Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Focus on Hawaiian
issues: Tuition,
land, payments

By Pat Omandam


Legislature '99 A bill that effectively grants University of Hawaii tuition waivers to native Hawaiian students is now one committee vote away from votes before the full House and Senate.

The measure -- Senate Bill 456, SD2 -- would appropriate a still-undetermined amount of money to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to offset waivers given by the semi-autonomous agency.

It was among a handful of bills on Hawaiian issues passed yesterday by the House Judiciary Committee, despite news this week that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of OHA special elections.

Also passed was legislation that sets up a six-member joint committee to look at all standing issues related to the public trust lands, as well as require the state auditor to complete a comprehensive inventory of the ceded lands.

Coincidentally, that bill will serve as a vehicle for lawmakers to discuss any proposed settlement between the state and OHA over past-due revenues for use of certain ceded lands. No agreement has been reached in nearly a year of negotiations.

House Judiciary Chairman Paul T. Oshiro (D, Ewa Beach) said the measure -- Senate Bill 1635, SD2, HD1 -- would incorporate changes favored by the House that call for a six-member committee to study all issues surrounding the public land trust. The Senate president, House speaker, governor and Hawaii Supreme Court will each appoint one member to the committee; OHA will choose two.

A $75,000 appropriation would fund the committee's work.

Equally important, the measure authorizes the auditor to inventory and map all 1.8 million acres of public lands from the time of Hawaii's annexation in 1898, something Rep. Sol Kahoohalahala (D, Lanai City) believes is long overdue -- settlement or not.

"Everything that we're trying to deal with, in every issue in every committee that is dealing with revenues generated from (ceded) lands, we always have to ask the question, 'Which lands are we talking about?' " he said.

The measure likely will be sent to a House-Senate conference committee, but Kahoohalahala said the two sides aren't that far apart. The Senate had called for a continued cap on ceded-land revenue payments to OHA.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers had little to say before they approved the Senate bill on tuition waivers that drew hours of lengthy testimony from Hawaiian students and others -- as well as a Capitol courtyard rally -- at each step of the legislative process.

UH officials estimate it would cost about $7.2 million a year to provide the free tuition. If heard and approved by the House Finance Committee, the plan would go to both chambers for a final vote and then to the governor for his signature.

Other Hawaiian bills moving in the Legislature include:

Bullet Hawaiian Home Lands (SB1146, SD1, HD1): Extends the life of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Individual Claims Review Panel by one year so it can complete a review of all claims against the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands over management of the homestead program.

Bullet OHA Salary Commission (HB1095, HD1, SD1): Restarts the salary review process for OHA trustees that should have begun in 1996.

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