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Thursday, April 3, 2014
April 3, 2014 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:25 PM :: 4259 Views

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint in Honolulu May 8

UHERO: Why are Hawai’i’s Electricity Prices So High?

Hawai’i Health Connector Signs Up Only 7,861 People in 6 Months

Obama takes sides in Hawaii’s contentious Senate Democratic primary

Back from Afghanistan: 100 Soldiers from 536th Support Maintenance Co

Q&A on Supreme Court's New Campaign Finance Decision

Rally Against OHA Kakaako Development Scheme

Monsanto Employees Rally on Maui, Molokai, Deliver Report to Mayor

Hawaii Firearms Permits up 20% -- Hit New Record

Djou will seek Congressional seat

SA: Ending months of speculation, former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou announced Thursday morning that he is entering the Republican primary for the seat he once held.

Djou made his plans to seek the 1st Congressional District seat on KSSK radio's Perry and Price show after tweeting an hour earlier he would be doing so "after considerable thought and prayer."

Background: CD1 Poll: Good News for Charles Djou

read ... Djou will seek Congressional seat

Kakaako: Keep eye on money and politics

SA: Nowhere has the land-power link become more evident in recent years than in the redevelopment of Kakaako....

The connection Perez traced between the HCDA and companies such as Mitsunaga & Associates Inc. illuminates the industry's strong position in the government's decision making. Mitsunaga & Associates is an engineering and architectural firm HCDA hired for the renovation of the historic American Brewery Building. Lois Mitsunaga, an engineer with the firm and the daughter of its owner, is vice chairwoman of the HCDA board, a fact cited in a lawsuit over that renovation project....

her very presence on HCDA's board, and the sizable contributions totaling over $130,000 made to Abercrombie's two gubernatorial campaigns by employees and others associated with the company, under- score the public-policy concern that hovers over Kakaako.

The governor appointed Mitsunaga and the other board members who serve alongside Cabinet members. And this company is only one example. Abercrombie has collected nearly $370,000 through December from individuals with ties to Kakaako business interests and HCDA....

What's needed — whether from the commission itself or an outside good-government organization — is cross-indexing with lists of companies involved in current projects. More must be done to enable average citizens to spot the connections.

Background: Kakaako Developers give $850K to Abercrombie, Buy HCDA Board

read ... Keep eye on money and politics

HCDA's ties to condo developers highlighted

SA: Who sits on the board of the Hawaii Community Development Authority historically has not been a contentious issue. But with the recent flurry of Kakaako condominium towers winning agency approval, the selection process is attracting more attention.

This week, a Senate committee voted 5-1 to confirm the appointment of Brian Tamamoto, an executive of a subsidiary of local development firm Kobayashi Group, to the nine-member HCDA board, which governs development in Kakaako.

Sen. Laura Thielen (D, Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua) cast the sole no vote, raising a question about whether Tamamoto has a conflict because Kobayashi Group has interests in condominium tower development in Kakaako.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Tamamoto will take one of the two HCDA board positions reserved for representatives of small business. Tamamoto was appointed to the board by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in December and has been serving as an interim board member since then. Abercrombie nominated Tamamoto from a list of four people recommended by the City Council.

read ... HCDA's ties to condo developers highlighted

Abercrombie: Nonprofit Health Connector 'Fundamentally Flawed',  Should Become Part of DHS Medicaid Service

HNN: On Tuesday, Governor Neil Abercrombie told Hawaii News Now that execution was fundamentally flawed by a Legislature decision to set up a nonprofit.

The governor said, "I never thought having a nonprofit corporation was an efficient way to do it."... (Blame Game: Abercrombie blames Legislature)

The governor said, "They don't have the same capacity as we do, say to determine Medicaid eligibility and follow through with it. He added that, "The existing non-profit corporation probably needs to morph into an extension of what we already do very, very well."

The governor plans to push for a waiver, that could, for instance, give the departments of Health, and Human Services broader range to facilitate insurance for residents. He said, "I think in retrospect if we simply allowed the Department of Health and Department of Human Services to run it through Medicaid, and added personnel I think we probably could have registered more."

As of the deadline, 8,000 successfully enrolled through the Connector.

Another 30,000 obtained Medicaid coverage.

27,000 were declared ineligible for Medicaid, and are waiting to learn about tax credits for coverage.

The Connector blames the Department of Human Services for delays. DHS disagrees, saying it's "on track, and has 45 days to process all applications."

read ... Blame Game

House Passes Minimum Wage Hike With Simplified Tip Credit

SA: The minimum wage in Hawaii is now $7.25 an hour. Under the proposal, that would gradually rise every year until it reaches $10 per hour in 2018....

