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Friday, February 5, 2021
February 5, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:28 PM :: 1235 Views

COVID Restrictions Correlate With Unemployment

Hawaii Longline Association Supports Federal Agency Recommendations Regarding Human Trafficking

OHA releases grant solicitations

Feds link Bay Area man to California/Hawaii coke smuggling ring, illegal Hawaiian gambling hall

HSTA Refusing to Teach 98% of HS Students—38% on Track to Fail 

SA Editorial: …  Nearly 160,250 students are enrolled in Hawaii’s public schools. But the first half of the school year wrapped up with just 12% of elementary schoolers, 5% of middle schoolers and 2% of high school students receiving in-person instruction daily, according to recently released state data.

Following last year’s mid-March pivot to distance learning due to COVID-19 concerns, schools purchased laptops and other devices on a massive scale for live-streamed remote instruction. While some students are faring well, growing evidence suggests that for many others, the nontraditional set-up is contributing to concerning levels of failing grades.

In our elementary schools, where kids build academic and social foundations that are critical to success in higher grades, it’s worrisome that as of this year’s second quarter, DOE data found that 21% of students — 1 in 5 — were receiving a failing grade in English language arts. In math, 15% were failing.

At the other end of the K-12 system, the DOE is looking at graduation rates trending in the wrong direction. Some 38% of high school seniors were not on track to graduate based on credits earned or needed. In two complexes — one on Maui, the other on Hawaii island — a stunning tally of at least two-thirds of 12th-graders were falling short.….

SA: Data shows some Hawaii public school students struggling amid coronavirus

read … Get Hawaii students back to classrooms soon

O'ahu close to hitting Tier 3 requirements

KITV: … The county is pretty close to hitting Tier Three criteria. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 59. The positivity rate is 2.4%.

Under current rules, in order to move into Tier Three, the seven-day average of daily new cases must be below 50, and the positivity rate must be below 2.5% for two straight weeks.

Tier three would allow up to ten people at most gatherings, and certain businesses to open to more people at once. …

read … O'ahu close to hitting Tier 3 requirements

Infections and hospitalizations are dropping in Hawaii as more people get inoculated

SA: … Hawaii has distributed more than 180,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that appears to be slowing infections, according to the head of the hospital association.

“It’s already reducing illness and disease in our state and hospitalizations, which is great news,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, adding that first-priority nursing homes across the nation are also seeing fewer infections and hospitalizations. The state received its first doses of the vaccine in mid-December. “Even the first dose gives a level of immunity.”

The state is vaccinating high-risk health care workers in hospitals and nursing and care home staff and residents, as well as those over the age of 75, some of whom have already received the second of the two-dose regimen. In some areas of the state, lower-priority groups also have begun to get shots. The state is administering 5,000 to 10,000 doses a day across the islands.

“The less people infected, the less end up in hospitals and the less people are going to die,” Raethel said. “It is already having an impact on the infection rate and hospitalization rate. It probably will end up having an impact on the death rate relatively soon.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations are also dropping because the state is well past the infectious period following holiday gatherings, he said.….

read … Infections and hospitalizations are dropping in Hawaii as more people get inoculated

Honolulu’s Financial Challenges

HPR: … The City and County of Honolulu recently released its latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR. The document covers fiscal year 2020, which ended on June 30th last year. To get a better feel for the city's financial condition, we went over the CAFR with Andrew Kawano, the former Foodland executive who is now the city's new director of budget and finance.

The numbers show a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Its net position is a positive $350 million, much improved over the previous fiscal year’s negative $76 million. “Net position” in an accounting term that goes beyond revenues and expenses to also factor in assets and liabilities. For 2020, the city benefitted from the transfer of various Kakaako properties from the state to the city as well as from a nearly 11% increase in property tax collections.

What is not improving is the city’s long-term debt picture, which has grown from $3.8 billion in 2010 to $6.2 billion in the 2020 report. The debt is comprised of general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, and the city’s pension obligations. Kawano says the debt is not going to go down anytime soon, in part because of capital projects such as rail.

