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Sunday, April 15, 2012
April 15, 2012 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 7:29 PM :: 6440 Views :: Honolulu County News, Democratic Party, Hawaii State Government, Republican Party

Lingle to Focus on Comprehensive Tax Reform

Ed Week: Hawaii in Biggest Trouble, Feds Have Good Reason to Revoke Race to the Top

UH: Hawaii Physician Shortage Could Grow from 600 to 1600

SB3010: Sierra Club Threatens to Sue over Environmental Exemptions

Zenith Reached in Earmarking of Unrelated Fund Sources

QUEST Rationing: Hospitalization, Artificial Limbs Eliminated to Pay for ‘Preventative Services’

Benefit reductions will apply to adults in the main QUEST health plan, which offers a range of medical services.

>> Inpatient hospital days for medical and surgical services will be limited to 30. The current plan allows for unlimited hospital days. (Kick grandma to the curb after 30 days)
>> Inpatient hospital days for behavioral health services will be limited to 30. The current plan allows for unlimited hospital days. (Lunatics running rampant in streets)
>> Outpatient rehabilitation will be eliminated. (Who needs physiotherapy?)
>> Optometry services will be eliminated. (Legally blind? Well you aren’t reading this anyway so we just slipped it past you.)
>> Durable medical equipment and prosthetics will be eliminated. (No legs? Crawl on your belly!)
>> Adults in QUEST-Ace and QUEST-Net will be eligible for the same benefits package as QUEST, so their benefits will increase

WHILE THE STATE is making the changes to contain costs in QUEST, the state's version of the federal Medicaid program, the revisions will place adults in the same benefit package, which will increase benefits for more than 10,000 people who now receive limited coverage. (More people become dependent on coverage of a lesser quality.)

The package includes unlimited outpatient doctor visits and prescription drugs, an investment the state hopes will encourage adults to seek primary and preventive care and eventually reduce more costly emergency room visits and hospital stays. (Not in the hospitals’ financial interest to steer stitches and flu cases to urgent care.)

"We want to invest more in primary care and prevention, believing that that will improve health and reduce utilization," said Kenneth Fink, who administers the QUEST program.

(That’s rationing. Cut the expensive treatments given to a few and boost the cheap treatments given to many. And hire more administrators. Always more administrators.)

read … QUEST for Rationing

 

Hee: OHA Must Go After More Land and Money

Borreca: "Somewhere OHA needs to take up the question of a global settlement. They need to fish or cut bait," said Sen. Clayton Hee, the former OHA chairman, who doesn't like the partial settlement.

Last week's action paid the debt through the end of June. Starting in July, the state starts owing OHA money again. How much? Who knows? It is up to the state and OHA either coming to a global settlement like the one Hee prefers, or the meter just starts ticking again.

Not mentioned in all the songs and sobbing was the $15.1 million that the state will continue paying to OHA. That is the yearly payment owed from past agreements. OHA attorneys say that payments will continue.

"It does no good to anyone, Hawaiians and others to continue to stay on the public dole forever," Hee said. "OHA needs to persuasively argue to state government that it is prepared to embark on a global settlement."

That almost happened back when Ben Cayetano was governor. OHA in 1999 was offered $251 million, plus 20 percent of the ceded lands (365,000 acres), with the understanding that OHA would not sue the state asking for any more land or payments. Those talks never reached agreement.

Hee, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted in his committee report on the Kakaako Makai settlement: "This measure does not represent a final settlement of all of the longstanding ceded land claims, nor does it encompass all ceded land parcels within the lands identified as the Kakaako Makai area."

Instead, Abercrombie and the Legislature signed an agreement with OHA that postpones a final tally.

read … Just the Beginning

SB2438: PUC to Rely on HECO-Controlled ‘Institute’ to Approve ‘Clean Energy’ Projects

Henry Curtis: Throughout the U.S., quasi-governmental reliability councils regulate reliability standards for electric grids. HECO is the only utility in the U.S. that regulates reliability standards. No state or state PUC regulates reliability standards anywhere in the U.S. Increasing the state bureaucracy, the leadership proposed that the PUC handles the regulation of reliability standards in Hawai`i (SB 2787)

Allegedly, in order to protect electric ratepayers from unreasonable financial impacts, the leadership voted to allow the Public Utilities Commission to rely on the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute to determine which utility projects are or are not technologically feasible (SB 2438). This bill has a great potential for abuse. Cost is not considered in determining if a project is feasible. HNEI works closely with HECO, was an early proponent of Big Wind and would be put in charge of determining which projects are acceptable. Leon Roose has just retired from HECO and was hired by HNEI to work on these issues. On the other hand, the legislature was unconcerned about the costs associated with the billion dollar inter-island cable.