The committee also made changes to the tip credit. The tip credit requires employers to pay tipped workers slightly less than other employees on an hourly basis. Under a previous version of the proposal, the tip credit would kick in if an employee made more than 250 percent of the poverty level. But the committee changed that so that the tip credit would kick in if an employee made around $16.10 an hour, including tips. That would make it easier for employers to calculate, lawmakers said.

The Senate passed the bill earlier last month. Its next stop is the House floor.

PR: Wage bump

read ... Minimum Wage Hike

Kauai Teachers stand against state evaluation system

KGI: More than 50 Kauai teachers showed up Tuesday night to Wilcox Elementary School with complaints about a pilot program that evaluates their classroom effectiveness.

Don Horner, chairman of the Hawaii Board of Education, listened for more than two hours as teachers objected to the Educator Evaluation System.

EES survey feedback results completed and submitted by teachers statewide are expected to be made public this week. Meanwhile, a joint DOE/HSTA committee continues to look for opportunities to make changes to the evaluation system.

read ... Kauai Teachers

Funding early autism treatment will save money in the future, bill's advocates say

SA: Supporters of a bill that would require insurance companies to cover the cost of autism treatments for children say coverage could save the state millions of dollars and prevent costly services in adulthood.

Senate Bill 2054, also known as Luke's Law, would mandate that health insurers, mutual benefit societies and health maintenance organizations provide coverage for children with autism spectrum disorder, a benefit that would drive up premium rates.

Mihoko Ito, an attorney for Autism Speaks, a national research and advocacy group and member of the coalition Hawaii Families for Insurance Fairness, said the state Department of Education spends $37 million a year on special-needs services for children with autism.

The state Department of Health also serves about 300 adults with autism at an annual cost of between $200,000 and $900,000 per adult, an expense that could be reduced with early intervention, she said.

"When you add all those costs up, it's a pretty significant cost to the state," she said....  ($200 to 900K x 300 = $60 to $270M)

In testimony opposing the legislation, Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state's largest health insurer, said the cost of providing these services must be borne by the state under the federal Affordable Care Act.

"While the bill attempts to shield the state from bearing the cost burden, it does not do so," Jennifer Diesman, HMSA's vice president of government relations, said in her testimony. "We believe it is critical to have a financial analysis of the cost of providing coverage for screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders."

read ... Funding early autism treatment

REITS Evade Property, Income Taxes

SA: For years, the out-of-state owners of Ala Moana Center, Public Storage, Bishop Square, as well as many other retail centers, office buildings, hotels and industrial parks, have paid virtually no state tax on their real-estate operations in Hawaii. Hard to believe, but it's absolutely true.

These mainland firms manage to avoid paying state taxes by holding their assets in a real estate investment trust (REIT). A REIT, unlike other corporate entities, generally pays no tax at the corporate level, thanks to a "dividends paid deduction." Instead, Hawaii law requires that at least 90 percent of a REIT's taxable income be distributed directly to shareholders, who will then pay income tax on those dividends.

The flaw in this design, however, is that because REITs are taxed only at the shareholder level, shareholders who reside outside of Hawaii typically pay zero tax in Hawaii. Instead, they pay income taxes to their state of residence.

This means a REIT shareholder can make a fortune collecting rent in Waikiki, but when that fortune is taxed, it might pay for pension benefits in Illinois or a new highway in New York.

Fortunately some of our state legislators have recognized this loophole and introduced House Bill 1726 to plug it. Passage of this bill would broaden and stabilize Hawaii's tax base without burdening Hawaii residents or businesses with any additional tax obligations.

Conservative estimates project that closing this loophole would recover nearly $20 million in tax revenue annually. While significant, the actual figure is likely to be greater, especially considering the potential capital gains on future sales of REIT-owned property.

read ... $20 Million

How Much Money Do Honolulu Agencies Really Want? Officials Won't Say

CB: The Caldwell administration is refusing to make public high-level budget documents that the mayor used to set his spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

These records show exactly how much money each department head — from the police chief to the managing director — asked for in 2015 along with the justification for those expenses.

But city officials won't release the information, saying it is “pre-decisional and deliberative.”

