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Thursday, February 1, 2001

OHA logo

OHA looks at
charging Hawaii
visitors a user fee

The organization may
hire attorneys to search out
whether the action is legal

By Pat Omandam

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is researching whether it could charge entrance and departure fees to Hawaii visitors.

"We're looking at user fees for all the tourists because they removed our natural beauty or took away from us people of Hawaii our beaches, our sands, all of that," said Colette Machado, chairwoman of OHA's Legislative and Government Affairs Committee.

OHA, facing legal challenges this spring to its constitutionality and state funding, is searching for a new source of income for Hawaiians.

The committee yesterday asked administrators to hire an attorney or law firm to research whether OHA can charge the user fees, possibly with airport landing fees or the hotel room tax.

While there are many legal and legislative hurdles to clear before the idea comes up for approval by the board, trustees say it is worth pursuing.

The committee supported the proposal by trustee Charles Ota. The income raised would help the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Unlike Alaskan natives who control millions of acres of lands that contain untapped natural resources, Ota said in a memorandum to Machado, the only viable resources available to Hawaiians are the islands' beaches, most of which have been exploited by the state and the tourism industry since the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy.

Ota said the state and tourist industry make millions of dollars from the hotel room tax and OHA or a Hawaiian nation has a right to share in that revenue.

Every Pacific Rim nation has some form of fee affecting visitors, added Ota, who cited Japan's entrance fee of $20 and its departure fee of $15, as well as Korea's entrance fee of $10 and its departure fee of $8.

"With the Legislature's concurrence OHA may overcome federal objections to the sharing of airlines landing fees with respect to ceded lands use at the airport," Ota wrote.

"Or OHA may be allotted, as is general practice, the entry and departure fees charged to passengers worldwide for separate landing fee services. Such fees would be for greetings activities and a send-off aloha," said Ota, who serves as OHA's first non-Hawaiian trustee.

While the idea may sound good, OHA administrators said many issues must be resolved to make it work. For one, OHA doesn't have the authority to impose any tax or levy. Also, OHA's board attorney has said federal law precludes the imposition of a "head tax," said OHA's deputy administrator, Ronald B. Mun.

Mun, in a Jan. 26 memo to Ota, said Ota's idea is laudable but that these major legal issues must be addressed. Mun recommended hiring an attorney or law firm well versed in constitutional law, federal-state relations and interstate commerce to look at the proposal.

OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said she hasn't been briefed on the idea but that Ota raised it at an earlier board meeting.

Machado said she's waiting for staff to provide her with the costs of a legal consultant before she asks for the item to be placed on the agenda of the full board.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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