Last year the interisland electric transmission cable bill failed (SB 367). This year the leadership broke it up into pieces. Thus one bill looked only at developing the regulatory framework (SB 2785), another bill proposed fast-tracking and automatic approval for inter-island telecommunication lines that would co-exist with the electric transmission cable (SB 2235), they also voted to curtail new solar (SB 2288) and to fast tack geothermal explorations through broad exemptions, undercutting the Environmental Council which is currently reviewing under what conditions should the regulations surrounding geothermal exploration be streamlined (SB 3003).

read … Henry Curtis

Bag Tax, Big Cable, and Kupuna Care Lead Star-Adv Editors Legislative Priorities

SA: Senate Bill 755 … If simplification is needed in Chapter 343, the state's environmental review statute, making those changes through a deliberate process would pare down unproductive delays in a more permanent way and with greater clarity. Permanence and increased clarity in regulation would be assets to long-term planning, for both government actions and projects of the private sector.

Also in the interest of better planning for Hawaii's preferred future, the Legislature should rethink House Bill 2819, now the vehicle for the proposed residential development of two parcels in the Kakaako Makai district now owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

  • HB 2760: It's good to see both state and county officials advancing toward a "Complete Streets" approach toward transportation projects, ensuring that they accommodate pedestrians and cyclists along with motorized vehicles….
  • SB 2785: The construction of an interisland cable linking electrical grids of Maui, Molokai and Lanai with Oahu is an important step toward the integration of more renewable energy sources. (No it is just another old-boy white elephant project)
  • SB 2320: This measure would bolster vitally needed funds for the Kupuna Care program. Enabling Hawaii's seniors to "age in place" through such supports remains an important component of future planning.
  • HB 2483: The Senate has rightly rescued the proposal to charge a fee for single-use shopping bags…

read … Crunch time at Legislature

Ihara: ‘Gut and Replace’ Hits New Peak this Session

SA: In the weeks leading up to the conference stage, however, the use of a legislative strategy that's informally known by the colorful moniker "gut and replace" has made the task of following a bill from start to finish even more difficult, if not impossible.

The term refers to the practice of taking a bill, one that has moved through enough hearings to remain alive but is unlikely to pass, removing its contents and then replacing it with language from another legislative proposal. By law the title of the original bill, which can't be changed, must fit the replacement proposal, but many bill titles are written so broadly (even as unspecifically as, "Relating to the state of Hawaii") that this isn't very hard to do.

State Sen. Les Ihara is one of those within the system who has voiced concern about gut-and-replace legislating, which he is tracking and which he said is more commonplace this year than ever.

"People joke about it and everyone knows they're doing it," Ihara said. "The last couple of years it's been happening more, and this year, it's peaked."

Ihara cited Taomae v. Lingle, a 2005 ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court. In that case, then-Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, had gutted and replaced a bill to put a constitutional amendment concerning sex assault crimes on the ballot. Because the original bill had not had enough readings, the court struck down the initiative.

However, other than holding the line on bills that have had insufficient readings, he said, there's very little control over the bill content being swapped out.

Ihara is keeping a running list of bills that have morphed. Here's just one example: Under the heading "Relating to transportation," House Bill 101 started out as an amendment of the term "bicycle" to include a bicycle powered by an electric motor, and specifying which kinds of bikes are allowed on buses.

That's been gutted, and replaced with language to create a credit for aviation fuel taxes that are passed on by distributors to interisland airlines.

read … gut and replace

Will Natural Gas be Allowed to Lower Hawaii’s Electric Rates?

SA: The reliance on expensive oil is the main reason Hawaii's electricity rates have soared in the past few years, taking an ever bigger bite out of household balance sheets and driving up operating costs for businesses. The residential rate for electricity in Hawaii averaged a record 34.7 cents a kilowatt hour in 2011 compared with the national average of 11.8 cents a kilowatt-hour.

