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Tuesday, February 28, 2017
February 28, 2017 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:57 PM :: 1637 Views
 

Hawaii 2nd-Toughest State for First Time Homebuyers

DCCA Chases Bitcoin Provider out of Hawaii

Corporate Income Tax—50-State Comparison

Victory!  Rail tax hike fails Senate Ways & Means committee

CB: …the Hawaii Senate’s budget committee on Monday sliced off scores of pages from a bill intended to help Honolulu fund its troubled rail project.

What was left on the cutting room floor — at least for now — was the hope of city and rail officials to extend in perpetuity a tax to raise revenue for rail. The project is currently projected to fall $2 billion short of an estimated $8.2 billion construction price tag.

In the latest draft of the legislation, Senate Bill 1183, the general excise tax surcharge of 0.5 percent levied on Oahu taxpayers would still expire in 2027.

Gone as well were many suggested provisos, such as using an undetermined portion of GET revenue to pay for the state’s highways, education and other pressing needs.

In their place was something Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit do want: a return of the 10 percent administrative fee the state takes from the Oahu surcharge. …

read … Skim End

HB1518: Citizens Asking too Many Questions—Lets Shut them Down

HTH: …Similar state legislation was first passed into law in 2010 on the crest of the “birther” movement searching for former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. That law was allowed to expire in 2014….

HB 1518 would bring the law back in spades, by defining a vexatious requester as someone asking for the same or essentially similar information after the state, county or other applicable agency already supplied records or informed the requester the information isn’t available. OIP would be charged with determining the requester has made requests in bad faith or with the intent to be a nuisance.

“(It) strips citizens of the fundamental right to access public records without adequate due process,” said Civil Beat Law Center’s Brian Black in testimony. “Applying the ‘vexatious’ label to frequent requesters … would seem politically motivated to silence the news media and community advocates, not protect agency efficiency.”

The bill passed unanimously through two committees, with two voting with reservations, and the full House on second reading. It faces one more reading in the House before moving to the Senate.

State agencies supporting the bill include the DOH, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the University of Hawaii.

Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which manages the state’s public hospitals, strongly supports the concept, but is recommending an agency be able to seek relief from a judge, not OIP, for a vexatious requester. HHSC CEO Linda Rosen in written testimony attached an email string of 30 pieces of correspondence, many with attachments, to and from Kailua-Kona’s Tom Russi and Christine Paul to various agencies and individuals throughout a three-month period….

Russi and Paul started filing public records requests seeking information about West Hawaii hospitals almost 20 years ago. They had concerns about overbilling for medical procedures, late inspections of hospital facilities and other issues.

“At this point, after four years, on a weekly basis, we communicate with over 25 different people and agencies, federal, state and county,” Russi said in a Nov. 7 email to Lopez.

Contacted Monday, Russi said he and Paul started asking for records about 20 years ago, but then felt threatened and targeted for harassment, so they laid off for almost 15 years.

“The government has the ability to beat you up pretty good,” he said. “They beat me up pretty good.”….

County Public Works Director Frank DeMarco raised more local public access concerns when he sent a Feb. 6 directive to Kona resident Aaron Stene stating, “All communications from you shall be submitted in writing and by mail. 2) If received, we shall forward your letter(s) to the mayor for his review and/or response. 3) Except as indicated in direction No. 1 above, we shall not respond to any other forms of communications from you (e.g., emails, phone calls, meetings, etc.).”

Stene, a former blogger who now writes regular letters to the editor updating the progress of major road projects in the county, frequently called DPW staff to find out about the roads’ progress….

read … No More Open Records

Hospitals Support Housing Prescription for Homeless

TG: …The bill is winding its way through the state legislature, and faces a key vote this week. It has already found supporters. “I think this bill is a great idea,” said Daniel Cheng, an emergency room physician at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. Last year, treatment for homeless people at the hospital cost $90m. “When emergency medical services are being heavily overused by a population that’s being poorly served, it costs everybody,” Cheng added.

Cheng said he most commonly sees homeless patients for the treatment of psychiatric issues, infections, problems related to substance abuse and general medical concerns such as a stomach ache or chest pain. Often, patients return re-infected just a week after he treats their wound, he said. “Instead of paying for an antibiotic, let’s take that $5,000 visit and pay for housing. We’d be way more ahead.”

