Sunday, December 30, 2001

State should keep
hurricane fund intact
for next disaster

The issue: Governor Cayetano suggests
using the money to cover anticipated
shortages in state tax revenues.

The Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund was created exactly for the purpose that it is named and should remain in place for that objective. As tempting as $213 million may be, state lawmakers and Governor Cayetano should resist depleting the fund for other uses.

After Hurricane Iniki, which destroyed this Kauai home in 1992, insurance companies quit offering hurricane coverage.

The state anticipates that tax revenues will fall short by $315 million during the next two years. The governor proposes using the money in the Hurricane Relief Fund to help make up for the shortfall. A more prudent approach would be to trim government expenses -- a task easier said than done, but one that is necessary and fiscally responsible.

The fund was established in 1993 as an emergency measure after Hurricane Iniki caused $1.3 billion in damage. Insurance companies fled the market, leaving homeowners in Hawaii unprotected. The state stepped in and set up the fund to provide coverage. Since then, insurance companies have returned and the state stopped writing policies in 2000, but the money paid in by homeowners has remained in the state's coffers.

Various proposals for the fund's use have been discussed. Some homeowners argue that the money should be returned to those who paid for coverage, but they bought the insurance for a specific period of time and are not entitled to a refund. Another suggestion was to spend the money to retrofit older homes to withstand hurricanes, but the mechanics of sorting out who gets how much would be too complicated for equitable distribution. Other proposals to provide scholarships for public school students and pay for state employee raises also were rejected.

The slump in the tourism industry and other economic repercussions of Sept. 11 have created an unanticipated decrease in tax revenues. Cayetano and his budget director, Neal Miyahara, contend that this emergency situation warrants dipping into the hurricane fund. But what happens if an unanticipated emergency in the form of a storm as devastating as Iniki -- or worse -- hits Hawaii? Keeping the fund in place makes more sense than having to revive the program in a crisis atmosphere.

Miyahara says the administration sees the current economic crisis as temporary and expects a rebound by the end of next year. Maybe, maybe not. But to use the hurricane fund to tide us over is short-term thinking where long-term planning is required. Government needs to live within its means. If the administration believes the lean times will soon pass, it should put down its head and weather them out.

Military tribunal regulations
require more changes

The issue: Draft rules for trying
terrorism defendants by military tribunal
have been softened to lessen criticism.

RESPONDING to severe criticism of its proposed system of kangaroo courts to try terrorism defendants, the Bush administration has drafted rules that bring a semblance of balance to terrorists' trials. Although the modifications eliminate many objectionable intrusions on defendants' rights, further changes are needed to keep the two-century tradition of American justice intact.

As described in an executive order signed by President Bush last month establishing military tribunals for terrorism cases, two-thirds of the members of such panels could determine guilt and impose the death penalty with no right of appeal. Trials would be conducted in secrecy, and hearsay could be used, contrary to traditional court rules. Bush alone would decide who should be tried by military tribunal and determine the final verdict.

However, rules drafted by senior administration officials specify that unanimous verdicts would be required for imposition of the death penalty, defendants would be afforded the presumption of innocence and proof of guilt would have to be beyond a reasonable doubt, the high standard used in civilian criminal trials. Trials before a tribunal of five uniformed officers would be conducted in public, but portions could be closed to protect national security information. Whether that information would be provided to the defense is unclear.

A separate three-member panel would consider appeals, but the ultimate verdict would be rendered solely by the president, undermining the balance of executive, legislative and judicial powers that have safeguarded the nation's justice system. The trials would be conducted outside the United States, denying defendants the right to have federal courts intervene and review death-penalty cases.

The appeals process remains the most troublesome aspect of the tribunal system. While the rules of court are similar to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the results of courts-martial of American service members are appealable to a civilian court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following Thursday's leak of the draft proposal, President Bush said the military tribunal system "will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban." That comparison does not square with the president's earlier vow to bring Osama bin Laden and other suspected terrorists to justice, which Americans interpreted to be justice as they know it.

American forces have captured increasing numbers of al-Qaida and Taliban members, who now include 37 at a Marine base in Afghanistan and eight aboard the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea. Bush is expected to assign all those detainees to be tried by military tribunal, with the exception of American John Walker Lindh, who probably will face a federal trial. The ultimate verdicts should not be rendered by the same person who sent them to trial.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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