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Monday, December 21, 2020
December 21, 2020 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:10 PM :: 1447 Views

Democratic Party to Choose from Seven Candidates for Kahele’s Senate District 1 Vacancy

PHOTOS: New Kilauea Eruption

Caldwell Admin Ordered Covert Honolulu Police Unit to Investigate Former Medical Examiner

CB: … Officials from the Honolulu Police Department now say that the Intelligence Enforcement Unit was asked to follow Happy after receiving information from the mayor’s office that (Happy,) a cabinet member, might be involved in drug activity.

(Comment:  This is not the same as the Kealoha surveillance of Puana because it comes from the mayor and because the police did not frame Dr Happy. If the ME were abusing drugs it would have impeached his testimony, putting many criminal prosecutions at risk.  In the end, officers questioned the need to continue surveillance.)

The operation, in March 2019, lasted about a week, according HPD’s official statement to Civil Beat, and did not turn up any evidence to support the allegations. …

In an interview with Civil Beat last week, Happy, who resigned in October 2019, said he had no idea that he was the target of police surveillance while working as the city’s chief medical examiner. He was surprised to hear he had been under surveillance and said he found the idea that he was being followed “creepy and weird.”

“I’m floored,” he said. “I can’t believe they did that.”

Happy’s relationship with the Caldwell administration had cooled in recent years. He often found himself in disagreement with Managing Director Roy Amemiya, who was concerned about a growing backlog of autopsy cases.

Happy had also been speaking out about the need for more resources. For years, he complained about being understaffed. The city morgue was also in a state of disrepair. The roof was leaking, rats infested the premises and the office had run out of freezer space to store cadavers.

“I’m not into drinking and I’m not into drugs,” Happy said. “The worst thing I do is smoke cigarettes.”

Unlike most other cabinet positions, the city charter states that the medical examiner cannot be fired outright by the mayor. If Caldwell wanted to terminate Happy, it could only be for cause after giving him a written statement of the reasons and holding a hearing before the Honolulu City Council. …

Amemiya also sent occasional reminders to Happy encouraging him to clear the backlog, including one sent on March 12, 2019 while Happy was under police surveillance and had attended a gathering with the mayor.

On June 1, 2019, Amemiya emailed Happy again, telling him he appeared to be making little headway and that he faced “severe disciplinary action” if he did not improve. …

Caldwell spokesman Alexander Zannes sent a single sentence statement.  “We can confirm the series of events as described by the Honolulu Police Department,” he said….

The order to put Happy under surveillance, the officers said, came from the Intelligence Enforcement Unit’s acting captain, Roy Nakama, but they said he made it clear that he was being directed from above. The IEU reports directly to Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy, who is second in command to Ballard.

Interviews as well as internal scheduling documents reviewed by Civil Beat show that nearly a dozen officers were assigned to conduct surveillance on Happy….

The officers involved said they were told by Nakama to keep tabs on Happy to find out if he was involved in drugs due to unspecified issues he was having at the morgue.

The officers said they would follow him through the day, from the moment he left his apartment complex to the time he went home night. …

(CLUES: If an MD were abusing drugs, he would go to the pharmacy, not a street-corner dope dealer.  So following the ME around in cars was an odd investigative technique.) 

After a couple of days it was clear to many of the officers that Happy wasn’t doing anything suspicious. They said they saw no signs of drug activity or anything illegal.

Several members of the unit began asking questions about why the IEU was conducting surveillance in the first place and whether it was appropriate to continue.   (Wow.  That’s different.) …

1997: Sharon Black was followed after filing a sex harassment complaint

read … Covert Honolulu Police Unit Targeted Former Medical Examiner

Congress to Restore Medicaid for COFA Citizens after 24 Years

Politico: … The wait may be over for tens of thousands of Marshall Islanders after nearly 25 years of seeking to correct an oversight that denied them federal health benefits.

