OHA benefits lawsuit a dangerous gamble
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has won a ruling in favor of its assistance to all Hawaiians.
A federal judge's ruling that supports the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' wide distribution of benefits might be just a temporary victory if the decision is appealed, which seems likely.
Legislation to counter claims that OHA is being indiscriminate in spreading assistance to too many Hawaiians -- instead of focusing only on those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood -- might be necessary to keep the agency's programs whole. Though the Akaka Bill addresses Hawaiian self-determination, another measure to clarify the breadth of beneficiaries would preclude attempts to limit OHA's services to the smaller population.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway dismissed a lawsuit filed by five men -- Virgil Day, Mel Ho'omanawanui, Josiah Ho'ohuli, Patrick Kahawaiola'a and Samuel Kealoha -- who alleged OHA had violated the federal Hawaii Admissions Act by using public land trust funds to benefit fellow Hawaiians of lesser blood quantum.
The men objected to OHA's spending to support the Akaka Bill, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. that represents Hawaiians in legal matters, a program for gifted and talented Hawaiian children and another to encourage social and economic self-sufficiency.
Mollway, however, ruled that the agency's trustees have broad discretion and are exercising "reasonable fiduciary judgment," recognizing that extending benefits casts a wider range for betterment of their constituents. Further, the judge said exclusionary methods could lead to "ridiculous results."
As an example, the judge said, if the 50 percent principle was applied for medical care benefits, how would they relate to a child whose father is 75 percent Hawaiian and its mother 25 percent Hawaiian? Father and child would qualify, but "would plaintiffs object to the benefits flowing to the Hawaiian mother?"
Why the plaintiffs are seeking exclusion isn't clear, but their challenge of OHA could result in dismantling of programs for Hawaiians across the board. In denying others access to benefits, they might find themselves denied, too.
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