That means taxpayers can't see what Mayor Kirk Caldwell left on the cutting room floor. While he frequently touts his spending priorities, there's no way of knowing which departments are left wanting.

read ... Blackout

Snow Job: Ansaldo Claims Belgian Rail Settlement is "Entirely Different" from Honolulu Because it Doesn't Snow Here

SA: Local officials with the firm say what's happening with the Fyras in Europe doesn't at all affect the city's contract with Ansaldo.

"Honolulu's system is entirely different," Ansaldo Hono­lulu JV project manager Enrico Fontana said in an email last week. "It is not a high-speed system and does not face the extreme weather issues seen elsewhere. Hono­lulu's system will not face any of the operational issues experienced in the Netherlands.

"The issues in the Netherlands are completely unrelated to the Hono­lulu project, and Ansaldo Hono­lulu JV's contract with the city of Hono­lulu is not impacted," Fontana added.

However, Ansaldo Hono­­lu­lu JV and the city have their own disputes — including a disagreement dating to at least August 2012 over whether Ansaldo was required under contract to deliver a system with more flexible train car configurations.

Officials overseeing the local rail project eventually requested that Ansaldo deliver 20 four-car trains for the system, but earlier this year the two parties were about $25 million apart on the cost for that request.

March 22: Ansaldo Breda Forced to Buy Back Defective Trainsets

read ... Ansaldo's Latest Disaster

Judge rules in favor of Thirty Meter Telescope project 

WHT: Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope project Wednesday.

Nakamura based his decision off four points, including one that found that the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ approval of a conservation district land use permit to the University of Hawaii at Hilo prior to holding a contested case hearing did not warrant reversal of the decision or order.

The decision will be appealed, natch.

read ... Telescope Win

Selective Audit Targets Kauai Mayor

KE: Kauai County Auditor Ernie Pasion failed to investigate the unauthorized use of county vehicles and fuel by top officials in the Office of Prosecutor, even though former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri had admitted that she, former first deputy Jake Delaplane and an investigator were taking cars home — a violation of state law.

Instead, Pasion focused solely on a gas audit that targeted the mayor and a county parks worker.

read ... Kauai Eclectic

Salaries, benefits eat up county budget hike

WHT: The county Salary Commission has meanwhile been raising salaries of top department heads and Cabinet officers. The Salary Commission last year added from $10,218 to $17,598 to salaries of 12 top officials.

Firefighters account for $5.8 million in wage and benefit increases in the proposed budget and police account for $4.5 million, according to figures provided by Finance Director Nancy Crawford.

“I’ll make sure that I’m the last to accept any increases,” Kenoi said. “It’s not about pay and benefits; it’s about the humbling opportunity to serve.”

In addition to covering salaries, the county has added $1.9 million for employee health expenses and an additional $1 million into the GASB 45 post employment health benefit account, bringing that figure to $4.2 million.

The money has to come from somewhere. Public Works Director Warren Lee noted that his overall budget has decreased, if the increased cost of salaries, wages and fringe benefits isn’t taken into account.  (More people working -- less work to do.)

read ... Salaries, benefits eat up county budget hike

Public safety department investigates sick leave abuse

KITV: Relatives of inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center and Hawaii Community Correctional Center have come to expect changes in their visitation schedules.

But prison system officials say they plan to address the high number of sick leave calls among other changes.

Public safety director Ted Sakai says inadequate staffing is not just a weekend problem.

"For the wardens it's almost a day to day proposition – who's coming to work," said Sakai.

Hawaii's Department of Public Safety is now taking big steps, including investigations into cases of possible sick leave abuse.

"We know there are some days where the sick leave call ins tend to be very high and we know what they are – Super Bowl, New Year's, things like that," said Sakai.

But not all call ins are false. Sakai says job stress and a hostile environment can lead to poor health. That has inspired the department to explore a Wellness Program to help corrections officers deal with health issues.

Other situations are presenting challenges. If an inmate is hospitalized or deemed suicidal, an officer is taken off visitation duty and reassigned to an inmate. Another big change is coming in the way these officers are hired.

Sakai says part of the solution is getting the right people for the positions, so the department is changing its recruitment methodology. It is looking for men and women who want a career, not just a job.

read ... Abuse

Vending in Park or Religious Freedom?

KGI: Punohu Kekaualua III, of Wailuauka, had a dozen supporters in tow as he appeared at Kauai District Court on Wednesday to plead on a petty misdemeanor charge.

Kekaualua travels around the island each morning in native Hawaiian dress, to conduct religious and cultural activities. On Feb. 25, he was standing at Waimea Canyon lookout wearing a malo and spirit helmet when he was cited for commercial vending within the jurisdiction of Division of State Parks.

