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Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Legislators should
defy demands of unions

The issue: Public workers have
demanded that the Legislature
reject health insurance reforms
proposed by the governor.

A letter from the HSTA to every member of the Legislature over the weekend borders on the arrogant in tone and the dictatorial in tactics as the teachers threatened dire political consequences if they don't get their way in a quarrel over health insurance. Legislators, individually and collectively, should stand up to the union and vote for the reform bill proposed by Gov. Benjamin Cayetano.

At present, the union's health insurance is heavily subsidized by the state, meaning the taxpayers. The governor has asserted that the proposed reform bill, to be voted on shortly, would save the taxpayers $65 million by 2004 and more after that. In addition, the provisions of the bill favor more medical care for older workers and retirees, those most likely in need of medical care.

Since the teachers have just won a 16 percent pay increase, asking them to help pay for their medical care seems reasonable while thundering at the Legislature appears irrational. Someplace along the line, the taxpayers need to be considered.

More objectionable than HSTA's demands are its tactics. After a conference committee voted the bill out on Friday, the HSTA hastily composed a windy letter addressed to each member of the Legislature. It is filled with words, phrases, and even sentences in capital letters, which is the printed form of shouting.

In insisting that the Legislature overturn the conference committee's decision to pass the bill, the HSTA said: "This must be done or else, for those who pass this bill this session will be attacked in this session and be remembered in the Election Year 2002."


The faculty union was equally opposed to the bill but more respectful in its tone. In a letter from John Radcliffe, the associate executive director, he said: "This bill might curry favor with those who wrongly but persistently believe that public employees are overpaid, over benefited, but underworked slugs and drones, beyond that, I fail to see a benefit to anyone."

HGEA's Russell Ogata argued: "This is one of the most anti-worker measures to be considered for passage by any legislature." He concluded: "We strongly recommend the Legislature defer action on this legislation until the issues...can be addressed."

Despite this intense lobbying by the unions, the governor and the conference committee appear to have done the right thing in proposing and passing this health care reform. The Legislature should stand by them.

Navy should cease
shelling of Vieques

The issue: The Navy has resumed
bombing exercises on the Puerto
Rican island of Vieques without
waiting for a review of a health study.

PROTESTS over the Navy's training activities on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques may ring familiar to Hawaii residents. Similar protests led to a halt of bombing on Kahoolawe and currently seek to stop Army training with live ammunition in the Makua Valley on Leeward Oahu. However, the Navy's handling of the controversy in Puerto Rico has been much worse, and its decision to resume bombing is deplorable. Shelling should stop until a completion of the review of a health study and of a referendum that the Navy is committed to honor.

The Navy stopped shelling the unoccupied island of Kahoolawe more than a decade ago and Congress made a commitment to clear unexploded ordnance from the island. In Makua Valley, the Army suspended training in 1998 after several wildfires were started by munitions, then met with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to protect endangered plants and wildlife. A lawsuit filed by Malama Makua, a Leeward activist group, has resulted in an indefinite halt to live ammunition in the valley. The disagreement, although intense, appears headed to a respectful resolution.

The Navy's handling of the controversy on Vieques, barely larger than Kahoolawe but with 9,400 residents, has been anything but respectful. Training with live ammunition on Vieques was stopped in April 1999 after a bomb dropped by a Marine Corps fighter plane accidentally killed a civilian guard. The Navy pledged to abandon Vieques by May 2003 if residents expressed that wish in a referendum, scheduled for November of this year.

The Navy in January 2000 made an agreement with Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello to resume firing drills, using dummy ammunition, in exchange for $40 million in aid to the island and an additional $50 million should residents vote in the referendum to allow the Navy to remain. The deal triggered protests by thousands of Puerto Ricans. Since then, a study found that Vieques has a large number of people with symptoms of an unusual heart disorder associated with exposure to loud noises.

Richard Danzig, former secretary of the Navy, called in January for continued suspension of the shelling until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could review the health study. In defiance of Danzig's assurance, Navy bombing resumed on Saturday.

Access to areas for training with live ammunition is a legitimate need of the American military, sometimes despite local sentiment. Military leaders in Hawaii should look to the Navy in Puerto Rico as an example of how not to handle this delicate issue.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748; jflanagan@starbulletin.com
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

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