Monday, February 2, 1998

Aviation agreement
is good news for Hawaii

MAKING Hawaii more attractive to foreign investors by changing state tax and regulatory laws can be useful in the struggle to stimulate the stagnant economy. But Hawaii's economic fate is tied to factors beyond its control. Even the wisest policies may come to naught if conditions abroad are unfavorable. Even misguided policies may fail to bring disaster if those conditions are favorable.

The most recent example is the agreement between the United States and Japan to sharply increase commercial flights between the two countries. That is very good news for Hawaii, because the state is expected to receive more flights from Japan through All Nippon Airways. ANA has expressed interest in adding Tokyo-Honolulu and Osaka-Honolulu flights. In addition, Japan Airlines, which already has about 70 flights a week to Hawaii, plans to operate a service from Hiroshima at least once a week when the agreement is signed.

Frequent airline service is vital for tourism. With Japan a major market for Hawaii's visitor industry, opening the door to additional flights is an unqualified plus. Governor Cayetano, who tried to encourage more flights by declaring a moratorium on airline landing fees, hailed the agreement as "a large step toward opening the U.S.-Japan aviation market."

For decades Japan-Hawaii flights have been held hostage during the U.S.-Japan aviation negotiations. Washington has restricted Japanese flights to the islands in order to obtain leverage for its efforts to win approval for more flights to Japan by U.S. airlines. Three years ago the launching of Tokyo-Kona flights was delayed as a result of the negotiations.

This issue has been fought out between the two national governments and has been beyond Hawaii's control, although the Hawaii congressional delegation has argued the state's case in Washington. At long last a breakthrough has been achieved, to Hawaii's benefit.

With Japan also experiencing a stagnant economy and with the exchange value of the yen down, it would be unrealistic to expect a sharp increase in the Japanese visitor count as a result of the new aviation agreement. But it should help.

Sex offenders

WHEN a violent sex offender completes his prison sentence, he must be released, even though he may still pose a threat to the community. This is a real problem in Hawaii. At least 39 violent sex offenders are scheduled for release here in the next few years.

A bill before the Legislature would deal with the problem by establishing a civil commitment procedure to keep the offenders in the state hospital after they have completed their sentences. It seems like a sensible way to protect the community. Officials say there are 588 sex offenders now in state prisons.

A survey found that a third of those convicted since 1988 of more than two sex crimes returned to prison, whether or not they had received treatment. However, only one in 100 returned to prison after a first offense after completing sex-offender treatment. Public Safety Director Keith Kaneshiro says repeat sex offenders "are not amenable to treatment."

State Health Director Lawrence Miike noted that the state hospital does not have secure facilities for long-term confinement. Kaneshiro said facilities for sex offenders may be included in the new state prison proposed by the administration for Kau on the Big Island.

A similar commitment law in Kansas was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which suggests that such legislation, if carefully drafted, could pass constitutional muster. Hospital commitments upon completion of prison sentences would be a drastic step that should be taken only after thorough observation and when the need is clear. But the community should not be forced to accept people who are too dangerous to be released.

Kealoha's lesson

GABRIEL Kealoha celebrated two momentous occasions yesterday -- turning 19 years of age, and being released from the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility after serving a 291-day sentence for the 1996 death of off-duty police Sgt. Arthur Miller.

Kealoha's attorney says that the young man has learned an indelible lesson from his incarceration, regrets his role in the tragedy and will now concentrate on turning his life around. Those were exactly the hopes of youth facility administrators and Family Court Judge Darryl Choy when he denied Kealoha's request for early release last year.

Kealoha was convicted of manslaughter after being involved in an Oct. 27, 1996, tailgating incident and subsequent shoving match with Miller on the H-1 freeway viaduct. Miller fell to his death from the viaduct. The case received widespread attention because the defendant claimed to have been acting in self-defense and the victim was determined to have been drunk. However, Kealoha had a "dark side" that needed to be dealt with, according to Choy.

Kealoha was sentenced to the youth correctional facility in Kailua until his 19th birthday on Feb. 1. John Shinkawa, facility administrator, said Kealoha went through the Family Peace Center's anger-management program several times. "We did the best we could for him," Shinkawa told a Star-Bulletin reporter last week. "As far as the anger management program, the proof is really in the pudding, because we can provide it but it's still up to the individual."

Yes, it is all up to Kealoha now. He plans to enroll at the University of Hawaii and stabilize his life with higher education, now that his judicial "lesson" behind bars is officially over.

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