Monday, April 19, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Hawaiian issues
on hold, too

OHA trustee Trask says the
money isn't there for
their projects

[This is one of several stories running during the final weeks
of the Legislature, updating the status of major issues]

By Pat Omandam


Mililani Trask, sitting under a tree outside the Kakaako headquarters of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, talks big picture when it comes to the state Legislature.

The OHA trustee and longtime Hawaiian activist warns you can't judge the Legislature's lack of funding for dozens of Hawaiian measures - which include free tuition at the University of Hawaii - without placing them in the context of the most pressing issue before the state: economic revitalization.

Void of a plan to generate state revenues, Trask said, the Legislature does not have the money to fund any new proposals, whether for Hawaiians or not.

"If you just pulled the Hawaiian bills out, you might get the impression that the Legislature is just racist and anti-Hawaiian," she explained.

"But if you look at the Hawaiian bills in the context of being public service for a needy segment that requires funding, then those Hawaiian bills are just like everything else," Trask said.

Lawmakers this session avoided hot Hawaiian topics such as last year's highly opposed Native Hawaiian Autonomy Act, as well as legislation to resolve the dispute between proponents of native gathering rights and developers.

Some things worked out

Still, they managed to take on a few controversial issues.

"We took care of the things we needed to take care of - the public lands trust, some on (homestead) succession and Hawaiian language," said House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Chairman Paul T. Oshiro (D, Ewa Beach).

The land trust measure, Senate Bill 1635 SD2, HD2, is intended to serve as a way for lawmakers this session to discuss a settlement if one is reached in time between the state and OHA over certain past-due revenues from ceded lands.

If not - and right now it looks unlikely negotiators can do so by the end of session on May 4 - the bill attempts to resolve all outstanding public land trust issues in a single swoop.

The measure calls for yet another joint committee of state and OHA officials to study the ceded lands issue, but this time with administrative support from the state auditor, who will also oversee any proposed resolution. SB 1635 also calls for a complete inventory of public trust lands done via matching funds from OHA and the state.

A dangerous bill?

Some Hawaiians, however, say this is a dangerous bill because the state gets to choose four of the six members on the committee. And they don't believe the state should pay for an inventory of lands held in trust, in part for the betterment of native Hawaiians.

Retired lawyer Bill Amona and others warned trustees this week the committee's majority may move to minimize OHA's powers because it has the authority to publish legal notices to propose changes in state law.

Measure criticized

Amona called an inventory overseen by the auditor a smoke screen so the state can "shaft" Hawaiians.

State Rep. Michael Kahikina (D, Nanakuli) had lukewarm support for the measure during its passage Tuesday, voting in favor of it only because it was needed in case of a settlement.

"Historically, Mr. Speaker, the Hawaiian people have always tried to participate in the political decisions that determine the fate of this special relationship to the public trust lands," Kahikina said.

"Too often, as in the past, the final decision of the future of the use of the public trust lands is made outside of the native Hawaiian community," he said.

Trask, who is part of OHA's negotiating team, is more blunt about it: "The purpose of this bill is to be a vehicle for a settlement. We don't have a settlement, so I don't need this bill."

Another measure that drew lengthy testimony this session would have funded tuition waivers to native Hawaiians attending the UH system.

Originally, lawmakers proposed free tuition for 500 students, but later in the session amended the bill to reimburse OHA for money it spends on the waivers. But the measure made the amount the state spent on free tuition count against any possible settlement agreement, which OHA strongly opposed.

Today, the watered-down bill simply states that OHA and the UH Board of Regents can give free tuition to Hawaiians -- something both can do now.

Settlement in the works

Despite lack of funding, lawmakers did find an innovative way to fund payment of claims of misconduct on waiting lists that were heard by the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Individual Claims Review Panel.

Senate Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), in her committee report on HB 1675 HD1,SD1, discovered that state lands in Kapolei and Laiopua on the Big Island given to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in 1996 were not credited as part of the state's $600 million settlement with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands over ceded land revenues.

As part of the 1995 agreement, the state pays the department $30 million a year for 20 years.

Instead of having that money credited toward the settlement, Hanabusa wants to transfer the cash value of those lands - about $14.5 million - into a special department trust fund to pay claimants who were awarded monetary judgments by the review panel.

The House, however, must agree to the idea in conference committee.

Oshiro said House conferees will look at the proposal, which also extends the life of the panel by another two years.

"We'll talk story, and as it progresses we'll see what happens," he said.

Key Hawaiian bills

Here are the key Hawaiian bills that remain alive this session and will be before conference committees:

Bullet HB 1095 HD1,SD2: Restarts the Office of Hawaiian Affairs salary review process.

Bullet HB 1146 SD2: Waives the cost of vital records for Hawaiians if sent directly from the Department of Health to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Bullet HB 1675 HD1, SD1: Funds payment of claims heard by the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Individual Claims Review Panel and extends the panel's life for another two years.

Bullet HB 235 HD2, SD2: Authorizes an elected Hawaiian Homes Commission by Hawaiian voters and provides a salary for members. Allows the commission to hire an attorney.

Bullet HB 700 HD1, SD2: OHA biennium budget for fiscal years 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.

Bullet SB 1635 SD2, HD2: Establishes a six-member joint committee to study and make recommendations on all outstanding anticipated issues relating to the public land trust, including the possible transfer of title to a portion of the trust lands to OHA as full or partial satisfaction of past or future obligations under the state Constitution. Requires the state auditor to support and coordinate the resolution of the issue. Progress reports from the committee and auditor are due to the Legislature for the 2000 session and a final report for the 2001 session.

Bullet SB 456 SD2, HD1: Specifically states that OHA may use funds for Hawaiian tuition waivers at the University of Hawaii. Clarifies that the UH Board of Regents may provide waivers or reduce tuition and other fees for Hawaiian students.

Bullet HB 990 HD1, SD1: Appropriate funds to defend the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in hearings before the claims review panel.

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