while safely returning water to the environment.

This year lawmakers are considering additional legislation, including one bill that would accelerate conversion deadlines for cesspools in more environmentally sensitive areas to 2035 and 2040. Another would establish a pilot program to expand county sewage systems.

In a plea agreement, Cullen admitted receiving envelopes of cash to help pass a bill related to cesspool conversions. He was vice chair of the powerful House Finance Committee for part of the time he received bribes….

(Former cocaine dealer) J. Kalani English, a Democrat and the former Senate majority leader, has already been sentenced to three years and four months in prison for taking bribes from Choy, also in exchange for influencing cesspool legislation.

Separately, a former Maui County wastewater manager admitted taking $2 million from Choy in exchange for steering at least 56 sole-source contracts to his business. He was sentenced to 10 years in February.

read … Toxic cesspools, bribery at center of Hawaii lawmaker’s case 

Despite Prison Guards 35% Absenteeism--nominee to lead Hawaii’s prisons passes committee hearing

KHON: … A Senate committee voted 4-0 on Wednesday in favor of Gov. Josh Green’s appointment of Tommy Johnson to run the state’s prisons and jails despite bitter resistance from the union that represents Hawaii correctional officers.

A half-dozen United Public Workers union members who work at the Oahu Community Correctional Center testified against Johnson’s appointment, with one declaring that the state needs to “clean house.”

Officers cited acute staff shortages at OCCC that force them to work 16- and 24-hour shifts at times, and criticized the system’s flawed response to the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 sickened officers and was blamed in the deaths of 11 inmates statewide.

“We require a person of action who can make sound decisions, not someone who is non-transparent, makes excuses, and is passive,” said UPW President Darrell Wilcox, who has worked as a correctional officer at OCCC for over 25 years. He opposed Johnson’s appointment….

The union has raised concerns about long shift times due to short staffing dating back years. In response, Johnson acknowledged a staffing problem involving ACOs calling out on sick or family leave. However, he noted that he had increased recruitment hiring by 50% to address the issue.

During the hearing, an OCCC staff member testified against Johnson.

He said, “Our facility, I can’t speak for other facilities. I don’t work at, is in grave danger. It’s in, the physical layout, the staffing levels, the burnout rate, the retirement rate. It’s a mess. If something isn’t done differently and immediately, I’m afraid of what will happen.”

In response, Johnson emphasized the need to address the core reasons why staff members are not coming to work and provide a working environment that is conducive to wanting to be there and be part of the solution.

He also pointed out that the Department of Public Safety has filled 1,230 of 1,535 ACO positions, but thirty-five percent of those have approved leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Senator Glenn Wakai, the chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, expressed his concerns about the issue of ACOs taking extended leave.

“The fact he mentioned an average ACO might work seven months out of the year and five months is due to vacation, sick leave, paid family leave that is totally unacceptable,” Sen Wakai said. “We need to get to the root of that and make sure that our corrections officers are paid well, but they got to show up to work.”…

CB: Corrections Nominee Tommy Johnson Clears Committee Vote, Advances To The Full Senate

read … Despite union opposition, nominee to lead Hawaii’s prisons passes committee hearing

HGEA: City officials want a big raise while our contract negotiations underway

SA: … Are the long hours of City Council members more valuable than those clocked by lifeguards or civil engineers? Council members are already banking nearly $70,000 a year for a part-time job. The proposed increase would skyrocket their salaries to an obscene $136,000. And it’s still a part-time job…..

Mayor Rick Blangiardi seems to think this is about equity and fairness. In his letter to the Honolulu Salary Commission, he argues that HGEA members negotiated an increase in 2019, so his salary and those of his administration should follow suit. But here’s the thing: an 11% increase on a $48,000 salary is an absurd comparison to Blangiardi’s salary jumping from $187,000 to $209,000.

Honolulu Hale currently struggles to recruit and retain high-quality civil service workers. In fact, some 34% of city positions in Honolulu are currently vacant. Abundant vacancies equal less-efficient services for the people of Oahu (a slush fund for our ‘top three’)….

Take for instance police dispatch employees. Increasing their pay might help the Honolulu Police Department recruit more personnel to fill numerous openings. Instead, existing operators are frequently forced to work excessive amounts of overtime and are getting burned out (theirs) ….

Do administration officials and Council members deserve a raise? Sure. But now is not the time (because our contract is not signed). With thousands of vacancies that the city has been struggling to fill for years, leaders should be focused on increasing salaries to recruit and retain a qualified workforce before boosting their own. Blangiardi recognizes the importance of offering salaries that are competitive with those offered by the private sector, and yet, the city fails to apply that same principle when it comes to essential public employees….

Hard Life of HGEA Members: Bra and Panty Birthday Parties: Lawsuit Details Work Life at Hawaii DOBOR

REALITY: Hospital Crisis: How to Use Union Work Rules for Fun and Profit

read … City officials want a big raise while your ohana struggles

Ruling opens path for UH grad students to unionize--Hawaii will get Even More Unionized Public Employees

SA: … A Hawaii Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday has opened the way for a group of University of Hawaii graduate assistants to petition to be classified as public employees with collective bargaining rights.

Members of the UH graduate assistant organization Academic Labor United have argued that the salaried jobs performed by UH’s 1,500 graduate assistants have evolved well beyond that of entry-level “student help” and are critical to the university’s functioning, and that they should be considered public employees with the right to organize.

