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Thursday, September 7, 2023
September 7, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 7:58 PM :: 1902 Views

Lahaina Fires: House Forms Working Groups

Soft on Crime: Hirono, Schatz Nominate Public Defender for Federal Bench

Resolutions would ease hiring challenges, save city money

Kauai bills seek to expand property tax relief for affordable rentals

County Councils Consider Property Tax Exemptions for Seniors, Homeowners

Medeiros Resigns: Governor Blames Threats from BJ Penn

SA: … “Nani Medeiros is a truly compassionate person who has worked tirelessly to help create novel solutions to house the homeless and to build affordable homes in Hawaii – only to face a barrage of personal attacks in person and on social media from those who would rather tear us all apart, rather than help Hawaii move forward,” Green said today.

He blamed B.J. Penn in particular. After a career in mixed-martial arts, Penn unsuccessfully ran in 2022 for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

“The bullying tactics, with obvious violent undertones employed by Mr. Penn and his followers have no place in Hawaii and are absolutely contrary to our spirit of Aloha for others,” Green told the Star-Advertiser. “I won’t tolerate anyone from my team, or anyone in our state, being treated this way. It is despicable.”….

(CLUE: BJ Penn will be arrested soon.)

Penn could not immediately be reached for comment today….

Penn accused panel members of ignoring public concerns and wanting to take the family fortunes of Lahaina evacuees and put them in Puna on Hawaii island.

“You guys gonna take the people in Lahaina and put them in Puna,” Penn said. “That’s crazy.”

Long before Green created the panel, Medeiros was criticized in January by state Sen. Kurt Fevella (R, Ocean Pointe-­Iroquois Point-Kapolei), who brought her to tears at a meeting of the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission when Fevella said Medeiros has “nothing, or no knowledge, about our Hawaiian people. I don’t care if she says she’s Hawaiian. Just remember now, the devil also was an angel. Remember that. So just because you’re Hawaiian doesn’t mean you have the passion for the people.”

Green, in response, wrote a two-page letter to Senate President Ron Kouchi condemning Fevella’s testimony about Medeiros.

Fevella later stood on the Senate floor and said, “At this time I just want to offer apologies to Nani Medeiros if I had offended her and her family of the things that I had said. I never meant to hurt her personally or her family. So, again, I apologize for the words that I had said.”…

RELATED: Housing Emergency Designed to Fail

CB: Hawaii’s New Chief Housing Officer Is Resigning

read … Nani Medeiros, state’s chief housing officer, to resign

Will these leaders agree to be interviewed by wildfire investigators?

HNN: … Some of the key agencies responding to the deadly Lahaina wildfire -- are pledging cooperation with the State Attorney General’s 3rd party investigation, but legal experts say for now, it’s all voluntary.

HNN Investigates asked several agencies if their leaders would agree to be interviewed by the independent investigators. Maui Mayor Rick Bissen’s office didn’t respond and so far only one leader answered our question specifically.

The independent probe into the timeline of the Lahaina wildfire, how it started, the emergency response and lessons learned is being done by the nationally-recognized nonprofit, Fire Safety Research Institute, which was contracted by the state attorney general.

“We hope to interview everyone involved. We’ve put in requests in through Maui County, we’ve had some great conversations so far with members of the fire department. We hope to expand that to all government employees involved,” said Steve Kerber, PHD, PE, Fire Safety Research Institute….

“I do not know what the Attorney’s General plan for interviews is, but I look forward to providing the investigators information and critical facts on what happened leading up to and following the fires on the Island of Hawaii and Maui,” said Major General Kenneth Hara, director, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“We will work closely with the state attorney general’s office, its investigators, and other government agencies as they conduct their reviews,” said Darren Pai, Manager, External Communications, Hawaiian Electric Company.

HECO’s statement did not answer if CEO Shelee Kimura would be interviewed.

“We will work closely with the state attorney general’s office, its investigators, and other government agencies as they conduct their reviews,” said Maui Police Department in a statement.