In Cheng’s eyes, hospitals are already expected to pick up the tab for societal ills. “We’ve clearly seen the medicalization of social problems like alcoholism and homelessness,” he said. “People who are intoxicated no longer go to a rehabilitation facility, they come to the hospital. It’s become a medical treatment.” ….

And there are concerns that such an approach might spread the state’s resources too thinly. “There is a population of homeless [for whom] it is clearly a medical condition – the substance abusers and the mentally ill,” Bob McDermott, a Republican lawmaker, was reported as saying last month. “But other than that, it seems to be a stretch.”

Honolulu’s largest homeless services provider agrees. “You don’t want to broaden it so much that everyone is eligible,” warned Kimo Carvalho, a spokesman for the Institute for Human Services. He said he is in favor of the bill but that without strict parameters, healthier homeless individuals could take advantage and drain the system.

Another concern: walkouts. “If you give mentally ill people housing, nine out of 10 will just walk away and go back outside,” Carvalho said. He added that he thought the best use of Medicaid was targeted housing for people with specialized needs, such as mental health group homes, or addiction recovery housing, because many of the neediest clients targeted by Green’s bill might refuse accommodation.

One such woman was perched outside a drugstore in downtown Honolulu recently, fumbling with the strands of her turquoise muumuu. A homeless-services coordinator, Justin Phillips, who works in the surrounding area, said the woman is frequently transported to the hospital for psychiatric treatment after good Samaritans find her wandering in the middle of busy streets, unable to communicate.

Despite high costs to the medical system, she has declined shelter for years, Phillips said. She assaulted the last caseworker who offered her assistance, and was recently released from the overcrowded state mental hospital.

“Until she gets medication, she’s not stable enough to live in housing, and even then she’s going to require a higher level of care,” said Phillips….

Related: Mental Health: Can Reform Solve Hawaii’s Homeless, Prison and Unfunded Liability Problems?

read … The Guardian

Fail: Cool Schools AC in only 54 Classrooms

CB: …Just one-fifth of the classrooms Gov. David Ige pledged to air condition by the start of 2017 have been completed.

Roughly 1,000 classrooms are out to bid, and 209 units have been installed.

In an email, Department of Education Assistant Superintendent Dann Carlson said only 54 of the 209 classrooms that have received air conditioning used the Legislature’s appropriation of $100 million. Other classrooms relied on a separate DOE program that works with schools that want to independently install air conditioning.

Those 54 classrooms cost $2.7 million….  ($2.7M / 54 = $50K per classroom)

Other classrooms around the state have received other cooling treatments. More than 400 portable classrooms have been covered with material to reflect heat, and ceiling fans have been installed in more than 100, according to the DOE site. 

(Remember: Reducing electricity consumption is more important than keeping your child cool.)

Still, Ige is calling for another $61.7 million — on top of the $100 million appropriated by the Legislature last year — to complete his goal of installing 1,000 energy-efficient air conditioning units.

read … Fail

HPD Chief: We’ll Learn More when Federal Indictments Come Out

SA: …Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha today officially closes out a 33-year career, his seven years at the top now overshadowed by a federal investigation into conspiracy and corruption.

Kealoha and the Honolulu Police Commission agreed to the terms of his retirement in January, a settlement that includes a $250,000 severance payment. The agreement came after Kealoha in December placed himself on paid leave when he received a letter from the FBI informing him that he was the target of an investigation.

First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert, a key figure in the federal case that is believed to be centered around Kealoha and other officers, said it’s too early to write the conclusion to the chief’s career.

“It’s an unfinished retrospective because I think we’re going to know a lot more about his past conduct when the federal indictments are issued,” Silvert said Monday. “So it’s hard to judge a man at this point given that reality.” ….

Some have been skeptical of Kealoha’s close ties to the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, SHOPO….

The Police Commission has already begun discussion on picking Kealoha’s successor and expects to have one in place sometime this summer.

read … HPD chief’s departure is darkened by troubles

Honolulu Transit Ridership Drops 3.2%

TA: New York City’s subway system has posted its first dip in ridership since 2009, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The news follows a news week full of reported transit passenger declines in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And, for years, nearly every city in the U.S. (with a few notable exceptions) has posted negative percent changes, too.

Some of the factors behind these declines are national, as the transportation scholar David Levinson points out via email. The economy is expanding, and oil prices are plunging. People are buying more cars and driving them more often, both to work and to weekend activities that are better served by vehicles. American cities continue to suburbanize, and as they do, taking transit often becomes a less attractive option. Immigrants, long a strong base of ridership for agencies, are increasingly moving out of urban centers... and buying and driving their own vehicles….

