Changed OHA bill prompts scrutiny
Three state House committees are moving a new version of the $200 million settlement between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for a vote next week.
However, all the changes are prompting Senate leaders to call for another round of public hearings on the bill.
"This is very different from the first bill that was put forth," said Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee. "Now we have a new bill on the table, and we are going to encourage them (OHA and the administration) to go back out to the beneficiaries and get their input on this. A new meeting would be essential to getting their input."
The new version of House Bill 266 was not ready for public inspection, but Rep. Ken Ito, chairman of the Water, Land Use and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said the bill does not change the amount of money or the amount of land that would be given to OHA.
But it leaves at issue the question of the state's liability to civil action stemming from the settlement.
The state Constitution does not allow the state to be sued unless it is specially allowed or immunity is waived.
Added to the bill is a clause saying any such waiver is "withdrawn."
The settlement was announced in January by Gov. Linda Lingle and OHA.
Lingle said the agreement resolved any claims or disputes going back to 1978, when OHA was created. "There can never be a suit in the future on any of those claims," Lingle said.
The issue of native Hawaiians' right to sue regarding land claims has been controversial. In community meetings around the state regarding the settlement, native Hawaiians have feared that the settlement would stop their right to sue for past damages.
Haunani Apoliona, OHA chairwoman, said she thought the new bill was a good one.
"It is an improved product, and we are optimistic about its passage," she said.
Ito said that the original settlement had said that OHA would get $15.1 million a year but that now the Legislature would be required to determine the appropriate dollar amount, but not less than what had been previously approved.
House leaders said yesterday that the new bill was worked out with the concurrence of both OHA and the state. The bill was approved by Ito's committee along with Judiciary and Finance.
Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Height-Punchbowl) was the only representative to vote against the bill.
The state and OHA have been locked in a 25-year dispute regarding the amount of ceded or crown land payments owed to OHA. The state Constitution requires that OHA is to share in the money made from the ceded lands.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
» House Bill 266 and the Native Hawaiians' Right to Sue Law do not allow the Office of Hawaiian Affairs or anyone else to sue for OHA's pro-rata share of the public land trust revenues. A Page A5 article yesterday incorrectly paraphrased OHA attorney William Meheula as saying that the law establishing OHA includes a waiver that allows lawsuits and that the new bill would allow those lawsuits to go forward.