Security of land title records concerns senators
They approve a probe of charges that state workers got too cozy with title companies
State Senate leaders are moving ahead with a special investigative committee to examine the Bureau of Conveyances, which is already the subject of an attorney general's criminal investigation and an Ethics Commission probe.
The Senate gave initial approval to a resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 226, creating a special House-Senate investigative committee to investigate the fiscal and personnel management of the bureau.
DEADLINE LOOMS FOR LEGISLATURE
As the Legislature moves into its final four days, House and Senate members have still not made final decisions on issues ranging from the state budget and taxes to new programs to support the state economy.
But lawmakers are working on a way to save the low-income Kukui Gardens housing project and also opening a new special investigation into problems at the state Bureau of Conveyances.
Senators had said that while conducting a hearing into the nomination of Peter Young to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees the bureau, they learned of concerns that land title information and records were not secure.
"The Legislature is highly concerned with the security of recorded documents, private computer access and potential tampering of the documents as well as with the overall personnel and fiscal management," the resolution stated.
Sen. Russell Kokubun introduced the resolution. He is chairman of the Water, Lands Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, which rejected Young's nomination and held hearings on the operation of the bureau.
Carl Watanabe, registrar of the bureau, declined to comment on the legislative investigation and referred questions to his attorney, Howard Luke, who did not return calls asking for comment.
Kokubun (D, Hilo-Naalehu) said his hearing, including executive sessions with people investigating the bureau for the attorney general and the Ethics Commission, convinced him of the need for more information.
"It became evident that this is a much bigger web, and we need to take the effort to find out more about it," Kokubun said.
The committee will have the power to subpoena witnesses, hire attorneys and staff, and take testimony under oath.
Kokubun said he was not sure if the committee's work would lead to new legislation, and described the work as "fact-finding."
"We feel there are enough questions about the security of our data at the repository of the bureau, and that is why it is important for us to understand it fully," he said.
After a complaint last year, Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Mollway wrote a letter to the bureau in December, telling workers there to stop accepting gift baskets of food or other items from companies that use the bureau's services.
The resolution also noted that the bureau has had an information-sharing agreement with private title companies and "allegations of preferential treatment among certain private title companies."