By law, the city could carry as much as $36 billion in debt. But at its current level, the situation was enough to earn an “F’ grade from the Mainland watchdog group Truth in Accounting, which analyzed city debt on a per capita basis for 75 cities. Honolulu’s debt amounts to nearly $30,000 per taxpayer, only Chicago and New York owe more by that measure…

PBN: DEBT CRISIS DEEPENS IN HONOLULU

Background: Sinkhole Cities: Honolulu 3rd Deepest Financial Pit

read … Honolulu’s Financial Challenges

State’s outdated unemployment computer system to get a $10M overhaul

HNN: … The project is estimated to cost about $10 million, which includes a $3.8 million contract with Solid State Operations, Inc. and about a $6.5 million for storage, infrastructure, specialized staffing and other web costs.

The contract will last 18 months, but the state Labor Department said it does not have a definitive timeline for when this new system will be implemented….

SA: State announces overhaul of unemployment insurance system, but most claimants won’t see upgrades right away

read … State’s outdated unemployment computer system to get a $10M overhaul

Unemployment tax shocks hit claimants; employers next unless fixes pass at Capitol

KHON: … “My colleagues and I were laid off in April of last year, and we’re in the tourism sector,” said Peter Yee. “I think that the tourist count would have to rebound to the 70% level before I see my job back.”

Yee has been a volunteer moderator with the Hawaii Unemployment Updates & Support Group on Facebook — 25,000 strong — helping each other while the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) struggled through hundreds of thousands of claims in 2020 — some of which are still being adjudicated.

A hot topic on the forum these days: tax forms are coming out on 1099s.

“We took a poll of members and one-third say their 1099 is incorrect, so and they don’t know what to do,” Yee said. “Speaking of PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), we had a lot of people that were in that boomerang getting shuffled between regular unemployment and PUA. When they were sent back to regular unemployment, DLIR said you will you owe us this many thousands of dollars back, but they get a 1099 on that.”

“Right now, we have not requested payments for the PUA side, no bills have gone out for overpayments,” explained DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio. “They do know there’s an overpayment because they can see it on their account. We issued the payments, they received the payments, those are accurate 1099s. They have to report that and that income until it is paid back, and then you would remedy that on your tax return in the next year.”

As for taxes on folks with regular unemployment and correct PUA payments:

“I think a lot of claimants did not really realize how much they were being paid through this pandemic,” Eustaquio said. “When you see the net result at the end, like, wow, I got $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 it looks like more than really what I thought I was going to get. But when you have the $600 plus-up, and now the additional $300 coming on board, I mean, there was a lot of money that was distributed through this CARES Act. So majority of the 1099s are accurate, even though claimants think that they’re not. Some claimants did not realize that they had to select the withholdings on their own.”

That is not the only tax hit. Employers are just a month away from the DLIR’s annual rating when unemployment insurance rates are set. Those costs will skyrocket because employer reserves are drained and the state’s unemployment trust fund is in the red. Lawmakers must act quickly on bills — which got a Capitol hearing today — to phase in fixes for businesses.

“One adjusts the rate, first of all,” Rep. Richard Onishi, chairman of the House Labor Committee, explains. “And then the second most important thing is that we are looking to keep the employer unemployment experience at the 2019 experience level. We are basically going to look at discarding 2020 and 2021, and that should help most employers.”

Eustaquio tells Always Investigating they have been able to get 60 out of a target 100 staff to take over the call center from a third-party contractor that helped for a short while. There had been only 25 or so staff when KHON2 spoke with her a few weeks back.

read … Unemployment tax shocks hit claimants; employers next unless fixes pass at Capitol

State Auditor: Protect The Agency’s Independence

CB: … State Auditor Les Kondo is questioning the authority of a task force created by House Speaker Scott Saiki to obtain confidential personnel and other records from the auditor’s office.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Kondo also questioned the stated mission of the task force to undertake a “peer review” of the auditor’s operations, pointing out his office already undergoes a regular peer review….

