Fixing the Bureau of Conveyances will take time and consideration
The Star-Bulletin editorial of April 4 ("A more efficient land bureau? Not this year")
might have left readers with an unclear picture of what the Legislature is suggesting to improve operations at the state Bureau of Conveyances. I would like to clarify our approach to the bureau's challenges, and why we have taken these actions.
We need to be clear that the suggestions made by the Joint Investigative Committee that examined bureau operations are separate and distinct from the bill that calls for further consideration of the bureau's plan to accept electronic filings.
The Joint Investigative Committee determined that there were serious fiscal, operational and personnel deficiencies at the bureau, and made a preliminary recommendation that a special master be appointed to oversee improvements. However, after consulting with the administration and in light of the fact that the newly appointed director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources appeared serious about making necessary improvements, we determined that a compromise solution would serve the bureau's needs.
Our current recommendations call for the DLNR to plan for and implement specific changes to make the bureau more effective and efficient in meeting its goals, and provide the public with assurances that our title to property is protected. While the Legislature will retain general oversight and review the bureau's progress, the core responsibilities fall to the DLNR.
At the same time, the Legislative Reference Bureau will examine key questions relating to the bureau's administrative assignment, the feasibility of combining the Land Court and regular system into a unified recording system, and the appropriateness of privatizing bureau functions. These recommendations were continually raised by stakeholders, and these feasibility and implementation models will help facilitate discussions about the bureau's future.
The legislation the editorial refers to, HB 2302 HD2 SD2, is different; it calls on the DLNR to initiate the planning and design of a new electronic filing system, and report to the Legislature before the start of the 2009 legislative session. The report should detail the timeline and requirements for launching an electronic filing system by July 1, 2009.
These requirements are reasonable, particularly in light of past problems the bureau has experienced with its computer system. Our investigative committee found that the bureau was forced to rely on an outside vendor to make its online data system work as intended, but did not adequately document changes that were made to the system. In essence, the bureau exposed its computer network to an unknown, undocumented "fix" provided by an outside contractor working without specifications, oversight or a formal contract. Given that past practice, it would best serve the public to require the bureau to follow a more structured system in the future.
In addition, the state Judiciary, which oversees the Land Court, expressed concerns with the pace of the changes proposed by the DLNR. Placing the electronic system on a more reasonable schedule helps address those concerns.
Any system developed under HB 2302 could be in place in just over a year. As Sen. Roz Baker and Sen. Russell Kokubun, the chairs of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, respectively, have made clear, the bill allows the DLNR and bureau to proceed with necessary planning to ensure that the system that is finally implemented serves our community's needs. The DLNR and the bureau will play key roles in determining our next steps. Nowhere is it evident that the Legislature is trying to impede the bureau's progress.
While we all want improvements to the bureau to be made quickly, and automation may be one of the answers, there is still much work to be done to instill confidence in any future electronic filing system. The repository of all primary information relating to the ownership of land in Hawaii is far too important to allow for multiple attempts to get the system right. I believe the DLNR, the Bureau of Conveyances and the Legislature share a common goal: securing and ensuring safe, reliable title to our property. Our efforts at improvement need to hit a bulls-eye the first time. Considering what is at stake, the investment of time in careful planning is surely warranted.
Sen. Jill Tokuda is co-chairwoman of the Joint Investigative Committee.