IN AND AROUND THE CAPITOL
legislative snack fund
provides some food
for, uh, thought
School choices: Playgrounds or roofs
UH admin, med school fundsBy Richard Borreca
Prison proposal upsets UPW
Public Safety curtails overtime
The problem with working for the state is not the job, or the vacations, or sick leave or pay.
The problem is that there is nothing to munch on around the office.
At least, according to state Sen. Rod Tam, that is the problem.
Tam, a Democrat, is proposing that because the "state needs to increase the morale of state employees," they should have refreshments at work.
To get the project off the ground Tam wants the state to pay for the snacks and such things as coffee makers, coffee, water dispensers and related supplies. A total of $623,752.80 in state funds would cover the first year of operation, Tam estimated.
Tam, who recently also introduced a bill calling for public employees to use one of their two daily 10 minutes recesses to take a nap, said that providing refreshments to state workers would also "promote hospitality for the public who visit a workplace."
Republican Sen. Sam Slom, who said he doesn't even let his office workers spend the annual $5,000 office allowance given each legislator, called the Tam bill a "disservice to public workers."
"And for those who thought we were really foolish, this removes all doubt," Slom said.
UH administratorsBy Susan Kreifels
pushing for funds
For the first time, University of Hawaii President Kenneth Mortimer wasn't asked to cut his budget, and UH administrators took twice the usual time with legislators yesterday to push requests that would not only catch up on electricity bills but jump-start new initiatives.
Chairmen of Senate and House Higher Education committees, noting the four-hour testimony, said they want to start filling the holes formed by years of budget cuts.
"An investment in the university brings the biggest returns of any state agency," said Sen. David Ige.
Rep. David Morihara believes there's been a "turnaround in attitude" in the community because UH has made difficult choices and set priorities. "It's tied into the new economy," Morihara said.
But Mortimer agreed with legislators that UH must live up to its oft-repeated word to become the engine that drives the state's economy.
Requests included $1.3 million to pay electricity bills at community colleges, $4.9 million for utilities and maintenance at UH-Manoa, $2 million to support a Web-based library management system, and more faculty for a growing UH-Hilo.
Administrators also described how they would use $1 million each for four programs requested by Gov. Ben Cayetano: Johns A. Burns School of Medicine would use $1 million to recruit faculty to research genetic causes of high-risk disease in Pacific island people; UH-Manoa School of Engineering would recruit faculty to develop wireless communication systems; UH-Manoa College of Business Administration would develop entrepreneurships and e-commerce through student internships, Web-based instruction and new equipment; and community colleges would start the Pacific Center for Advanced Technology Training to match up students with needs of particular businesses.
Mortimer said new purchasing cards that allow deans and provosts to sign for purchases will save UH $1.5 million in processing fees.
New dean wants fundsBy Susan Kreifels
to create top med school
Invest $3.6 million in the medical school, and it will bring back millions more in dividends.
Dr. Edwin Cadman, new dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, told legislators yesterday that the start-up funds would help him to recruit 16 new faculty members, 12 of them medical researchers who will be able to bring what could total millions of dollars in grant money with them.
On top of that, the federal government, which wants to encourage more biomedical research at universities, will pay what it calls "indirect costs" -- at the University of Hawaii, that means an extra 35 percent of the total federal research dollars going to UH.
For example, if a UH faculty member got a $1 million research grant from the U.S. government, the National Institute of Health would give UH President Kenneth Mortimer an extra $350,000 to spend as he wishes.
And the more UH spends on research facilities, the higher the added percentage of "indirect costs" paid by the federal government.
Cadman said he wants to make the medical school more research-focused and more self-supporting, dropping state support to 25-30 percent of the budget from the current 50 percent.
Cadman believes the school could be rated among the top 25 schools in the country one day. Now it falls toward the bottom.
"It's in the best interest of the nation to be a top medical school in the Pacific," Cadman said.
Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, said establishing a quality medical school was a prerequisite for making Hawaii a health state, and that would mean beefing up medical research.
"Hawaii is the perfect lab," Ige said.
Cadman, who arrived from Yale University Medical School, said the UH medical school has 40 fewer full-time faculty than 10 years ago.
The state's three-member Motor Vehicle Insurance Task Force plans to forward to the state Legislature next week its proposal for pay-at-the-pump insurance, which would guarantee that all Hawaii drivers have minimum personal injuries protection coverage.
