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Thursday, February 25, 1999



Hawaii State Seal

House GOP
wants civil service
reform

The Republicans criticize
the finance panel's approval of
a study of the system

Breast feeding tax credit
Special needs $32 million
Driver's license Social Security numbers
State hospitals audit

By Mike Yuen
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

When it comes to civil service reform, House Republicans are siding with Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat.

Early this morning, Republican members of the House Finance Committee chastised the panel's Democratic majority for approving a bill that would establish a task force to study the state's civil service system.

That approach is a far cry from Cayetano's proposal to repeal the state's civil service and collective bargaining laws on June 30, 2000. Cayetano describes his proposal as a "clear the deck" move to get the administration, public worker unions and others to buckle down and craft a more efficient system, knowing that their work has to be completed by the end of next year's legislative session.

The current civil service system is obsolete, rigid, inflexible and stifles innovative and hardworking government employees, Cayetano said in his State-of-the-State address last month.

"I'm disappointed," said Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki), "that we're not following the governor." Cayetano's approach offers a fresh start, he said.

House Minority Leader Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki) said she was concerned that the 10-member task force would be overrepresented with labor interests since there would be members representing each of the six public worker unions.

"It would be hard for them to be objective," she said. "I hope there would be more management representation."

The House bill also would look only at two chapters of the state's civil service and compensation laws. Cayetano wanted an examination of all seven.

House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo) said there is value in the task force approach because it is a way for all concerned parties "to buy into the process."

The finance panel also approved a bill that would require three departments -- Transportation, Accounting and General Services, and Business, Economic Development and Tourism -- to take part in a project to change the state's accounting and budgeting systems to a "performance-based system."

Performance-based budgeting was one of the key proposals of Cayetano's economic revitalization task force, and lawmakers need to work much more quickly to see it is implemented, Fox said.

Two other bills House Finance passed would:

BulletAuthorize the Board of Education to pass on administrative costs, including hiring of collection agencies to collect fees for lost or overdue books, and for use of materials requiring special equipment, and library-sponsored seminars and workshops.

BulletMake an appropriation to the Agriculture Department to set up distribution warehouses in three unnamed states for isle fruits and vegetables.


House committee kills
bill for breast-feeding
tax credit

By Mike Yuen
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

The House Finance Committee early this morning quashed a bill that would have granted a tax credit for corporations to build and maintain a breast-feeding room for female employees.

A similar bill is awaiting a hearing before the Senate's money panel.

Noting the concerns of the state Tax Department and the nonprofit Tax Foundation of Hawaii, House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo) said this is not the time for such a tax break, given the state's prolonged budget crunch.

Yesterday, state Tax Director Ray Kamikawa told House Finance that since the tax credit has not been specified, it remains unclear what the state's revenue loss would be.

"Nevertheless, any loss of revenues resulting from the granting of this credit will reduce the resources available to carry out current and future state programs," Kamikawa said in written testimony.

It might make more sense, Kamikawa added, to simply ask employers to set aside an existing area for breast-feeding. Labor Director Lorraine Akiba said that while her department "understands the benefits of breast-feeding," it would not be able to implement the proposal if it results in a workload increase because of the budget constraints facing state agencies.

Akiba said federal and state laws already provide time off for child care, which could be used for breast-feeding.

Tax Foundation President Lowell Kalapa added: "Given the gravity of the weak economy and the financial crisis facing the state, it makes little sense to fritter away the state's precious tax resources on a credit that has no bearing on the onerous burden of taxes with which businesses must contend."

Breast-feeding, said Dr. Cathy Bell of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, protects an infant against infections and promotes maternal-infant bonding.

Rose Schilt, executive director of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, said employers would benefit from the measure because there would be "fewer absences due to ill children; more stable, confident and productive workers; and decreased overall costs for medical insurance."

Takamine said other concerns of breast-feeding advocates are being kept alive in a measure before the House Judiciary Committee. They include specifying that it would be discriminatory if an employer refused to hire or punished a female employee for breast-feeding at work.


State asks for
emergency $32 million for
special-needs children

By Pat Omandam
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

It may cost the state $100 million this fiscal year to serve 8,488 special-needs children under the Felix consent decree.

That raises a red flag for members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

"It seems like a lot of money," said Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani).

Iwase was among those on the committee yesterday who questioned the state Department of Health's emergency budget request of $31.9 million for the rest of this fiscal year to pay for unanticipated increases in services to children who are emotionally disturbed.

The emergency appropriation is part of a current $42.5 million budget deficit in the department's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division. When added to the division's $60 million base budget, the total needed for Felix programs is more than $100 million, says new Health Director Bruce S. Anderson.

