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Thursday, June 3, 1999



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OHA learns lesson
in legislative losses

'We did it ourselves,' says
trustee Frenchy DeSoto

By Pat Omandam
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs batted just 1-for-18 this spring in the 1999 legislative session.

Only one bill in its legislative package was passed by lawmakers.

Trustees acknowledged yesterday that for OHA to be a major player in next year's session, it must come up with a better way to work with the Legislature.

"We did it ourselves," said trustee A. Frenchy DeSoto. "We did it to ourselves because we did not provide a succinct and well thought-out strategy plan so that all of us can be utilized to support our staff. Staff cannot do it by themselves."

OHA government affairs officer Jalna Keala, in an assessment of the 1999 session given to OHA's government affairs and sovereignty committee, said the agency's legislative success can be measured in the bills it successfully opposed.

Of the 18 bills it introduced, only one -- the OHA general fund budget -- was passed by the Legislature, and even that one was reduced, she said.

The rejected legislation would have provided OHA seats on key state boards and commissions, tuition waivers for native Hawaiians, fee waivers for Hawaiians seeking state health certificates, and retirement benefits for trustees.

Keala warned that lawmakers passed other measures that could affect OHA's 20 percent entitlement to the public land trust. One of them deals with the elimination of legislative approval of ocean and submerged land leases, while it allows the Department of Land and Natural Resources to award those leases -- even though the issue of state land rights has not been settled with Hawaiians.

Keala said much of the failure is due to the disarray in the state Senate. But DeSoto and others said OHA needs to do a better job of monitoring and lobbying for its bills.

Committee Chairwoman Mililani Trask said the agency does not have the resources to review the thousands of bills introduced each year and should alter its approach.

"My feeling is that the shotgun approach -- where you look at every single bill that comes up -- is not a good one," Trask said. "Some of the priorities that OHA set in previous years that our committee inherited, I think we should rethink those."

Trask asked OHA Administrator Randy Ogata to come up with a legislative plan in 60 days. Ogata said the recent reorganization of his staff will allow them to recognize what each division's priorities are and to look out for any legislation next session that affects them.

"Rather than referring to all the divisions hundreds of bills, we're going to limit the amount of bills that are going to be reviewed on a more thorough basis," Ogata said.

Trustee Colette Machado believes much of OHA's ineffectiveness can be traced to negotiations between the state and the agency over past-due revenues from ceded lands.

With trustees warned by the Hawaii Supreme Court not to discuss the negotiations, they were essentially "handcuffed and gagged" and couldn't discuss these issues with lawmakers, she said.

"We were silenced because of the negotiations," Machado said.

Settlement talks broke off in late April. Lawmakers hoped to ratify an agreement this session. Instead, they passed a bill that temporarily sets OHA's annual revenue payments at $16 million a year while a joint committee attempts to resolve the ceded land issues.

The measure also requires OHA to pay $500,000 in matching funds for an inventory conducted by state auditor Marion Higa. OHA opposed the bill, which Gov. Ben Cayetano has yet to approve.



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