Legislature 2002

OHA bills progress
in Legislature

A measure would allow
the agency to continue to
offer trust fund grants

By Pat Omandam

Two Senate bills that give the Office of Hawaiian Affairs important grant-making authority as well as an unspecified amount of interim ceded-land revenue remain alive in the state Legislature.

The House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee approved both measures last week, sending them to the House Finance Committee for consideration.

The first measure, Senate Bill 2477, Senate Draft 2, House Draft 1, amends state law to authorize OHA to make grants to organizations and individuals from trust funds.

A Sept. 25 opinion from the state Attorney General's Office advised OHA not to release any further grants because those expenditures did not go through the state procurement code's competitive bid process, and therefore may be illegal.

The opinion placed more than $800,000 in OHA-approved grants in limbo at a time when trustees continue to battle legal challenges to the agency's constitutionality.

Attorney General Earl Anzai said he supports the Senate bill.

"We recommend its passage to facilitate the trustees' implementation of their responsibility to better the conditions of native Hawaiians and Hawaiians," Anzai said in written testimony.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2476, Senate Draft 2, House Draft 1, addresses a Sept. 12 ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court that invalidated a state law defining what amounts to 20 percent of the revenue from ceded lands, which are former crown and government lands.

That ruling meant the state no longer had to pay OHA any revenue from ceded lands until the Legislature creates another law that specifies how it should be paid. But the Legislature did not take up that issue this year, instead focusing on providing OHA an interim amount of money until it does.

Over the past decade, annual revenue payments to OHA have ranged from $15.7 million to $8.2 million.

Ilima Morrison of sovereignty group Ka Lahui Hawai'i testified the bill should require OHA to provide an annual report so people can see what amount of ceded-land revenue is used for OHA administration and for the benefit of native Hawaiian beneficiaries.

OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo defended the agency, responding that most of the money does benefit Hawaiians and native Hawaiians. Namuo said OHA uses about 28 percent of its fund for administration, while 72 percent goes directly to beneficiaries.

"Is that reasonable or unreasonable?" Namuo asked legislators.

House Judiciary Chairman Eric Hamakawa (D, South Hilo) did not specify how much money OHA should received in interim revenue. But he did amend the bill to include a provision that continues funding for a ceded-land inventory, which will help legislators ultimately decide how much revenue the agency should get from public trust lands.

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