The $31.9 million appropriation would fund deficits in areas of general outpatient services, such as assessment, treatment and testing, as well as for residential and other services.

Moreover, the 8,488 children served under Felix is expected to reach 9,406 by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

State efforts to improve educational services for emotionally disturbed children came out of a 1994 federal consent decree. The federal order resulted from a class-action suit by Jennifer Felix and other children, who alleged the state failed to provide adequate education, mental health and other services to schoolchildren with special needs.

The state has until June of next year to comply with requirements of the federal mandate or face sanctions.

The department's request prompted lawmakers yesterday to question the level of funding needed for Felix children as well as the program's potential for abuse as more parents demand their child receive help under the program.

Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Liliha) told Anderson there's concern what the final funding level will be for Felix, given the state continues to underestimate its budget.

Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) believes public attention on state efforts to comply with the consent decree may be prompting more parents to see if their child is Felix-eligible.

And Iwase wants to know if Hawaii's efforts to address special-needs children are consistent with spending in other states. Paying $100 million for 8,488 students is more than what the state pays to educate each public school student, he said.

Anderson responded the number of Felix cases is leveling off. He explained the budget shortfall occurred because the program anticipated a case load of 7,300 -- not 8,488 -- this fiscal year.

Later, Anderson explained the Felix program is very accommodating toward meeting a child's needs. Still, he believes the state needs to take a strong stand and decide how those services are provided and who would be eligible for them.

The Senate committee is expected to vote in the next two weeks.


Driver’s licenses may
not use Social Security
numbers

By Craig Gima
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

A device similar to supermarket scanners may finally make it possible to use something other than a Social Security number on Hawaii driver's licenses.

Driver's licenses issued since last spring now have a bar code, like the universal product code on products bought at the supermarket.

The code contains the Social Security number and that now makes it possible for another number to be used on the driver's license, city officials told state senators on the Judiciary Committee yesterday.

The committee is considering a bill to require all licenses issued in the year 2000 to use a number other than an individual's Social Security number.

"We anticipated the legislation changing the law and we're not opposed to it," assistant licensing administrator David Mau said.

Bills to require the state to use another number have failed in recent years because the city and the state have not had the money to convert to a new system.

Social Security numbers won't completely disappear from the driver's license system. The federal government still requires the numbers because of immigration law and the commercial drivers' license program.

The city also is asking for $50,000 to $75,000 from the state to help convert its computers to access both the new numbers and Social Security numbers.

Concern over Social Security numbers on driver's licenses has increased over the last few years because the numbers can be used in some cases to access financial, educational, and medical records.

Other bills heard by the committee yesterday would:

BulletDeny a driver's license to people under age 21 who have been convicted of vandalizing property with graffiti.

BulletImpose a minimum mandatory two-day jail sentence on those convicted of drunken driving who have children in the car when they were arrested.

BulletRaise the age that child safety seats are required from 3 years of age to 4 years of age.


Audit of state hospitals
points to problems with
self-sufficiency

By Helen Altonn
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

The state auditor cites serious problems that it says affects whether state hospitals can become viable and self-sufficient.

The Legislature created the corporation to operate the state's 12 hospitals autonomously as much as possible.

The corporation still must operate within the state structure, says Thomas M. Driskill, Jr., the corporation's president and chief executive officer.

The Hawaii Health Systems Corp. generally agrees with criticism by state auditor Marion Higa in an audit of the state hospitals.

Driskill has been before legislators relating some of the same problems Higa's audit describes.

"With the exception of comments about the board of directors, we really appreciate the professional audit we've had here," he said.

The audit said the board, formed in August 1996, "failed to assert adequate leadership to ensure an effective transition from a state hospital system to a corporate structure."

Driskill points out that the organization was just starting when the audit was done. "We were recovering from 30 years of a different type of management."

He said much has been accomplished since June 1998 under the employees and board members, leaders in Hawaii's health care industry, who are volunteering their time and expertise to the corporation.

He said they've had a very difficult job bringing the hospitals (10 on the neighbor islands) together, maintaining their integrity and individualism and working with communities, legislators, unions and advisory groups.

"We are encouraged by steps taken by the corporation but we re-emphasize the importance of the board to properly fulfill its responsibility of managing the corporation," Higa said.

She said the corporation has been hampered by restrictive personnel rules and collective-bargaining agreements, an inadequate financial system, deficient planning and implementation. It also inherited a flawed financial system resulting from a poor information system when it was controlled by the state Health Department, she said.

Tapa

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