In other cities, rail numbers grow while bus numbers fall. That’s true in Los Angeles, where thickening traffic and construction hold-ups are slowing buses and perhaps discouraging passengers. In Chicago, CTA bus ridership dropped by nearly 20 percent between 2008 and 2016, “even as rail ridership has increased by roughly the same amount,” writes the urban policy analyst Daniel Kay Hertz….

read … What's Behind Declining Transit Ridership Nationwide?

Senate to vote on bill boosting TAT funds for counties

HTH: The state Senate will vote on a bill boosting the counties’ share of the Transient Accommodations Tax to $108 million a year.

Currently, the counties share $103 million, an amount scheduled to decrease to $93 million next fiscal year.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee advanced an amended bill Monday that gives more rather than less….

The original bill, introduced by Sen. Kai Kahele, would have distributed 45 percent of the TAT….

read … TAT

DHS Reports $51.7M in Welfare Overpayments

KHON: The fraud adds up to a balance of welfare overpayments topping $50 million. Many of those debts go back decades and are uncollectible due to death, disappearance, or statute of limitations.

“I want to really figure out how much is really recoverable out of this large amount, because some of these debts go back 44 years,” Bhanot said, pointing out about $9 million falls in that stale category, and likely more unrecoverable still.  (That means $42.7M not ‘stale.’)

The AG’s civil collections staff works on the bulk of the nearly 200 cases, armed with nearly 50 criminal judgments worth more than $8 million.

“We’re working a lot closer with DHS in identifying cases, and cases that are going to be productive in making the referrals to us,” said Michael Vincent of the Civil Recoveries Division of the AG’s office. “Last year we were able to collect more than $450,000 (That’s less than 1% of the total outstanding!) from the cases we’ve got. We’re finding a lot of them are working, so we’re garnishing their wages now, so it’s coming in steadily.”…

Last year they got 1,200 reports statewide of suspected welfare fraud, leading to disqualifications, adjustments, voluntary repayments, and criminal cases.

read … State makes inroads to catch welfare cheats, recover millions in overpayments

Libertarian author Steven Greenhut talks public employees at Maui County Club

MT: …In terms of average salaries, it’s important to remember that all public employees aren’t created equal. At the top of the pyramid sit firefighters and police officers. According to Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D–the president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute, who introduced Greenhut–the average firefighter salary in Maui County is $85,000/year, while the average Maui Police officer salary tops $72,000/year. These number stand in stark contrast to the average Maui County public employee salary, which is $46,000/year (to say nothing of the average private sector salary in Maui County, which is a mere $35,000/year). These numbers attest to the power of organized labor for fire and law enforcement–easily the most powerful unions in a state that’s already more than friendly to organized labor.

“We can’t reform anything because of union power,” Greenhut told the crowd. “Unions also make it impossible to get rid of bad actors.”

To the delight of the crowd, Greenhut also told a favorite story of mine. Years ago, Greenhut had written a column denouncing firefighters for getting paid “to sleep” on the job. Soon after, a fire union official called up Greenhut and demanded a correction, saying firefighters were paid “while sleeping,” not “to sleep.” Greenhut said he happily complied….

read … Libertarian author Steven Greenhut talks public employees at Maui County Club

HPD has millions of unspent dollars in rarely-used forfeiture account

HNN: The Honolulu Police Department has millions of unspent dollars in a rarely-used forfeiture account, and members of the Honolulu City Council plan to question department officials about plans to use it.

The Federal Asset Forfeiture Account is comprised of money given to the department from federal agencies.

In many cases, agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation seize property during drug busts, then sell the items for cash.

The money is shared with local police departments and can be used for almost anything: new equipment, technology improvements, or even purchased fleets of patrol cars.

The Honolulu Police Department has amassed almost $12M in 12 years….

HPD Assistant Chief William Axt stood up at the Police Commission meeting on Feb. 1 and told commissioners that the department would have to sacrifice important public safety items because of the $250,000 settlement to pay off embattled Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

"Do we stop testing some sex assault kits? Do we stop buying some Tasers or some body cameras?" asked Axt at the time.  (Link: Washington Monument Gambit)

The forfeiture account can be used to purchase items like stun-guns or body cameras, or to reduce the backlog of sex assault kits waiting to be tested, according to the rules of the federal program. 