Pay-at-the-pump passes taskBy Suzanne Tswei
force; public hearing set
The insurance proposal, which the task force approved yesterday, calls for a 9-cent-per-gallon fee and a $26 vehicle registration fee to fund the medical coverage.
A nonprofit, private organization would be set up to collect and invest the money, and claims adjusting would be contracted to a third party, said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Metcalf, who also is the task force's chairman.
The proposal will help reduce the number of uninsured drivers and insurance costs for all drivers, Metcalf said. "This is a way for medical coverage to be available for everyone."
If the Legislature approves the proposal, all drivers would receive the minimum $100,000 personal injuries coverage required by law, but drivers still would be responsible to purchase liability and other types of coverage, he said.
Details of the proposal will be presented to the public at a Feb. 7 hearing, said Sen. Brian Kanno, co-chairman of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. It will begin 7 p.m. in the Laulima Room of the James Campbell Building at 1001 Kamokila Blvd. in Kapolei.
"I am not for or against the proposal," Kanno said. "I am saying the public should look at it. People really need to see if we are going to save money."
Kanno said he also is concerned whether drivers who must drive long distances would end up paying a large portion of the insurance.
The task force also approved a proposal to establish a statewide database to allow police to verify if a driver has insurance.
It would be set up and administered by the city, which already maintains a database on all motor vehicles registered in the state. The database would include vehicle identification numbers and insurer's codes. Eventually all police cars would be equipped with mobile data computers to allow for quick access.
The cost for setting up the database is estimated at $20,000, and insurance companies are expected to update the data every 48 hours.
Prison proposal upsetsBy Gregg K. Kakesako
The head of the powerful United Public Workers union says he is "disappointed" with the actions of Gov. Ben Cayetano.
The 11,000-member union, which endorsed Cayetano in the 1998 elections, cited the governor's push to use private funds to build a medium-security prison on the Big Island.
Gary Rodrigues, UPW head who represents adult correctional officers in the state's eight prisons, said his union is now deciding whether it wants to support anybody in future elections.
The union head said it doesn't make sense to endorse "a person who claims to be our friend," but who turns around to do just what his opponent was advocating during the campaign.
"We may take the position to stay out of the election," said Rodrigues who also was critical of Cayetano's proposals to reform the civil service system.
Rodrigues says he still isn't convinced by Cayetano's arguments that it is cheaper to operate a prison on mainland than in the islands, and he is waiting for the governor to provide the proof.
He contended that Cayetano's position for privatizing new prison operations is "based on nonsense without facts.
"You can't compare what is done on the mainland to what is done in Hawaii," he added, "because conditions are different."
Cayetano has said the daily cost of keeping an inmate in a mainland prison is $41 a day. Rodrigues said Cayetano at one time gave a figure of $70 a day to house an inmate locally but now says that cost is $100 a day.
Last year, the Senate blocked a Cayetano request for $130 million to build a 2,300-bed medium-security prison on Stainback Highway south of Hilo. That site was selected after an earlier proposal to put the prison in Kau was met by a storm of community protest.
To spend $160 million in state construction funds, Cayetano said, would delay other capital improvements -- like schools. Instead, Cayetano said an alternative would be to have a private developer build and run the prison.
Rodrigues also disagrees with the governor's proposal to cut vacation benefits for new civil service employees, saying those type of benefits should be negotiated at the bargaining table and not in the halls of the Legislature.
He also noted that legislation allowing state employees to nap during rest periods is unnecessary since they already have the right to snooze during their authorized breaks.
Public Safety curtailsBy Gregg K. Kakesako
abuse, overtime costs
The state Public Safety Department has been able to hold down overtime costs at its eight prisons and won't have to ask for an emergency appropriation to pay adult correctional officers.
Overtime requested last year by the department amounted to more than $8 million, Public Safety director Ted Sakai told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
But Sakai said his agency in October, under direction from the committee, instituted a management accountability system which requires 16 program managers to submit monthly data reports designed to determine what factors lead to problems like overtime.
Working closely with United Public Workers -- the union that represents prison guards -- Sakai said he has been able to curtail abuses leading to overtime costs.
Actions included identifying guards who abused the system by calling in sick too often, and requiring them to produce a doctor's form or face disciplinary action.
UPW chief Gary Rodrigues said "overtime provisions are really stricter now."
