IN AND AROUND THE CAPITOL
Rodrigues: Is sending
inmates to mainland illegal?
The union leader said if mainland
guards are paid less than in isles,
it might violate state law
Shipboard gamblingBy Gregg K. Kakesako
West Maui alternate highway
State Attorney General Earl Anzai has been asked to determine if the operator of a private mainland prison, where 1,200 Hawaii inmates are housed, is breaking state law by not paying guards there wages comparable to that paid Hawaii guards.
The question was raised late yesterday by United Public Workers head Gary Rodrigues. UPW's 12,000 members include state prison guards.
Rodrigues told reporters today the only reason he raised the issue is because Gov. Ben Cayetano said it's cheaper to have the private sector build and run a prison.
"He says it's cheaper on the mainland. It's cheaper if you privatize. Of course, it's cheaper if you don't comply with the law," he said.
Rodrigues said he doesn't see how it can be cheaper for a private company, which has to show a profit, to run a prison. He said he is waiting for Cayetano to reveal how he came up with his figures.
Rodrigues has said that the UPW is considering legal action if it can determine that Corrections Corporation of America -- which runs prisons in Minnesota, Tennessee and Oklahoma that house Hawaii inmates -- is not paying wages comparable to those in Hawaii.
Rodrigues said that a single mainland employee not paid Hawaii wages would provide the basis for a class action lawsuit.
State public safety director Ted Sakai told Senate lawmakers today that he has asked Anzai to look into the matter.
On the table this morning before the Senate Judiciary and Senate Government Operations committees was legislation that would allow the state to enter into contracts with the private sector to operate and staff prison facilities.
Currently, the state has authority to allow a private developer to only build a new prison, not operate it.
The Judiciary Committee postponed making a decision on the bill until Friday. The Government Operations Committee has not yet scheduled a decision-making meeting.
Cayetano has said the state needs a 2,300-bed medium-security prison here or on the mainland because current facilities are overcrowded. The governor said it would be too costly for the state to build the facility here because it would drain funds from other badly-needed state programs.
Cayetano also is considering the possibility of a private developer building a prison on the mainland.
In opposing the administration's proposal to privatize a new prison, Rodrigues, in written testimony, said, such a facility will not improve public safety; cannot be trusted because private operations are run "purely on a profit margin;" will not provide the same standard of care and treatment given to inmates housed in state facilities; will not save money; and will foster corruption.
Sakai said that a key to holding down costs is careful structuring of the bids authorizing construction and operation of a new prison and subsequent contracts.
"We are going to have to write a tight contract and specify certain costs," Sakai told senators.
In addition, the state would hire monitors to work in the new prison and keep tab on the operations. Also opposing attempts to privatize prison operations was the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Community Alliance on Prison. Supporting the move was the Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference and the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board.
Foes fire at shipboardBy Pat Omandam
A proposal to allow shipboard gambling in Hawaiian waters surfaced today in the House Tourism Committee, but it appears the measure will be sunk again.
All but three of the two dozen people who testified on House Bill 2904 this morning opposed the idea, saying shipboard gambling will bring in more social ills than its suggested economic benefits.
Dorothy M. Bobilin, state president of the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, a broad-based grass-roots coalition, told lawmakers that there are no good reasons to legalize shipboard casinos.
States that have approved these "cruises to nowhere" have seen an increase in crime and corruption, as well as in gambling addiction, she said.
"This bill would increase gambling addiction by expanding accessibility to the most addictive, fast-paced types of wagering, and according to some legal authorities, most state governments are currently powerless to stop it," Bobilin said.
Even the president of Oahu's largest tour boat operation said gambling is not what Hawaii needs to improve the economy.
Ronald D. Howard, president of Paradise Cruises, told lawmakers his company of 400-plus employees would be forced out of business by a shipboard gambling operator, who would be able to provide free or subsidized cruises.
What is needed by lawmakers, Howard said, are efforts to revitalize Hawaii's tourism infrastructure, especially in Waikiki.
But gaming proponents testified otherwise. Jason M. Tabarejo, president of Hawaii Gaming Advocates Inc., said Hawaii would benefit enormously from gambling, with proper controls and regulation. Moreover, he said, a vast majority of Hawaii residents now accept "gaming" as a form of entertainment.
Tabarejo said U.S. consumers spent $54.3 billion on legal gaming in 1998, compared to $40.1 billion on movie tickets, spectator sports, cruise ships, theme parks and recorded music that year.
He acknowledged gambling is not the "silver bullet or panacea" for the state's depressed economy, but said that with the right economic development plan, it can help revitalize the economy.
"Gaming has a proven track record, and is widely acceptable by Americans, as well as Asian countries," Tabarejo said.
"The founding fathers of the United States used lotteries and other forms of gaming to fund various programs. There is no doubt that if the founding fathers were alive and a member of this Legislature, they will indeed vote in favor of House Bill 2904," he said.
The House committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Friday.
If approved, the measure would face two more House panels before it can go to the full House floor for debate. The bill was introduced by state Rep. Jerry Chang (D, Hilo), chairman of the Tourism Committee.
West Maui may getAssociated Press
The House Transportation Committee approved a bill yesterday to spend $200,000 to study the feasibility of building an alternate highway for west Maui.
The federal government will provide matching dollars if state funding is approved.
West Maui residents told state officials last week that blockages frustrate tourists and residents and hurt the economy.
Two brush fires and several major traffic accidents last year blocked the Honoapiilani Highway between Central and West Maui for as long as 12 hours.
TAKE A CHANCE:A controversial proposal to allow shipboard casinos to operate in Hawaiian waters as an eight-year economic experiment comes up today in a public hearing before the House Tourism Committee.
The shipboard gambling proposal was introduced without success several times in the mid-1990s by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Moanalua Valley-Aiea-Pearlridge). The proposal surfaced this year in the House, where it was introduced by Rep. Jerry Chang (D, South Hilo), chairman of the Tourism Committee.
In the past, law enforcement and religious groups have opposed gambling measures, saying gambling attracts organized crime and creates family and social problems. But more recently some of the politically powerful public employee unions have supported gambling measures to give the state more money to pay their members and prevent layoffs.
TAX EXEMPT:Foreign diplomats and consular officials in Hawaii would be exempt from the state's general excise tax and transient accommodations tax, based on a bill now before the state Senate.
But the one state representative who opposed the measure said supporting the idea was akin to "fornicating the democracy."
House Bill 1691 House Draft 1, which passed the House yesterday, fulfills U.S. treaty obligations by giving an exemption from state taxes to foreign officials and consular officials who are holding cards issued by the U.S. Department of State. The waiver of Hawaii taxes includes the use of property, services or contracting imported by these officials.
State Rep. Michael Kahikina (D, Nanakuli) said he finds it ironic that the U.S. and the state would move quickly to fulfill international obligations, but not when it comes to native Hawaiians.
Part of the state's Admission Act of 1959 calls on the state and United States to help better the conditions of Hawaiians, he said.
"I find it really, really ironic that this body would play to the (U.S.) Constitution only when it matters toward meaningful events ... But when we talk about the native Hawaiians and we identify the U.S. obligation (to them), it seems like this body pays 'deaf ears' to that," he said.
From staff and wire reports
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Hawaii Revised Statutes