Congressional negotiators on Sunday agreed to allow Marshallese living in the United States to sign up for Medicaid, revising a drafting mistake in the 1996 welfare reform bill that barred the islanders from the program, according to three people with knowledge of the deal….

Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Mazie Hirono and her Hawaii colleagues had spent about two decades trying to restore the islanders’ coverage….

Sunday night’s deal was included in the larger coronavirus relief and year-end funding package that lawmakers also finalized on Sunday. That package still needs to be voted on by both chambers of Congress.

Spokespeople for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the package included the Medicaid fix, which has been estimated to cost about $600 million over a decade….

The deal would apply to islanders covered by the Compact of Free Association, or COFA, which covers citizens of the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia. It was hammered out between the Pacific island nations and the United States in the decades after the U.S. military used the Marshall Islands as a testing site for dozens of nuclear bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. As part of the 1980s-era compact, the islanders were allowed special rights to resettle in the United States — and promised access to Medicaid….

POLITICO in January detailed how the Marshallese and other islanders lost access to Medicaid as part of a 1996 welfare reform package that barred them from signing up for the low-cost health program. While policy analysts have called it a legislative drafting mistake, the policy contributed to high rates of uninsurance, poor health outcomes and chronic disease that went untreated….

islanders also have been disproportionately affected by this year's Covid-19 pandemic….

KUAM: Medicaid could be available to migrant FAS citizens for first time since '96

CB: Congress Poised To Restore Medicaid For Micronesians

read … ‘A shining moment’: Congress agrees to restore Medicaid for Pacific Islanders

Criminals Trying to Give Each other COVID May Put Oahu Back on Tier One

KHON: … A substantial number of Oahu’s case count on Sunday is connected to the Halawa Correctional Facility, according to Honolulu City and County officials. The growing amount of cases has prompted Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to reach out to Hawaii Governor David Ige again to see if he is willing to take infected prisoners out of the City’s case count….

Mayor Caldwell says he’s already asked the governor to take prisoners out of their case count over a week ago.

“So far, there hasn’t been a big impact on our health care system.” said the mayor. “So to leave them in and shut down the entire island of Oahu, to go back to Tier 1 with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage. Is it something we want to do?”…

“There is some merit to that recommendation, because the prisoners themselves will not spread the virus to the community….”

SA: Oahu may revert to Tier 1

HNN: Mayor Caldwell worries case spikes will force city back to tier 1 by year’s end

KHON: Mayor Kirk Caldwell discusses Honolulu’s COVID-19 Recovery Framework

read … Mayor Caldwell urges Gov. Ige to remove prisoners from City’s case count

Chinatown conditions worsen in pandemic—Overrun with Drug Addicts and Lunatics

SA: … From his second-floor office window at the corner of Maunakea and Pauahi streets, Oren Schlieman has seen his share of problems in a neighborhood he has invested in, including public urination and street brawls.

At around noontime weekdays, he said, he routinely hears the rantings of the drunk and the mentally ill. There’s also the occasional naked person streaking by….

The lowest point, he said, was when the city stopped enforcing sit-lie laws due to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control to allow homeless to shelter in place.

“Basically, what happened is it became a free-range homeless place, and homeless people were all over the place,” he said. “They basically took over Chinatown.”

In June, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a series of improvement projects in Chinatown, including the power- washing of sidewalks, monitoring of illegal trash dumping and new LED fixtures at Kekaulike Mall, along with improved security.

But Schlieman says he hasn’t seen a difference. Pigeon poop and human excrement can still be found on sidewalks within the 15-block neighborhood, he said, pointing them out during a recent tour, and graffiti is still visible on numerous buildings….

A huge source of problems, according to Schlieman and Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, is that homeless service providers, like River of Life Mission, are adding to the problems by giving out free meals but not taking responsibility for their impact on the neighborhood….

In a September survey conducted by Chinatown community members, 94% of about 100 businesses said homelessness harms their operations, and about 83% of 130 customers said they were hesitant to shop in Chinatown.