"High utility costs are crippling a lot of people," said Bob Stout, president of Times Supermarkets. The electric bill at Times' 18 stores statewide is about $1 million a month, up roughly 25 percent from a year ago, Stout said. "If there is something that can be done to lower our cost of energy, it should be pursued," he said.

Hawaii utility customers spent $3.15 billion on electricity in 2011, or 5.3 percent of the state's gross domestic product, according to state data. That was up from $1.17 billion, or 2.4 percent of the state's GDP in 1997.

Falling natural gas prices, meanwhile, are lowering electricity costs on the mainland. Wholesale electricity prices nationwide have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2008, and about 10 percent during the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a recent research report by Standard & Poors Financial Services LLC.

Natural gas is the second largest source of electricity generation in the U.S. after coal, and hundreds of new natural gas-fired power plants are on the drawing board. Hawaii is the only state with no power plants fueled by natural gas….

At the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, a member-owned utility, executives are excited about the possibility of replacing some of their fuel oil with cheaper LNG.

"It makes a lot of sense. I don't think the general public understands the true scale of the problem (with fuel oil)," said Brad Rockwell, KIUC power supply manager. "We are going to pursue renewables on a large scale. But in terms of cost, renewables will either keep rates where they are or have only a small impact," he said.

"With LNG we really have an opportunity to affect the rate."

If KIUC could get a supply of LNG, the utility would first convert a 27-megawatt power plant that currently burns petroleum-based naptha, which costs the utility around $108 a barrel. The plant supplies about 45 percent of the island's electricity. KIUC's other plants burn more expensive diesel.

By switching to natural gas, Rockwell estimates, the utility could cut its cost of producing electricity at the plant to 12 cents a kilowatt-hour from the average 20 cents it costs to burn naptha and diesel. For ratepayers that would translate into an average decrease in electric rates to about 40 cents a kilowatt-hour from 45 cents, the rate charged in April, he said.

read … The enviros are working day and night to stop this

State Capitalists Raise Money for Pro-Rail Propaganda

SA: A new organization of business leaders has been formed to promote the $5.27 billion rail project, educate the public about its benefits and try to reassure leery city taxpayers that the finances for the project are sound.

The organization called Move Oahu Forward will raise money and buy advertising to boost the project, but will not be a political advocacy organization, said Richard J. Dahl, who is president and chief executive officer of the James Campbell Co., and former CEO of Bank of Hawaii.

Dahl is co-chairman of Move Oahu Forward, with Constance H. Lau, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Electric Industries. They join more than 30 leaders of Hawaii businesses and organizations, such as Hawaiian Airlines, First Hawaiian Bank, Castle & Cooke Hawaii and The MacNaughton Group, who signed up to support the rail project as board members of Move Oahu Forward….

At least some of the business leaders involved in Move Oahu Forward may have direct economic ties to the proposed rail system. For example, the HART estimates it will spend $20 million to $24 million a year on electricity after the system is complete in 2019. (Be sure not to mention all the bond financing fees handled by local banks or the land owned by C&C.)

However, a spokeswoman for HEI said that under a new rate structure known as "decoupling," the additional electricity sales to the city because of rail operations will not result in additional profit for HEI.

read … Privatizing HART’s Job

Hanabusa Brings in $224,000

SA: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa raised $224,000 in the first quarter of 2012 as she prepares for an expected rematch with Republican Charles Djou for the seat they competed for two years ago.

Quarterly reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by today.

Hanabusa’s take for the January-March period brings her total for the election cycle to $770,000, and she has about $428,000 in cash on hand, according to her campaign.

read … Rematch

DoH Bans Backyard Burning Statewide—$10,000 Fine

Cataluna: On Monday, the Department of Health Clean Air Branch announced that backyard burning is now illegal for every island. Violations are subject to fines of up to $10,000 per incident….

For all those who despise backyard burning there are others who are quite attached to it, who see it almost as a meditative practice.

There is definitely a cultural aspect to backyard burning, but not cultural in terms of any particular ethnic group, I would think. Culture in this case has more to do with a rural way of life in neighborhoods where slick one-armed trash trucks don't go down dirt roads and where all the leaves raked up in a yard would fill several Costco-sized boxes of plastic bags if they had to be contained that way.

Backyard burning has been illegal on Oahu since 1973, but as any neighbor island resident will assure you, Oahu is not like the other islands. Setting fire to a pile of leaves in a tiny Kaimuki backyard will have all of Kahala calling the fire department. Setting fire to a pile of leaves in the back of a rural neighbor island six-acre homestead isn't likely to bother hundreds of people.