Kondo’s letter to Young amounts to pushback against Saiki’s task force, which is being led by former City Auditor Edwin Young. Saiki has said he will also appoint former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former state Director of Finance Wes Machida to the task force.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of protecting the Office of the Auditor’s independence and credibility, to avoid even the appearance that our work is being inappropriately influenced by others,” Kondo wrote to Young. “As you surely must agree, it is absolutely critical that the office be seen as unbiased and objective, free of political interference.”

Kondo asked Young to explain by what authority Saiki created the task force. He also questioned the scope of work that the task force is undertaking.

According to Kondo, Young explained in a Jan. 29 letter to Kondo that the task force or “working group” has been instructed “to provide a 360 degree assessment of the State Auditor Office operations.”

Kondo’s letter also states that Young requested confidential personnel files, contact information for former employees and audit working papers that are confidential under state law. Young also requested records on litigation, staff evaluations and information about staff turnover and “media battles.”

But Kondo said the task force mission outlined by Young and the records he requested “are not in line with my understanding of the Speaker’s intent for the Working Group.”

Saiki’s memo to House members said the task force was charged with ensuring the auditor’s office has complied with the requirements of the state Constitution, “which you likely have already confirmed,” Kondo wrote to Young.

Kondo also noted in his letter to Young that the state Constitution created safeguards to try to eliminate the possibility that the auditor could be removed for “political reasons.”…

PDF: Letter

Reality: Saiki, Hanabusa Launch Attack on State Auditor to Save OHA’s Dirty Secrets

read … State Auditor: Protect The Agency’s Independence

DHHL Casino: HB359 Deferred, SB1321 Still Alive

SA: … State Rep. Sean Quinlan, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee, deferred House Bill 359, which has divided the Native Hawaiian community and the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission on whether legalized gambling is the right way to help get Native Hawaiians into homes and onto land.

Quinlan’s decision followed testimony from Honolulu law enforcement opposed to HB359 — and sometimes passionate testimony from Department of Hawaiian Home Lands officials who said a casino on Oahu could be different than Las Vegas-style casinos and is the best idea to generate millions of dollars of revenue to help clear the backlog of people waiting for homes and land….

A companion bill, Senate Bill 1321, remains alive and is scheduled to be heard Thursday in the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee….

read … Hawaiian Home Lands’ proposal to build casino in Kapolei stalls in state House

Keep the People Doped Up: Lots of Marijuana Bills on the Move

CDM: … H.B. 7, sponsored by Reps. Jeanne Kapela (D-South Kona, Ka’u), Nicole Lowen (D-North Kona), Mark Nakashima (D-Hamakua, Hilo) and Richard Onishi (D-Hilo), aims to legalize the personal use, possession and sale of cannabis for adults 21 and older, the news outlet reported. The legislation would also create a system for licensing cannabis businesses, as well as levy an excise tax on adult-use sales.

Kapela, along with Reps. David Tarnas (D-North Kona/South and North Kohala) and Chris Todd (D-Hilo), have also introduced H.B. 238, a separate adult-use legalization measure that goes a step further to allocate an unspecified percentage of excise tax revenues for Hawaii’s counties, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

In the Senate, lawmakers have introduced S.B. 704, which also aims to legalize adult-use cannabis and establish a commercial marketplace with licensed businesses, which would be subject to excise taxes, the news outlet reported.

Also pending in the Senate are three cannabis decriminalization bills, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. S.B. 47 would decriminalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis or up to one-eighth of cannabis concentrate, and would eliminate the penalty for transferring up to 1 ounce of cannabis or up to 5 grams of cannabis concentrate to adults 21 and older.

S.B. 705 would reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule V under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, and would also increase the amount that qualifies as a violation of promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree from 3 grams to 10 grams.

Finally, S.B. 758 would increase the amount of cannabis that an individual must possess to be charged with a petty misdemeanor from 3 grams to 1 ounce.

Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka’u) has also introduced S.B. 1010, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported, which would extend the time for Hawaii’s marijuana evaluation task force to submit its report to the legislature, as well as require the task force to also evaluate the potential economic benefits of cannabis decriminalization….