Although conditions in Hawaii's prisons have improved, Rodrigues said the biggest problem still lies in the way the department and its internal affairs division investigate problems.
"It takes them too long," Rodrigues said after the committee hearing. The hearing was held to review the corrections department's progress in implementing changes following accusations of alleged abuse by prison guards.
Rodrigues told the committee he would give the department a "D-minus in investigation. They have failed."
He said too many abuse cases have taken years to be investigated by prison staff, causing morale and other problems.
However, Rodrigues rejected a suggestion by Judiciary Co-chair Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) that a citizen's oversight body similar to the Honolulu Police Commission --which investigates complaints against the police department -- be established.
"No," Rodrigues said. "You just need good investigators. You don't need that type of commission. You would be wasting a lot of time."
Drugs still remain a major problem in island prisons, Sakai said.
"Drugs are a very precious commodity (in prison)," he said. "We have to fight drugs like we do in the community," which means a more aggressive drug interdiction and rehabilitation and treatment program.
In addition, the department conducts random drug urinalyses of all prison guards and other staff members, and the sheriff's department conducted 60 searches last year using its special canine unit.
Concerns aired atBy Harold Morse
Ban fireworks except for religious, cultural and special events.
That was the consensus of police and fire officials of all four counties and others at a two-hour caucus attended by about 40 legislators yesterday at the state Capitol.
"I do support a full ban," said Kauai Fire Chief David Sproat. "We had a higher than normal use and yet our injury rate (no injuries), our fire rate, was down."
"We are stressing a total ban with religious and cultural exceptions," said Maui Deputy Fire Chief Clayton Ishikawa. "What we need to do is define what is religious and what is cultural."
Maui had little fireworks-related damage over New Year's but worries remain, he said. "Again, we support a total ban. We need to tighten the law."
Maui Assistant Police Chief Robert Tam Ho reported no major injuries, even though fireworks violations were numerous. "The whole island was in violation," he said. "We need some teeth in the law."
Russell Miyao of Big Island Fire Department said his county experienced few fireworks injuries over New Year's despite heavy fireworks use. "We only attributed about three to actual fireworks."
Oahu had numerous burn injuries, one fatality and one eye loss, said Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi. Of 345 New Year's fire alarms, 105 were fireworks-related, he said.
Honolulu police Maj. Forrest Broome, noting New Year's fireworks violations were numerous, likened enforcement efforts to a snowflake in a blizzard. "It's a mountain of fireworks out there. That's overwhelming."
Most violations are now classed as petty misdemeanors, he said. Broome also called for a tougher fireworks law.
The Fourth of July also has become dangerous, Leonardi said. "Historically, the Fourth of July has been a nothing for Honolulu." But now fireworks are plentiful and cheap and July 4 is a problem, he said, a sentiment echoed by neighbor islanders. "Now we find we have to gear up just as much for Fourth of July as we do for New Year's," Leonardi said.
It was pointed out that shippers can legally bring in aerial fireworks. "You just can't sell it (legally)," Leonardi said. "One company brought in 33,000 aerials, and there's no report what happened to the aerials," he said.
Under present law there's no way to stop such imports, Leonardi said. "So that's a big Catch-22 in the whole thing."
NO BABES IN TOYLAND:Gus Diamond favors a bill regulating body-piercing for minors.
The owner of Paragon Body Piercing said an ethical body piercer puts a limit on whom he punctures. It's not worth $60 a pierce when the client's parents try to "sue you for reckless endangerment," Diamond said.
Diamond gets at least two minors a day requesting body-piercing. He will not touch a minor unless there is consent from parents or legal guardians, he said.
The bill, which would make it unlawful for minors to get body-piercing unless a written consent from a parent or guardian is available, has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
TYKES ON BIKES:The House Transportation Committee passed a bill yesterday setting a $25 fine for bicycle riders younger than 18 who fail to wear a helmet.
House Bill 1763, which now goes before the House Judiciary Committee, is supported by the state departments of Health and Transportation, Honolulu police, the Brain Injury Survivors Association, the Hawaii Bicycling League and others.
"It is well proven that helmets can go a long way toward preventing traumatic brain injury," said Eve J. DeCoursey, executive director of the Hawaii Bicycling League.
House Transportation Chairman Kenneth Hiraki (D, Ala Moana) said a similar bill was introduced two years ago but never made it out of his committee.
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes