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Wednesday, February 23, 2000



Hawaii State Seal

Senate bill aims
to fix funding of
school repair,

Two special funds would
be created for backlogged and
future work projects

Harris gets OK for 'informational' ads
Committee shelves marijuana bill

By Crystal Kua


The Senate's plan to tackle a $240 million backlog of public school repair and maintenance projects and to keep on top of maintenance of newer school buildings is similar to maintaining old and new cars, one key senator says.

Legislature 2000 "Let's keep the new car new and see what we can do about the old car, which is burning oil and struggling along," said Sen. Norman Sakamoto, vice chairman of the Senate Education and Technology Committee.

A bill that outlines the plan is scheduled to be heard Friday by the Senate Education and Ways and Means committees.

"We need to relook at how we take care of this," said Sakamoto, who co-authored the bill.

The bill has three main components.

First, it proposes to create the state educational facilities repair and maintenance special fund to eliminate backlogged projects pending as of June 30, 2000.

The fund, which would expire after four years, would be financed with a portion of general excise tax revenues. Criteria would be established to prioritize projects.

The bill would also create a second fund, the school physical plant operations and maintenance special fund, to address school repairs and cyclical maintenance projects after June 30, 2000. Funding would also come from a portion of general excise tax revenues.

New officers would oversee

This section of the bill would also require that a cyclical maintenance schedule be prepared for each new or newly renovated building constructed after June 30, 2000.

A third part of the bill would re-establish school district positions -- business and fiscal officers -- to oversee repair and maintenance activities in the districts.

Sakamoto said these positions would alleviate principals and vice principals from having to do those duties. "We want their time spent on the educational side."

Sakamoto has a construction background, and his district includes Radford High School, which symbolized school repair and maintenance issues last session.

Sakamoto said the bill was drafted before an informational briefing last month on school repair and maintenance issues and before state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu made public his desire to use a chunk of money to fund repairs of whole complexes of schools at one time.

An 'enormous' priority

Sakamoto said the bill sets the foundation, but he is willing to look at ideas from different venues to incorporate into the bill to attack the problem this session. Those ideas include increasing the amount of money given to schools and to do an overhaul of entire schools.

"We can improve the bill if they have ideas to improve the bill," Sakamoto said.

If a plan is put into place, then the proposal by Gov. Ben Cayetano to set aside $45 million of long-term construction money per year over the next three could be used more efficiently, Sakamoto said.

An increase in both operating funds and long-term capital improvement project money is needed because different repairs call for different kinds of funding, he said.

Sakamoto said that he predicts some kind of legislation to address repair and maintenance will come out this session because the issue is seen as a priority. The main question will be how much will be allocated.

"I think all the parties have seen it as enormous," he said.

Harris gets OK for
‘informational’ ads

Former Mayor Frank Fasi claimed
the shows were campaign

By Gordon Y.K. Pang



Public service announcements on television featuring Mayor Jeremy Harris -- funded partly through private contributions -- are not campaign advertisements.

That's the conclusion reached by the state Campaign Spending Commission in an advisory opinion issued yesterday.

Harris was at the center of television advertisements in December about traffic precautions and Y2K preparation. The ads were paid for by the city, state and private sources.

And last month, some $18,000 in private funds was used to pay to produce and air Harris' State of the City address.

Robert Watada, executive director of the commission, said none of the telecasts count as campaign contributions because they were "informational" and in line with Harris' duties as mayor.

The Campaign Spending Commission only regulates air time that can be construed as "express advocacy" for a candidate, Watada said.

Former Mayor Frank Fasi, who sought the opinion from the commission, said the paid programs were clearly campaign commercials designed to promote Harris the candidate.

Fasi, who has announced he will challenge Harris for his old seat in this fall's mayoral election, said the commission is "letting (Harris) get away with murder."

At the very least, he said, the private donations for the air time should be required to be reported as gifts to the City Council.

Harris spokeswoman Carol Costa said she did not know if the contributions were to be reported as gifts.

Councilman Mufi Hannemann, also a declared candidate for mayor, called the State of the City speech "a campaign documentary."

Watada said the opinion also clears the radio programs of both Harris and Hannemann. Like the television broadcasts, he said, the two can receive air time so long as they don't discuss politics or candidacies and stick strictly to government.

Programs that broach politics must be paid for with campaign funds, he said. To date, he has not heard anything from either candidate that could be viewed as political, he said.

Costa said Harris makes it a point to turn away any questions about politics brought up on any of his call-in radio programs. He appears on three different radio stations, one of them an hour a day five times a week that's paid by private business. He also appears once a month on one television station.

Hannemann appears on one radio station once a week. It is not clear if he is paying for the program. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Fasi, who has been on radio broadcasts in the past, has not done so recently.

Briefly ...


Committee shelves
marijuana bill

The state House Judiciary Committee has deferred action on a bill preventing authorities from arresting and prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical purposes.

Committee Chairman Eric Hamakawa said he would like to see the bill approved when it comes up for consideration again next week.

"I want to have an opportunity to work through some of the suggested amendments. I want to make sure we send out a clean bill," said Hamakawa (D, South Hilo-Puna).

The issues to be resolved include how to pass a bill despite federal law making marijuana a Schedule 1 drug -- like heroin -- and illegal to prescribe, and whether states should take action to show the federal government that they believe it's time to change the law.

"It's important for the legislatures of the states to send a message to the federal government," said Paul Groesbeck of Life Foundation, which provides help for AIDS patients.

While the committee tried to focus on the legal aspects of the medical marijuana issue yesterday, it heard considerable and sometimes emotional testimony from people who use marijuana to help alleviate their own pain or the pain of loved ones.


There should be fewer illegally discarded tires, car batteries, glass bottles and plastics in the Hawaii landscape if several bills pass the Legislature.

A House bill would give an unspecified bounty to nonprofit groups that collect and turn in used batteries, while a Senate bill would impose a $10 surcharge on new-battery buyers who don't exchange an old one.

House and Senate bills would add a $1 surcharge on new tire purchases to fuel an environmental management special fund promoting tire recycling and enforcing laws against illegal dumping.

A Senate bill attempts to improve the enforcement of the state's import fee on glass containers by changing the current civil penalty to an administrative action.

A Senate bill would impose a two-cent fee on all imported plastic containers and a one-tenth-of-a-cent fee on "plastic litter items," including bags, six-pack rings, plastic-coated cups and plates, utensils and straws, foam plates and cups, and cigarette butts.

It also would add 2 cents to every pack of filter cigarettes.

Sen. Bob Nakata (D, Kahuku-Heeia-Kaneohe), chairman of the Labor and Environment Committee, said the bills were aimed at improving the environment and encouraging recycling.

"Our environment is fundamentally very important to our economy, basically a tourist economy, so we should keep it clean and safe," Nakata said. "Plastics especially are dangerous to our aquatic life."


Everyone riding in a motor vehicle in Hawaii would be required to wear a seat belt under bills moving through the House and Senate.

The bills are now before the respective Judiciary committees.

The House bill also would increase the fine for failing to wear a seat belt from $20 to $45.

The Senate bill is dedicated to Tanya Shirai, a 17-year-old St. Andrew's Priory student killed in August 1997 when the car in which she was riding rolled over. She and a friend in the back seat were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the vehicle.

The law now requires seat belts to be worn by front-seat passengers and by rear-seat passengers under the age of 15.

From Star-Bulletin news services

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