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Saturday, June 3, 2000

Land use rules nullify
automatic OK law

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano has approved new rules for the state Land Use Commission that undermine the automatic approval law passed in 1993.

Bullet Our view: The Legislature should examine other approaches to ensure prompt handling of development proposals.

THE 1998 Legislature approved and Governor Cayetano signed a bill providing for automatic approval of business- or development-related projects if state agencies failed to act on the projects within certain time limits.

This was not a good idea. The intention of the bill's sponsors, to speed up the permit process, by putting pressure on officials, was laudable.

But automatic approval of projects without their meeting reasonable requirements -- the threat that was supposed to prod officials into action -- would be irresponsible. It holds the public interest hostage.

Now Governor Cayetano has approved new rules for the state Land Use Commission that undermine the automatic approval law. The rules, which took effect May 8, provide 24 standards that must be met for projects that gain automatic approval. These involve, among other matters, historic sites, Hawaiian gathering rights, traffic and drainage.

The effect seems to be that automatic approval will be anything but automatic. Indeed, the rules give anti-development activists plenty of ammunition for their efforts to thwart construction projects.

Adding to the confusion is the appearance that Cayetano has contradicted himself. He seems to have signed the new rules accidentally.

According to a letter sent to the commission in April, the governor objected to some of the proposed rules and had planned to reject them. He said he opposed the idea of placing conditions on projects that gain automatic approval.

But by the time Cayetano wrote the letter he had reportedly already approved the rules by signing them. He may not have realized what he was signing.

Sen. Avery Chumbley, in a letter to the commission, called the rules punitive and an attempt to circumvent the 1998 law. The idea was "not to create more burdens, but to streamline the process," said Chumbley, who has an agricultural business on Maui.

Streamling the process is much to be desired. Delays in processing permit applications are the bane of developers and can add substantially to costs.

PILING on additional requirements bogs down the process. That of course is precisely what some opponents of development want. In their view, the more burdens the better, like the absurd demand for environmental impact statements for promotional expenditures by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Automatic approval was an ill-conceived way to achieve the worthy objective of expediting action on development proposals. With the new rules in place, it looks like the Land Use Commission is back at square one.

Another approach is needed to ensure that projects are processed promptly while meeting realistic requirements. It's a problem the Legislature should address.

Bush grants reprieve

Bullet The issue: George W. Bush stayed the execution of a convicted murderer to provide time for the testing of his DNA.

Bullet Our view: The decision illustrates growing doubts about the death penalty.

GEORGE W. Bush adopted the slogan "compassionate conservatism" for his presidential campaign and seems to be trying to be a bit more compassionate. The Texas governor has just granted a reprieve in a capital case, suspending an execution for 30 days to provide time for the testing of a death row inmate's DNA.

Bush stayed the execution of Ricky Nolen McGinn, who was convicted for the rape and murder of his 12-year-old stepdaughter. After the courts refused to act, Bush granted the reprieve less than half an hour before the scheduled execution.

This is the first such reprieve Bush has granted after approving 131 executions. In one case he granted clemency.

Bush has recently made statements endorsing the use of DNA to erase doubts in capital cases. But in a 1998 case Bush refused to grant a reprieve for the purpose of DNA testing. A defense attorney in the earlier case observed caustically that Bush wasn't running for president then.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, 38 states have enacted death penalty statutes but Texas leads the way in executions with 218, more than a third of all in the nation. Most have been conducted during Bush's five years as governor.

Bush says he is confident that no inmate executed on his watch was innocent, but in view of the numbers involved it's easy to suspect there may have been mistakes. At any rate it is mildly encouraging that he was willing to grant a reprieve for DNA testing.

Elsewhere doubts about the death penalty are growing. In New Hampshire the legislature voted last month to abolish capital punishment, but Gov. Jean Shaheen vetoed the bill. In Illinois, Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions after 13 death row inmates were exonerated.

Hawaii is one of the minority of states without the death penalty, having abolished it in 1957. There is little or no interest in restoring it.

But nationally capital punishment is popular -- and more widely practiced than in most countries. Among the countries that still have the death penalty, only China, Iran and Saudi Arabia are known to have executed more criminals in recent years than the United States.

This is not a record to be proud of. Capital punishment, if applied at all, should be used sparingly.

In view of the number of executions conducted during his governorship, George W. Bush has a long way to go to earn the description of "compassionate" regarding the death penalty. However, even a single reprieve is an improvement.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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