Nov 2015: Hawaii earns a D- for Civil Forfeiture Laws

read … Forfeiture

Suspicious call prompts evacuation of Jewish temple and preschool

HNN: A suspicious call made to a Jewish temple in Nuuanu prompted an evacuation on Monday.

Richard Field, executive director of Temple Emanu-El, said around 3 p.m. a man who refused to identify himself, called the school's office.

Field kept him on the phone for as long as he could and said he tried to press the man for answers until Honolulu police arrived, but he wouldn't say anything more.

Field said no bomb threat or no shooting threat were made. He doesn't believe the call was racially or religiously-motivated.

Nonetheless, he followed the man's orders and evacuated everyone on the premise….

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League issued a Security Advisory to Jewish Institutions nationwide following a new wave of bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers and day schools in at least 12 states….

read … Threat?

Sierra Club OK if Paid: Wind farms killing more bats and nene than expected

MN: As wind farms statewide are killing more Hawaiian hoary bats than expected, a Maui wind farm is asking the state to increase the amount of endangered bats and nene it’s allowed to incidentally kill.

Kaheawa Wind Power II, a 21-megawatt generation facility that ascends the slopes of the West Maui Mountains above Maalaea, wants to increase its number of permitted bat fatalities from 11 to 62 adults and nene fatalities from 30 to 48 adults over the next 15 years. It has already exceeded its bat permitted fatalities….

“I think most of us who track native wildlife are concerned that these trends are starting to show up,” said Lucienne de Naie, conservation chairwoman of the Sierra Club Maui Group. “We’ve just got to know more as soon as possible to allow the wind farms and the creatures to co-exist.”  (Bought off mealy mouthed non-opposition.)

De Naie said that she’s not opposed to wind farms but is concerned about the lack of research.

“Because of that, we don’t protect their habitats very well,” she said. “We just make a lot of assumptions. . . . If the counts are going to go higher, they ought to get more money for research and have a reasonable time frame, so we’re not here 10 years from now saying the same thing.”  (Translation: Give us more money and we will continue to support killing off bats and nene.)

read … Murder for Hire

SB376: Repeal Big Cable

IM: …Senator Baker introduced SB376 to repeal the inter-island cable regulatory structure.

The bill was heard by a joint committee on February 22. Everyone stood on their testimony and it appeared there was strong support to pass the bill.

Later that day one committee voted to pass the bill. The next day, the other committee voted to pass the bill. The three legislative proceedings, combined, took less than two minutes in total….

The Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) also stood on their comments at the hearing. Their written testimony opposed the bill.

At this juncture, a related PUC proceeding is still open. As an undersea cable is a potential tool to assist Hawaii in achieving its clean energy goals, including Hawaii’s 100% Renewable Portfolio Standard. ... The analysis and due diligence on determining whether a cable is prudent could also take several years. … The elimination of HRS 269 Chapter VIII would increase the uncertainty surrounding the development of a cable lengthening the assessment and development period which could inadvertently push up the timeframe in which a detailed assessment would need to begin.”

The DBEDT position is remarkable, in that they now believe that due diligence would take several years of analysis, but just a few years ago they asserted that an undersea inter-island made total and complete sense in terms of both reliability and cost….

Ulupono Initiative did not attend the hearing. They submitted written testimony opposing the bill.

“O`ahu has a higher relative demand for electricity with less renewable energy potential, while the reverse is true on the neighbor islands. … While there is no current undersea cable project being put forth, in the future, as we all work towards 100 percent renewable energy, it may make sense to do so. … We urge these committees to leave reference to the interisland undersea cable in statute.”…

read … Inter-island High Voltage Cable Still Controversial

Anti-GMO Activists Celebrate 98.4% Net Loss of Biofuel

KE: …it was interesting to see Maui anti-GMO activists Kelly King, Kaniela Ing, Alika Atay and Elle Cochran make big hay — pun intended — over planting sunflowers to produce biodiesel.

As Ing proclaimed on Facebook: “We just planted the first regenerative crops, sunflowers (with hemp coming soon), on old Maui sugarcane land!”

Gosh, amazing how they managed to stay so clean....

And odd that they chose to grow a crop for fuel and cattle meal, seeing as how these same folks are always bitching about how the seed companies should be booted because they supposedly aren't producing any food.

