Friday, July 1, 2005


Vetoed bill would
handcuff Gov. Lingle


Gov. Lingle has vetoed a bill that would block new rules aimed at reforming the workers compensation system.

THIS year's Legislature passed a bill aimed at thwarting the Lingle administration's attempt to improve Hawaii's workers compensation rules within the parameters of state law. Legislators approved a bill aimed at blocking those changes and keeping the state's workers compensation system among the worst in the country. The governor's veto of the obstructionist legislation should be upheld.

The Legislature has refused to reform Hawaii's workers comp system in the last three sessions, content with the enormous cost of doing business in the state. Reforms approved last year by California legislators that are expected to result in savings of $3.1 billion a year have been rejected in Hawaii.

Gov. Lingle signed administrative rule changes earlier this year that include adoption of parts of the California reform measure that don't require legislation. The governor estimates the rule changes would save businesses $100 million a year.

The Legislature then passed a bill that would block the rule changes and restore the Labor Department's rule-making authority in 2007, the year after Lingle is to finish her first term as governor. (The legislation initially had a sunset date of 2011, but the authors apparently didn't want to concede her re-election; if she is re-elected, the stranglehold can always be extended.)

Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-Manoa, said Lingle overstepped her authority in approving the new rules. "Even if I agreed with the rules," Caldwell said, "I think, as a legislator, we can't stand and allow the executive branch to intrude onto the territory of the legislative branch and legislate through rule making, and she's definitely doing that here."

Poppycock. If Lingle were exceeding the limits of rule making, she could be challenged in court. In trying to change the law to reduce the administration's authority, legislators are admitting that the governor's rule making was in compliance with the present law.


Keep health services
under state control


The chief of the state's adult mental health division has decided not to resign after receiving support from Gov. Lingle.

AN administrative breakdown in the state Department of Health appears to have been avoided by the reversal of the adult mental health division chief's decision to resign. Gov. Lingle and other state officials have persuaded Thomas Hester to remain on the job and should insist that he play a key role in his division's effort to comply with a federal court decree.

Lester announced last week that he would resign because he had been told he would be denied participation in completing a plan to comply with federal standards for providing residents mental health services. Hester said he was advised of his move to the sidelines following a June 9 meeting of federal court, U.S. Justice Department and state health officials.

The cockamamie idea that the head of adult mental health services be denied a seat at the table in determining his division's policy appears to be a sign of bullish federal monitoring. The episode follows 14 years of court supervision stemming from the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department.

During those years, the state tripled its budget to operate the Hawaii State Hospital for the institutionalized mentally ill, coming into compliance with federal standards last December. However, the number of people receiving services away from the hospital doubled to more than 9,000, and U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered court supervision of those services to continue over the next year under federal Magistrate Kevin Chang.

Hester designed the court-ordered plan of services for the nonhospitalized mentally ill and had completed 74 of 88 tasks outlined in it when he was told of his imminent benching. A Justice Department attorney had complained that the state had fallen behind scheduled in implementing the plan, but that should not have called for the drastic action of ousting the division chief from the operating room.

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