The comments submitted in the survey — some anonymously and some not — mention swearing, public urination, drug use and mentally unstable individuals walking around and yelling without masks on.

In October the Downtown-Chinatown Neighborhood Board passed a resolution recommending that homeless feeding operations, due to their harmful impacts, move to the immediate vicinity of existing serv­ices and that operators be required to obtain a street closure permit.

Due to the pandemic, River of Life, a nonprofit that feeds the homeless, switched to serving to-go meals, which cannot be eaten on-site. The nonprofit does not provide bathrooms or hand-washing facilities.

Maskless recipients often camp out on sidewalks in front of businesses, they said, some openly drinking alcohol. Many leave their trash behind in doorways and planters. Much of this is documented in photos posted online at ChinatownWatch.com….

read … Chinatown conditions worsen in pandemic

Safe Travels Fails To Lure Many Travelers From Japan To Hawaii

CB: … An average of 131,000 people came from Japan each month last year. In the first month of Safe Travels, 1,350 came….

read … Safe Travels Fails To Lure Many Travelers From Japan To Hawaii

Residents’ sentiment toward tourism has worsened

SA: … Only 54% of Hawaii residents who took the OmniTrak survey agreed that “tourism has brought more benefits than problems.” Some 34% supported the statement that tourism has been “mostly positive for you or your family.” As many as 67% of respondents agreed with the statement that the “island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people.”….

On Saturday the state had 19,881 travelers, including inter­island and trans-Pacific. That marked the most travelers since Safe Travels Hawaii, the state’s pre-arrival entry program, began Oct. 15. Some 15,874 of the travelers described themselves as visitors, and some 11,156 of them said they were coming for vacation.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the visitor count, which is inching toward Hawaii’s pre-COVID 25,000-a-day average, is a massive economic improvement from when Hawaii tourism was down 99.6% earlier this year….

resident sentiment about tourism has kept falling for the usual reasons: traffic, strain on natural resources and infrastructure, the dilution of culture and higher living costs. Added to that is the perception, in the midst of the pandemic, that tourism negatively affects health. Some 43% of those surveyed felt tourism created health concerns and the potential for epidemics, as opposed to 25% last year.

Respondents who lived in visitor industry households were more confident that county governments could safely reopen tourism and were doing an effective job with quarantine enforcement.

Still, 43% of all respondents said they agreed with the statement, “People from outside the state of Hawaii should not be visiting Hawaii at this time.”….

read … Residents’ sentiment toward tourism has worsened

Hawai'i could receive $1B as Congress agrees on nearly trillion dollar relief package

KITV: … Both the House and Senate are set to vote on the bill Monday night….

read … Hawai'i could receive $1B as Congress agrees on nearly trillion dollar relief package

Struggling families still waiting for city grocery cards plagued by delays

HNN: … A federally funded city program to help feed families devastated by the pandemic has run into major delays. But the city hopes today’s stimulus deal in Congress will help it extend the program.

Earlier this month, the city mailed out postcards to 4,000 families who are receiving some form of pandemic aid, telling them they were eligible for $500 grocery cards.

But the city said its East Coast vendor -- which mailed out the first batch of cards on Dec. 9 -- ran into postal delays….

read … Struggling families still waiting for city grocery cards plagued by delays

Property tax assessment appeals on the rise

HTH: … More than twice as many property owners appealed their tax assessments this year than last year…

Of the latest appeals, 407 were filed on East Hawaii property and 343 on parcels in West Hawaii.

Of the cases brought before the board, one was dismissed, 170 cases resulted in the reduction in the assessment or approval of an exemption by the board, 105 of the county’s assessments were sustained by the board, 340 resulted in a settlement between the county and the appellant, and 134 were withdrawn by the appellant, said Assistant Real Property Tax Administrator Keita Jo….

read … Property tax assessment appeals on the rise

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