But it is pretty striking to see the sunflowers coming up — along with a healthy batch of weeds — in soil that Ing and others have dismissed as “poisoned” and “toxic” after years of sugar cane production.

We'll just have to wait and see how this crop does, since it will depend solely on rainfall and the birds are known to feast on the tasty seeds.

Still, it was amusing to see them get all dizzy patting themselves on the back over how this 100-acre parcel will produce the equivalent of 800 barrels of oil per year — if all goes well and the federal subsidies promised by Sen. Mazie Hirono keep coming.

Meanwhile HC&S was using sugar cane bagasse to generate the equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil per year to meet its power needs, and this went on for decades.

But doncha know that sugar is bad and sunflowers are good? So let's not let the real world get in the way of our Maui dreamin'.....

read … Musings: From Here to There

Zuckerberg officially drops Hawaii 'quiet title' actions—Except the One Involving an Actual Owner

PBN: …Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has officially dropped his quiet title lawsuits against hundreds of fractional owners of small pieces of land, or kuleana lands, within his 700 acres of oceanfront land he owns on the island of Kauai’s North Shore, which was an attempt to gain ownership of those small pieces of lands, an attorney representing Zuckerberg confirmed to Pacific Business News over the weekend.

In an op-ed piece published in The Garden Island newspaper late last month, the world’s sixth-richest person and his wife, Priscilla Chan, said they were dropping their quiet title actions and would work with the community on a new approach. While that new approach has not yet been revealed, it is now clear that the tech titan has followed through with his effort to not move ahead with his quiet title actions….

Allison Mizuo Lee, a partner with Honolulu law firm Cades Schutte LLP who is based on Kauai, told PBN that dismissals have been filed in seven out of the eight cases.

She said the case involving Carlos Andrade, a retired University of Hawaii professor of Hawaiian Studies who owns part of a parcel among the dozen small parcels of land the billionaire doesn’t own within his overall larger parcel, could not be unilaterally dismissed by Zuckerberg.

“Dr. Andrade intends to pursue this family partition action,” Mizuo Lee said. “Our client will not continue as a plaintiff in that action.” ….

DLNR: Determining location of Ala Loa Trail$ i$ no ea$y ta$k

read … Facebook's Zuckerberg officially drops Hawaii 'quiet title' actions

Trump Defeating Liberals by Making them Mentally Ill

CB: …A friend of mine says his wife — who participated in the Women’s March on Washington — is burning out by turning on CNN from dawn to dusk to rage at Donald Trump.

Another friend says one of her recent dinner guests kept interrupting the table conversation to glance at her phone to read Trump’s latest tweet, and then to break into a fury of criticism, only to glance back at the phone to blow up again over the president’s next nutty tweet.

It’s exhausting and distracting.

“Some people are already starting to feel it is hopeless, like there is nothing they can do,” says Sherry Campagna, a Native Hawaiian and the state coordinator of the Women’s March.

She is an environmental biologist who owns Kamaka Green, a renewable energy company (which is going to lose its tax credits, so sad….)

“We realize that there is no way for us to take him down.”

ILind: Blame Trump if Tourism Declines

read … Mentally Ill

Maui: Homeless Drunk Bites off Finger

MN: …After being punched in the head twice by a homeless man who had refused to leave a Kahului restaurant, a security guard said she put her hands up to avoid being struck again when the man bit off her finger.

“He just bit onto my finger. He wasn’t letting go,” said Janine Carroll, an Allied Universal Security guard working at Maui Mall.

Testifying Monday during a preliminary hearing for defendant Alex Hand in Wailuku District Court, Carroll unwrapped a bandage to show how the top portion of her left ring finger was gone. “He bit right through the bone,” she said. “And they weren’t able to reattach it.”

“You will never have that part of your hand again?” Deputy Prosecutor Tiare Nakata asked the 41-year-old security guard.

“No,” she replied.

Carroll identified Hand as the attacker she encountered at about 9 p.m. Feb. 20 when she received a call from the manager of Wendy’s at Maui Mall saying an intoxicated man was refusing to leave the restaurant.

Two cashiers were behind the counter in a corner and pointed at Hand, who had his phone plugged into an outlet and had two bags of chips that he was eating, Carroll said.

When she asked Hand to leave, “he immediately told me, ‘F— you,’ ” Carroll said.

“He was agitated,” she said. “He just kept rambling on and on.”

read … Maui No Ka Oi

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