The whole "rake leaves, make fire" process is for some, a blessed routine, a Zen-like weekend rite of gathering dead leaves, leaning on a rake and staring into the fire like watching troubles float away in the gray smoke.

Like one person said on Facebook, "I feel sorry for the little old … man who loves to burn in his metal trash can to get away from his wife for a little while."

read … Stop Harassing the People

Hawaii Would Be Hit Hard by Buffet Rule

The Whitehouse bill, which has been endorsed by Obama but has no chance of actually becoming law this year, is widely seen as a political device that will enable Democrats who vote for the measure to accuse Republicans who vote against it of coddling millionaires. The issues of growing income disparity and tax breaks are being used by Obama as wedge issues in the 2012 presidential race.

Connecticut ranks fourth among the states in the number of millionaire households, according to a widely used measure compiled annually by Phoenix Marketing International.

The firm defines millionaire households as those with $1 million or more in liquid assets, which excludes real estate. That definition does not include income, the real measure that determines tax liability.

Nonetheless, by the asset metric, Connecticut has 98,392 millionaire households, or 7.13 percent of all households in the state. Maryland is No. 1, with 7.22 percent of millionaire households, followed by Hawaii (7.21 percent), New Jersey (7.19 percent) and Connecticut. Massachusetts comes in fifth, with 6.41 percent….

The Whitehouse bill would impose the 30 percent minimum tax on adjusted gross income minus charitable contributions, which means taxpayers would still be able to take advantage of capital gains, tax-exempt interest and charitable deductions.

related: Lingle to Focus on Comprehensive Tax Reform

read … Buffett Rule

Akiona: Obama Budget Targets Independent Contractors

HR: Independent contractors in Hawaii don't draw a salary from a single company, but work on contract or through an alternative arrangement providing services, often to a larger enterprise.

President Barack Obama’s budget, released in February, includes $14 million to combat so-called employee misclassification, enabling the U.S. Department of Labor to coordinate with the IRS and participating states to reclassify employees.

This assault by state and federal agencies is forcing companies to reclassify their independent contractors as rank-and-file employees. This action has harmful consequences to the economy and could lead to millions of lost jobs and disruption to vital services.

read … Deron Akiona

Guam National Guard Teams to Deploy to Afghanistan

ST: One of the teams deploying is the 1990th Contingency Contracting Team, a four-person team, which will be providing contracting assistance to the Joint Support Theater Contracting Command.
Another team of Guam soldiers will be one of 20 teams deploying to serve as Security Force Advise and Assist Teams in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to Maj. Gen. Benny M. Paulino, Adjutant General of the Guam National Guard.

“The 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team received notice last year to prepare for possible mobilization. The bulk of the brigade is from the Hawaii Army Guard, but also includes infantry battalions from Guam and Arizona. That notice was rescinded and battalions belonging to Hawaii and Arizona were taken off the mobilization list,” said Paulino.

read … Guam

UH Manoa Perfesser Predicts Future Census Questions: How many times have you changed your sex?

We asked James Dator, director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, what kind of information census takers will be soliciting seven decades in the future. Dator says that possible questions might include:

--What is your current sex? (Absolute ‘freedom’ here)

--What is your permission number for drinking water? (No freedom here)

--How many times have you changed your sex? What categories have you experienced?

--How do you generate your own nutrient and energy supplies? (Assumes that everybody will do this for themselves.)

read … The Future They Want to Create

Hardships do not faze new BYUH student president

SA: Mustapha El Akkari arrived at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus with a full-ride basketball scholarship, then went on to win election this year as BYUH's first non-Mormon and first Muslim student body president….

in February, El Akkari made the critical decision to run for student body president — with or without a scholarship that will cover all of his BYUH expenses.

"A lot of people — LDS and non-LDS — told me, ‘It's not your place, you gotta go someplace else,'" El Akkari said. "But I found myself at BYU-Hawaii. They taught me who I am."

read … BYUH

Lawsuit: Waikiki Shooting Gallery Charged with Negligence

HONOLULU - Instead of ejecting a woman who was behaving dangerously at a Waikiki shooting gallery, SWAT Gun Club let her shoot another 20 rounds, and she was killed because the firearm discharged into her head, a family claims in Hawaii's First Circuit Court.

read … Courthouse News


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