The group filed a suit in 2021 against the UH Board of Regents, the Hawaii Labor Relations Board and the state, seeking declaratory relief and challenging two state labor board decisions in 1972 that had said in part that a graduate assistant’s primary role at the university is that of a student, not a public employee…. 

KITV: The "Academic Labor United" will have their case heard by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board

CHN: Grad student union

PDF: SCAP-22-0000029 Academic Labor United v. Board of Regents of the University of Hawai‘i.

read … Ruling opens path for UH grad students to unionize

Hawaiian Electric Proposes Streamlining (Gutting) Regulatory Review

IM: … The Hawaiian Electric Companies filed their Draft Integrated Grid Planning (IGP) with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on March 31, 2023.

The Draft Plan states, “In 2008, a memorandum of understanding between the State of Hawai`i and DOE launched the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.”

HECO co-authored and signed the HCEI Energy Agreement in October 2008.

The Energy Agreement stated, regulators should “expedite all required land use, environmental and regulatory permits and approvals... expedite all permitting and approvals associated with... biofuels... expedite the Department of Health's approval of temporary emission limits... [PUC] applications for approval submitted by the utility should receive expedited handling.”

“Transmission Investments... to the greatest extent possible...[should have] expeditious processing of the applications filed with the PUC.”

HECO proposed filing a Clean Energy Scenario Plan (CESP) with the PUC that would shift the burden of proof….

Like the Energy Agreement, the IGP proposes to shift who has the burden to justify a project. If something is in the plan, it should be presumed correct. Those who challenge a project should have the burden of proving the project should not be built.

The PUC should “approve the Integrated Grid Plan to serve as a foundational element for Hawaiian Electric and regulatory actions, including in interrelated dockets in the near term.”….

RELATED: Rate Hikes Coming: Hawaiian Electric seeks public comment on draft ‘Integrated Grid Plan: A pathway to a clean energy future’

read … Hawaiian Electric Proposes Streamlining (Gutting) Regulatory Review

SB1230: Gun bill seeks limits in ‘sensitive’ areas

TGI: … Senate Bill 1230 was drafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle &Pistol Association v. Bruen, which declared New York’s concealed carry law unconstitutional.

The decision made Hawai‘i a shall-issue state, meaning it’s no longer able to deny applicants a concealed-carry permit if they meet state criteria for a permit.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the state rarely issued concealed-carry permits. Hawai‘i police chiefs issued only six carry permits in the 21 years prior to the Bruen decision, according to previous reports. In January and February of 2023, 52 permits were issued in Kaua‘i alone….

Jason Bryant, the managing member of JGB Arms on Kaua‘i, says the bill only adds to the already “convoluted” process for acquiring a gun in the state.

He detailed a weekslong application process necessary to qualify to own a firearm on Kaua‘i, including a criminal background authorization form, personal health authorization form, a state ID, proof of residency, and a cashier’s check made out to the Hawai‘i Criminal Data Center.

“The process is so onerous that it dissuades most people from wanting to go through it,” he said. “So if anybody is on the fence about (owning a gun), then more than likely, you’d be like, ‘I don’t want to.’”

Bryant said Hawai‘i is “the most restrictive state” for guns, and recent data confirm his statements….

SB 1230 passed its second reading on March 24 and was scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Finance on Wednesday, April 5….

March, 2023: HB984/SB1230 - CCW, Permit to Acquire, Prohibited Persons

read … Gun bill seeks limits in ‘sensitive’ areas

Downtown Hilo plan rejected: A majority of business owners not on board with revitalization plan

HTH: … A proposal to develop an improvement district to revitalize downtown Hilo is on death’s door after a majority of affected property owners disapproved of the concept.

The Downtown Hilo Business Improvement District — which was officially proposed by a Hawaii County Council bill in late 2022, but has been a topic of discussion for years — would allow property owners to fund infrastructure maintenance and other upgrades between Ponahawai Street, Wailuku Drive, Kapiolani Street and the Hilo Bayfront using assessments levied against member businesses.

Those potential members, however, largely rejected the idea, testifying en masse against the proposal during a public hearing in February.

That opposition mostly agreed the primary problem in the downtown area is rampant homelessness, which a business improvement district is not necessarily equipped to solve, and that the assessments they would have to pay — a rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of “total net taxable value,” according to the bill — would be too much for many businesses already struggling under rising taxes.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the County Council, opponents of the proposal were counted and weighed against the total number of potential district members. County Clerk Jon Henricks said that while there are 313 properties that would be included in the district, the county received more than 200 declarations against the plan, accounting for 64.2% of the affected owners….

Retired UFC fighter B. J. Penn also appeared at Wednesday’s meeting, alongside mother, businesswoman Lorraine Shin, to oppose the proposal. Penn and Shin own several properties within the district’s proposed boundaries….

read … Downtown Hilo plan rejected: A majority of business owners not on board with revitalization plan

Associa Hawaii has been operating with an inactive license

CB: … State officials have begun an investigation of one of Hawaii’s major condominium management firms, Associa Hawaii, which state records indicate has been operating without an active broker’s license required by law.

“They should not be doing any activity,” Kristen Kekoa, a real estate specialist with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said of Associa. “This is absolutely something we would have to take a look at.”

Kekoa’s comments came after Civil Beat inquired about listings on the Hawaii Professional and Vocational Licensing Division website that indicate Associa Hawaii’s license is inactive and that the company should not be practicing….

read … Associa Hawaii has been operating with an inactive license

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