All pending bills must move to their final committees for consideration by Feb. 19

Interisland medical cannabis transport bill back

Lawmakers push to legalize marijuana for personal use

New medical cannabis bills proposed for 2021

read … Hawaii Lawmakers Consider Multiple Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Proposals

Bills Tinker With HART Board Quorum Rules

SA: … Three bills before the Legislature look at fixing the voting and quorum questions differently.

Senate Bill 998 would specify that the board members appointed by the Senate president and House speaker would be voting members, meaning that 13 of the 14 HART board members would have voting power. It passed the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday and is on its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 1288 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1324, would do the opposite.

They would keep the board members appointed by the House speaker and Senate president as nonvoting members but make it clear that their positions “shall not be counted towards a quorum,” making it easier for the board to at least hold meetings.

HB 1288 is scheduled to be heard this morning in the House Transportation Committee….

(Just wait til these hit Conference Committee.)

read … Bills aim to clarify Honolulu rail vote confusion

Former Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan Scores HART PR Gig $120K

CB: … Joey Manahan, whose term on the Honolulu City Council expired last month, has a new job. The former Kalihi Councilman and state Legislator is now the government relations and public involvement director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Manahan started at HART on Monday, according to the agency’s new executive director, Lori Kahikina. His new role will include tracking city and state legislation for the rail agency and preparing testimony.

His hiring is the latest in a shakeup at the rail agency, where former top leadership generally aligned with former Mayor Mufi Hannemann has been replaced with officials generally close to a more recent former mayor, Kirk Caldwell. Kahikina served eight years as the city’s Environmental Services director under Caldwell and Manahan was often an ally of Caldwell while on council.

Manahan often scrutinized the rail project’s finances as the council’s budget chairman, and the Kalihi district he represented includes the biggest challenge to rail’s completion: Dillingham Boulevard. He also joined Caldwell last fall in calling for HART to swiftly cancel a public-private partnership effort after the city withdrew its participation.

Last year, as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, Manahan pushed for HART to trim eight staff positions and $1.5 million from its annual operations budget. He aimed to reduce “duplicative” positions in the public involvement program, which Manahan now oversees.

On Thursday, Manahan said he’s still looking to streamline that program. Kahikina said that Manahan’s job will combine the duties performed by two former top HART officials ousted last month, former Director of Communications Bill Brennan and former Deputy Director for Government Relations and Public Involvement Joyce Oliveira.

Manahan will earn an annual salary of $120,000, Kahikina said….

read … $120K

COVID Spy App Not Popular

CB: … Developers of the AlohaSafe Alert say a minimum of 150,000 cell phone users in Hawaii need to use the exposure notification system to start markedly reducing the spread of COVID-19.

But so far, only 80,000 users have downloaded the app onto a device since it was launched in November.….

read … Hawaii’s COVID-19 Tracking App Is Falling Short

More Tourists Visiting Maui than Oahu

MN: … Visitors to Maui in December were 90,605; 63,740 in November; 23,103 in October; and 2,581 in September, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Hawaii Visitor Statistics. The most recent monthly report was released Jan. 28.

Maui’s visitor spending in December was $185.9 million — the highest in the state. Oahu, despite receiving the highest volume of tourists in December with 112,856 visitors, logged $156.5 million in spending.

Per person, per day spending in December was $188 for Maui, also the highest in the state.

read … Visitor numbers continue to climb

Schemers Still Pushing floating windfarm off Hawaii

KHON: … Back in 2016, a Danish developer proposed 51 floating wind turbines secured by anchors and electrical cables 12 miles northwest of Kaena Point.

Several companies are already ready with proposals if the state signs off.

After the cost study is completed, an environmental impact study will take place.

Both Curtis and Fevella raised concerns about the threat to local wildlife.

“With land wind systems, you can actually go out and count the dead carcasses and know what happened,” said Curtis. “Whereas if a bird flies into a giant turbine at sea and falls into the water and is eaten, you don’t have any record of what’s happened.”

“It’s going to hurt our reef, our fishery,” added Fevella.

To comment on the cost study, click here. The deadline to submit input is Friday….

read … Study underway to determine cost of floating windfarm off Hawaii

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