MPD also did not answer if MPD Chief John Pelletier would be interviewed.…

“It’s going to be a really difficult job for the independent reviewer,” said Lee. 

HNN: Hawaii AG to 'review' independent investigation into Maui fires before release to public

read … Will these leaders agree to be interviewed by wildfire investigators?

State DOE trying to contact 500 displaced Lahaina students

SA: … The number of displaced Lahaina public school students who still haven’t been reached by the state or enrolled in new schools is now down to slightly more than 500, and authorities will continue to work by phone and on foot until each one is contacted, a top state education official said Wednesday.

However, state schools Deputy Superintendent Heidi Armstrong said she could not give an estimate for how many of the public schools’ 3,001 Lahainaluna-­complex students died in the Aug. 8 wildfire disaster in West Maui….

As of Wednesday the DOE said about 83% of the 3,001 students had been contacted, or were confirmed as having enrolled in another public school, charter school or the state distance learning program; transferred to a private school; moved to the mainland; or withdrawn.

Around 466 remaining students’ families had been left phone messages by DOE staff that had not been responded to, and less than 50 had not yet been reached as of yesterday, said Armstrong, who has been involved in the DOE’s contact efforts….

Gov. Josh Green had said in the immediate days after the fires that the victims likely included “many children.” But of the 115 people in the standing official death toll, only one minor, 7-year-old Tony Takafua of Lahaina, is among the 55 people whose identities have been confirmed and released by authorities so far. Another minor, Keyiro Fuentes, 14, of Lahaina, is among those believed to have died in the fires, based on family social media and media reports…. 

CB: DOE: Number Of Students Missing, Killed In Maui Fires Is 'Too Small' To Release - Honolulu Civil Beat

SA: Effort to track Maui students still frustrating | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

read … State DOE trying to contact 500 displaced Lahaina students

Final Honolulu DPP Defendant Gets 10 Months In Prison

CB: … A former Honolulu permitting worker who admitted to taking nearly $30,000 in bribes was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 months in prison for her role in the scheme.

A former building plans examiner, Kanani Padeken, 38, admitted to taking cash in exchange for expediting certain applications through Honolulu’s Byzantine permitting process. In a tearful statement to the court, Padeken took responsibility for her actions and expressed remorse for breaking the public’s trust and bringing grief to her family….

Padeken was the last to be sentenced of six people indicted in 2021. Jocelyn Godoy, a former employee of DPP’s data access and imaging branch, was sentenced just last week to 60 days behind bars and two years of supervised release.

Wayne Inouye, Padeken’s former boss, got the longest sentence in the case — five years — in part because of his role as a supervisor and his attempts to lie about his conduct after he was caught….

read … Final Honolulu Permitting Defendant Gets 10 Months In Prison

Hawaii’s COVID-related deaths surpass 2,000

SA: … The Hawaii Department of Health today reported six more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 2,001.

Most of the deaths in the state have been among kupuna ages 60 and older, but deaths have been recorded among all age groups, including among at least seven children.

One of the deaths reported this week was a pediatric death, according to DOH’s mortality dashboard — a male under age 18 who was hospitalized on Oahu.

Metrics for COVID, meanwhile, show a decline in the seven-day average of daily cases to 129, down from 170 the previous week, according to DOH. The statewide average positivity fell to 12%, down from about 15% reported the previous week.

The average positivity for Maui County dropped to 9.7% compared with 16.3% the previous week, showing a downward trend….

TGI: State reports decline in COVID cases - The Garden Island

read … Hawaii’s COVID-related deaths surpass 2,000

Hawaii high court asked to rule in AIG climate change case

BI: … A Honolulu federal district court is asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to rule on whether the pollution exclusion applies to greenhouse gases, in a case involving a coverage dispute between an oil company and American International Group Inc. units.

The state’s high court is being asked two questions: whether recklessness can amount to an “accident” and, if so, whether greenhouse gas emissions constitute the escape of pollutants. It may be the first time a state supreme court will be ruling on the pollutant issue.