Officers of the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement issued the citation to Kekaualua. The violation is a petty misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail....

“The visitors were taking photos with him and they were dropping money in a bowl, and they called that commercial vending,” Edens said. “We are saying that he is performing his religious ceremonies and holy men have the right to receive alms.”

read ... Religious Freedom

Guam trying to go ‘shall issue’ a month after adopting Castle Doctrine

GC: Currently the Guam Police Department only issues permits at the discretion of the Chief and commonly denies most.

“Guam law treats the bearing of firearms as a privilege, not a right. If someone should not carry a concealed firearm, the law should clearly state the reasons. Who may or may not be issued a concealed firearm permit should not be left to the discretion of one person,” said the bill’s author Senator Tony Ada (R).

Ada’s bill, SB 296 (pdf) , would remove the restrictive ‘extreme cause’ language from the territory’s laws that currently restricts permits from otherwise deserving applicants who cannot show that their life is in immediate danger. The bill would require the Chief of the Guam Police Department to issue permits to any resident applicant who is over 21, can satisfy a background check, and desires a legal means of carrying a firearm for self-defense.

Guam currently allows permits at a cost of $103 and are valid for five years. The Guam Police Department’s regulations (pdf) indicate that concealed carry permits are approved on a discretionary basis by the Chief of Police and only once the applicant has shown exceptional cause.

read ... Guam trying to go ‘shall issue’ a month after adopting Castle Doctrine

Diet Supplement Causes Nearly 100 Hepatitis Cases

LS: As of February, OxyElite Pro, a dietary supplement manufactured by USPLabs that claims to help people burn fat, has been linked to 97 cases of hepatitis, including 47 people who were hospitalized, three who needed liver transplantations and one person who died, according to the paper, which was authored by Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance.

Although people who took the supplement started getting ill in May last year, the Food and Drug Administration did not learn of the cases until four months later, in September, when doctors reported a cluster of liver illnesses in Hawaii. USPLabs stopped selling the product in October.

Health officials suspect that a new ingredient called aegeline that was added to the supplement caused the illnesses, Cohen said. Because the FDA regulates supplements only after they come to market, companies are not required to prove that their products are safe and effective before marketing them.

"This really points to the fact that there's no safety testing … before a new ingredient shows up in a supplement in the United States," Cohen said. "Guess who's the experimental animal — the consumer."

Dangerous supplements are supposed to be identified and removed quickly, but this is often not the case, as demonstrated by the hepatitis outbreak, Cohen said. Doctors can report adverse events tied to dietary supplements through an online portal called MedWatch.

But in most cases, the FDA does not receive reports of the harmful effects of supplements, Cohen said. Those cases might be reported to a poison control center, which does not communicate with the FDA, or they might not get reported at all, he said.

"Dangerous supplements remain on store shelves for weeks, months or years" because the FDA has a fractured system for monitoring supplements, Cohen said.

read ... About the Industry Which Funds Anti-GMO Activism

Hollywood Hippie in Vermont Raising Money for Air-Powered Car to be Built in Hawaii

BR: Ethan Tucker is eager to put the pedal to the metal to help reduce society's carbon footprint.

The Hollywood screenwriter came to town a while back to visit his sister and brother-in-law, Ellen and Pierre Capy, the owners of Mocha Joe's, when Pierre mentioned hearing about a car that runs on air.

"I thought it was absolutely perfect ... the minute I heard about it," Tucker said. The vehicle in question was an AIRPod, which is in development by Motor Development International and is powered by compressed air. MDI and Zero Pollution Motors have teamed up and the latter has the rights to begin commercial production of these vehicles in the United States. Tucker, who got involved during the automotive crisis of 2009, has been named the interim president of Zero Pollution Motors and fellow Brattleboro resident Josh Dillingham is the social media manager.

Tucker has started a grass-roots campaign and is aided by his niece, Sophia Capy, and her friend, Eliya Petrie, in raising awareness of the AIRPod and its potential. The three have taken to the Brattleboro Food Co-op a handful of times in an attempt to educate people about the revolutionary vehicle and drum up support for an AIRPod factory in Hawaii.


read ... About Something nobody in Hawaii has Heard of

HEI Selling Caused by Inaccurate Analyst's Report

HEI: Today the common stock of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. HE has been subject to abnormal trading volumes and substantial selling, apparently based on the release of a research report that contained multiple inaccuracies and made assertions about the potential need for the company to cut its dividend.

read ... Stock Manipulation?

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