Bill would limit amount of
money paid to board members
of charitable trusts
By Craig Gima
Trustees of the Bishop Estate and other charitable trusts would be limited to compensation of not more than the salary of the chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court under a bill heard today in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The chief justice makes $94,780 a year. In the last few years, Bishop Estate trustees received more than $800,000 annually in compensation.
Critics of the Bishop Estate told senators that excessive compensation is the genesis of many of the estate's problems.
But opponents of the cap and other related bills said the state is trying to interfere with a sacred will.
"I think there's an agenda to reform or remake this trust according to somebody else's vision and values, and that person obviously is not the founder of the trust," Bishop Estate spokesman Kekoa Paulsen said today.
In written testimony, Beadie Kanahele Dawson, of Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi, told the committee, "Eliminate the fat commissions and you eliminate much of the court battles, greed, self-interest, and future politically connected, unqualified trustees."
Another bill before the committee would impose a five-year renewable term limit on trustees, allow a designated group of beneficiaries to sue trustees and receive attorneys' fees if they win, and prohibit public officers and employees except probate judges from appointing trustees of a charitable trust.
James Ahloy, a trustee for the Lunalilo Trust, opposed the measure because it would also affect the selection process for the estate that supports the Lunalilo Home.
"The precedent set by changing King Lunalilo's will may lead to other changes of negative results for Lunalilo Home," he told the committee.
Stacy Rezentes, an attorney for the Bishop Estate, said, "The independence of the justices is never questioned in the numerous occasions when KSBE fails to prevail, such as in the single-family mandatory fee conversion appeal."
The Bishop Estate also argued against the five-year renewable term limit on trustees, saying it would hamper long-range planning and suggested the Legislature look instead at term limits on Supreme Court justices.
Dawson supports the term limit because it would make it easier to remove a trustee.
Dawson said the trustee compensation bill passed last year, which limited compensation to a "reasonable" standard, was "only half a loaf."
She noted that the state must still go through a potentially costly court fight to limit compensation.
She said the state has already spent millions of dollars in the effort to remove the Bishop Estate trustees.
"It's time to bite the bullet and say we've spent too much money on this," she said.
Bills would changeBy Pat Omandam
election process for OHA,
Members of the Hawaiian Homes Commission would be elected instead of appointed, and candidates to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board would face a primary election, under bills pending before a state Senate committee.
The Senate Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs Committee yesterday heard mostly favorable testimony on both measures but deferred decision-making until Friday.
Department of Hawaiian Homes Lands Deputy Director Jobie M.K.M. Yamaguchi told committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) the department supports the idea of an elected commission but that the nine-member commission has not taken a position on it.
Yamaguchi said the department is open to ways to improve administration and management of the federally mandated program to put native Hawaiians on homesteads. The department held statewide forums with Hawaiian groups last year and there was overwhelming support for an elected commission, she said.
The commission has been an appointed body since Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1920.
State elections officials testified the cost of holding an election for the commission is $197,229. And it raised concerns people may get confused about the election races between the commission and OHA, another nine-member board.
Nevertheless, the idea is supported by the people who live on homesteads. Anthony H. Sang, chairman of the State Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, said the group has pushed for this initiative since 1993.
They see it as a step toward self-determination, Sang said.
Many Hawaiian groups say an OHA primary election is needed because the current process is archaic, grossly unfair and problematic for those registered to vote in OHA elections.
Senate Bill 556 would provide for OHA special elections in conjunction with the state primary and general election races. The agency, created in 1980 for the betterment of native Hawaiians, now holds special elections on Nov. 3 for half of its nine-member board every two years.
Mel Kalahiki, president of the Council of Hawaiian Organizations, said it was extremely difficult last November to make educated choices when faced with learning viewpoints of the 38 candidates who ran for five OHA seats.
Keawe Vredenburg, president of the Hawaiian Political Action Committee, added incumbents are given an enormous advantage when there is no primary because of their name recognition.
"With two candidates for an office, it now becomes possible to invest the time necessary to intelligently compare the qualifications," Vredenburg said in written testimony.
Instead of a primary election, Hawaiian activist Lela Hubbard suggested Senate Bill 556 be gutted and replaced with legislation that allows people only to vote in at-large trustee races and for the race on their respective island.
Current law allows Hawaiians to vote for OHA races on islands they do not reside on, forcing neighbor island candidates to campaign statewide rather than on their respective islands.
Legislature mayBy Craig Gima
look at controversial
Opponents of legalized gambling expect a bill to be aired in a committee hearing this session.
Dorothy Bobilin, state chairwoman of the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said: "It's not just the economy in a hole; it's all the nonprofit organizations too, and so they see 'gee this is a way for a quick fix for us' and we haven't done a good job of pointing out the problems that come with it."
Bobilin said there are at least 20 gambling-related bills before the Legislature this session. Many of the bills would set aside some of the revenues from gambling for scholarships, anti-spouse abuse programs and free preschools.
Besides ideas considered in the past like shipboard gambling and horse-racing, a new twist this year involves bills to legalize casino gaming at a Hawaiian theme-park in Kapolei.
The author of one of the bills, former House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Wailuku) said studies have shown Hawaii needs more visitor attractions, like a theme park to celebrate the culture and history of Hawaii.
"But nobody can afford to build a theme park by itself," Souki said.
Souki said gambling would help the state with its budget problems and would promote economic development, but he does not think it has much chance of passage.
"I think it's just something for them to think about. If I couldn't even pass gambling legislation as speaker, it's a little more difficult as speaker emeritus," he added.
In the Senate, Sen. Whitney Anderson (R, Kailua) is pushing the theme-park idea with a referendum on gambling in the general election in the year 2000. The referendum would not be binding, and gambling would still have to be approved by the Legislature.
"Will they vote the way the people want? Will they vote for it or against it? That's how the people will have input," Anderson said.
Anderson said part of the money earned from gambling could be set aside for programs to help compulsive gamblers.
"There's no way you're going to stop it. I think the state should look at it. We should be the ones to make sure it's going to be done right if we're going to have it," he added.
Bobilin is also concerned about bills that would not directly legalize gambling, but would allow cockfighting.
A bill with the title "Relating to Diversified Agricultural Development" would allow those who raise game birds to fight the animals to determine the skill level of the birds and determine their market value.
House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo), said he has introduced bills for shipboard gambling and casino gambling, but only for discussion.
He said he would not put the House through the ordeal of voting on a gambling measure unless a majority supported it.
Senate Judiciary Co-Chairmen Matt Matsunaga and Avery Chumbley said they are not likely to hold a hearing on gambling, but did not absolutely rule out the possibility.