There is no “clear standing controlling precedent in Hawaii judicial decisions on these issues,” says the order issued by the district court in Aloha Petroleum Ltd. vs. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, and American Home Assurance Co. …

IM: Climate Change Questions Filed At Hawaii Supreme Court

L360: Hawaii Justices Asked To Weigh In On Climate Coverage Row - Law360 Insurance Authority

read … Hawaii high court asked to rule in AIG climate change case

Honolulu Council advances bill with $25K ‘monster home’ penalty

SA: … A newly proposed measure to amend the city’s Land Use Ordinance to require builders of so-called monster homes on Oahu to pay $25,000 or greater fines has passed an initial hurdle.

The Honolulu City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the first reading of Bill 52 — forwarded first by the city Department of Planning and Permitting, then formally introduced by Council Chair Tommy Waters on Aug. 31 — that is focused solely on levying higher fines.

Under Bill 52, builders who violate city laws relating to “development standards” and permitted uses and structures — like maximum heights, height setbacks, floor-area ratios, or the number of bathrooms permitted inside a home based on the number of dwellings, units or lot size — would be subject to an initial fine of up to $25,000, plus up to $10,000 a day per violation….

read … Council advances bill with $25K ‘monster home’ penalty

Hawaii County Council resolution seeks to spur action on high cost of home insurance in Lava Zones 1 and 2

HTH: …  When Florida insurer Universal Property and Casualty Insurance Co. announced in July that it will leave the Hawaii home and condo insurance market at the end of August 2024, hundreds of the provider’s Puna customers found themselves between a rock an a hard place.

Without UPC, the only other coverage available in Lava Zones 1 and 2 is through the state’s Hawaii Property Insurance Association, an insurance provider of last resort expressly established to underwrite coverage in high-risk areas that providers would otherwise be unwilling to enter.

But HPIA’s insurance premiums have ballooned since the 2018 Kilauea eruption, and many UPC customers have found that their rates would go up by 400% or more.

The County Council passed a resolution on Wednesday strongly urging immediate action by several state bodies — including the state Legislature, the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and HPIA — to find ways to mitigate the financial burden on Puna residents. But what impact the state can have on the issue remains to be seen.

Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder pointed out that, even outside of Lava Zones 1 and 2, homeowners associations have reported their insurance rates have been increasing for several years. He suggested that, while the HPIA rates are extreme, they are a symptom of a greater problem on a national level.

Other council members noted that similar problems have affected disaster-prone areas around the nation.

read … Council resolution seeks to spur action on high cost of home insurance in Lava Zones 1 and 2 - Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Beth Fukumoto: I could have spoken up against Joe Souki, too.  But didn’t.

CB: … In 2018, my final year in the state House, I received a call from the Ethics Commission. It was investigating a sexual harassment complaint against former Speaker Joe Souki and my name came up during interviews as someone who may have experienced the same treatment. I told him that if the lead complainant needed someone to stand with her I would. Her story sounded all too familiar. But, I explained, I’d struggle to detail any specific experiences of my own.

In truth, I chose to forget those details as many women do. When I found myself uncomfortable, I told myself I was overreacting. I was scared that speaking up would be held against me and hurt my ability to do my job so I pushed it to the back of my mind. The bottom line is that the lead complainant, former Director of Human Services Rachael Wong, was immeasurably braver than I was.

When discussing the incident, Wong explained, “I felt powerless to do anything due to the risk of retaliation against me, the department, and the executive branch.” Her fear is what most people face when they consider reporting any ethical violation by a person in power.

The Ethics Commission offers whistleblowers anonymity, and the House and Senate both promise to be as confidential as possible. Yet, as investigations get underway, accusers’ names still manage to be passed on in whispers through the Capitol halls. Secrets are political currency. It’s a fact constantly in conflict with good government….

read … It's Scary To Speak Up Against A Fellow Lawmaker

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