Thursday, September 13, 2001

America Attacked

threaten Hawaii
redistricting hearings

The closed airports have 8
commission members stuck in Hilo

By Pat Omandam and Richard Borreca

Statewide hearings on how Hawaii should redraw its legislative districts are being jeopardized as a suspension of U.S. commercial air travel enters its third day.

With eight of the nine members of the 2001 Reapportionment Commission stranded in Hilo because of grounded flights, the panel canceled a hearing scheduled for last night in Lahaina and may have to cancel one scheduled for tonight in Kahului.

From hearings on the neighbor islands to legislators stranded on the mainland, the closed airports are having an effect on the Legislature.

If the Kahului reapportionment hearing is canceled, Maui residents -- who had raised concerns about the reapportionment process and are threatening legal action against the final redistricting plan -- may not get the opportunity to testify on their home island before the panel.

Rex Quidilla, state Office of Elections spokesman, said, "I think the intent right now is to hold all the meetings we can and pick up where we leave off and consider the possibility later of rescheduling of these meetings, but we're uncertain whether we can."

Quidilla said a decision was to be made this morning on whether the Kahului meeting will take place. Maui residents say they will insist these hearings be rescheduled for the Valley Isle, no matter what.

"If it prolongs the process, so much the better," said Fred Rohlfing, Maui advisory council member to the commission.

Rohlfing said the postponement gives commissioners more time to reconsider their "bad decision" to include nonresident military dependents in the reapportionment base.

He and others believe Maui was shortchanged new House and Senate seats that it was due because of its increased population in Census 2000. The proposed redistricting plan does not give Maui any more representation than it has now.

"The people that are aware of the issue understand the logic is generally fabricated to justify diluting the neighbor islands' influence in our government," said state Rep. Chris Halford (R, Kihei).

Quidilla, however, said reapportionment laws require the commission post a 20-day public notice for any hearing.

There may not be enough time for the panel to reschedule the Maui hearings, given it must present a final plan by Oct. 11 and adopt it by Oct. 25.

Legislative travel

In legislative travel, House Clerk Patricia Mau-Shimizu said, the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees had planned to spend three days touring state facilities on Maui and holding hearings on state programs, but had to cancel because of the closed airports.

Also canceled was a House Education Committee hearing set for Maui this week.

The airport problems have also stranded several legislators.

Mau-Shimizu said Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani), who was visiting relatives in upstate New York, was due to return to Honolulu on Monday, but she is stuck on the mainland.

Rep. Eric Hamakawa (D, South Hilo-Puna) was scheduled to leave this week for a trip to Brussels, Belgium, sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, but Mau-Shimizu said it is not likely he will be able to attend.

And two Republican House members, Reps. Jim Rath (Kohala) and Kika Bukoski (Paia), who had a Washington, D.C., trip paid by the American Legislative Exchange Council to attend a trade policy briefing by President Bush, has also been canceled.

The only legislator stranded outside his district while on business, according to Mau-Shimizu, is Rep. Joe Souki (D, Wailuku), who was in Honolulu when the terrorist attacks happened.

Two other hearings were canceled yesterday because of the airport closures: The House committees on Water and Land Use and Agriculture did not hold hearings on adjusting the state land use laws because witnesses from the neighbor islands could not attend.

And a spokeswoman for the Senate president's office said a Kauai hearing on the high price of drugs for senior citizens to be held last night by the Senate Consumer Protection Committee was called off.

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