Friday, January 29, 1999

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House defers bill on
capping annual ceded
land payments

By Pat Omandam


Opponents of a bill that caps annual ceded land payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for another two years say the measure would usurp any negotiated settlement reached between OHA and the state.

Proponents, however, insist House Bill 55 would support negotiations over past due revenue from ceded lands.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature State Deputy Attorney General Charleen M. Aina told lawmakers yesterday the bill provides "a safety net for negotiations" if discussions extend into the next fiscal year. She added the $15.1 million cap is not unreasonable, since it is about what the state paid OHA in 1996.

The House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee discussed the measure for about an hour yesterday, with most testifiers opposing it for similar reasons. The committee later deferred the bill in light of the testimony.

OHA Vice Chairwoman Hannah K. Springer told lawmakers the agency accepted the cap in 1997 because of the sour state economy at that time and in hopes the state would pay it the full 20 percent from the public land trust once the $15.1 million ceiling expired on June 30 of this year.

Springer and others questioned such a restriction today, especially when the state is expecting a $150 million budget surplus. Furthermore, the bill potentially subverts the on-going negotiations, she said.

"We are negotiating in good faith, but HB 55 imposes an alternative that may be seen as a reason to derail on-going negotiations," Springer said.

On Dec. 30, OHA's attorney in the negotiations asked the Hawaii Supreme Court for another 60 days to hammer out a settlement after a Dec. 1 deadline by the high court expired. Although both sides now meet weekly, the justices -- who heard oral arguments on the state's appeal of former Circuit Court Judge Daniel Heely's 1996 ruling -- warned any decision it renders would be risky to the parties.

During discussion, lawmakers also questioned other aspects of the cap law, known as Act 329 of 1997. State Rep. Sol Kahoohalahala (D, Lanai City) asked how the state and OHA could resolve what revenue is owed to OHA if the ceded land inventory required as part of the law was not completed.

OHA and the state could not agree on the scope of the inventory, prompting OHA not to pay its required $500,000 in matching funds to do the work.

"An inventory would help answer questions regarding the bills before us now," Kahoohalahala said.

Attorney Jon Van Dyke, when questioned by state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua), said House Bill 55 could usurp the negotiations because it would supersede any settlement agreement reached during the next two years. Van Dyke estimates OHA's 20 percent share of public land trust revenue is at least $30 million -- or double what the cap would impose.

January '97 OHA
Ceded Lands Ruling

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