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Monday, April 10, 2023
April 10, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:10 PM :: 1894 Views

Survey: Hawaii Residents Reject Soft-on-Crime Policies

Tax Hikes: Where Hawai'i Fits in National Trends

HB714: ILWU Make-Work Bill Will Jack Up Your Electric Rates and Cost of Housing

SA: …the International Longshore and Warehouse Union wants tug-and-barge operators to hire existing local stevedore companies, which use ILWU labor, to handle mooring lines for securing barges at harbors statewide.

Two bills that would require such hiring have so far easily sailed through the state Senate and House of Representatives with backing from the ILWU and several other unions, while companies that transport consumer merchandise, crops, fuel and other things via barges between the islands and from the mainland are in opposition, warning that there will be higher prices and possible shortages if the proposed change becomes law.

At a Feb. 28 hearing on one of the measures, House Bill 714, Eric Wright, president of fuel producer Par Hawaii, told the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce that he was confused and surprised by the legislation.

Wright explained that Par uses tug-and-barge operator Sause Brothers with union crews to transport fuel refined on Oahu to Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island. He said the tug crews have handled barge mooring lines for dec­ades and that Par would have to hire additional labor that would create logistical challenges and extra expense if the proposed legislation becomes law.

“If we have to use stevedoring services, that could potentially create major scheduling issues for us and potentially lead to fuel shortages on the neighbor islands,” he told the committee. “We’re very concerned.”

HB 714 was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki (D, Ala Moana-Kakaako- Downtown). Its companion, Senate Bill 824, was introduced by six senators led by Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Mililani-Wahiawa-Whitmore Village)….

…Hawaiian Electric…estimated that the proposed change would lead to monthly electrical bill increases of 26 cents on Maui, 50 cents on Hawaii island and $3.92 on Molokai….

Opponents of the legislation estimate that there are about 700 tug-assisted fuel barge arrivals and departures each year in Hawaii, plus hundreds more for other goods, and that the vast majority of tug-and-barge crews are union members.

The General Contractors Association of Hawaii expressed concern that enacting the legislation will increase the cost of construction and housing, while the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Young Brothers, said it is concerned that Young Brothers would incur extra labor costs that could then be passed on to ratepayers or customers.

Jim Gomes, a Hawaiian Cement division manager, said in written testimony that a crew of locally unionized employees has operated the only cement barge in the state for the past 40 years, and that it would be “counterproductive” to displace those local union employees with another union force….

The companion measure, SB 824, stalled in a House committee in March after advancing through the Senate. That leaves HB 714 to be possibly considered in a Senate-House conference committee….

SA Column: Dock ‘line-handling’ is labor work issue, not for legislators

HB714: Text, Status

read … Labor conflict in Hawaii’s shipping industry playing out at Legislature

UPW Contract Causes Mass Jail Guard Absenteeism

SA: … The confirmation hearing for Tommy Johnson to lead the state Department of Public Safety revealed a deep and complex rift between guards and the department over chronic staff shortages, absences and overtime.

Adult correctional officers at Hawaii’s eight prisons and jails get 168 hours of vacation and 168 hours of sick leave, which Johnson called “the best benefit package in the nation.”

Along with unpaid federal family leave, the result is that the average ACO works only seven months a year, he said. Hawaii also leads the nation in ACOs who are eligible for the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, he said.

State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, responded, “I find it astonishing that we have ACOs that may only work seven months out of the year because they’re gaming the entire process here.” The committee unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend Johnson be confirmed by the full Senate….

The Department of Public Safety has 1,535 authorized ACO positions, but only 1,230 — or 80% — are filled, Johnson told the committee.

Out of the 1,230 ACOs, Johnson said 434 of them — or 35% — have been approved by their doctors to be eligible for FMLA, meaning “they can use that anytime to say, ‘I can’t stay (at work)’ or ‘I’m not coming to work.’”

Because critical ACO positions have to be staffed 24 hours a day, the result is that other ACOs regularly work mandatory 16- and 24-hour shifts on overtime.

“There’s some manipulation going on,” Johnson said. “We need to even out the required mandatory overtime as much as possible. But at the same time we need to fill the positions.”…

He said he is willing to work with UPW to change ACO work hours — such as 10-hour or 12-hour shifts — but only if it reduces overtime and absenteeism….

The Human Resources department has predicted a “silver tsunami” of ACO retirements, Johnson said….

2017: Hospital Crisis: How to Use Union Work Rules for Fun and Profit  

SA Editorial: Corrections needs systemic reforms

read … Hawaii’s state prisons face severe staff shortages

Bills to repeal Hawaii Tourism Authority advance

SA: … Two bills are moving forward to repeal the embattled Hawaii Tourism Authority this legislative session, which could prove one of the more contentious for the agency since state lawmakers gave it life in 1998.

Amended versions of House Bill 1375 and Senate Bill 1522 were slated to face a vote Tuesday in the chambers where they originated and could be approved or head to conference. Both bills passed out of their final committees last week after crossover. The bills seek to point HTA’s statutory mission more toward stewardship of home rather than tourism promotion, which had been HTA’s main focus for many years.

If neither bill is approved and the state budget becomes the vehicle to fund HTA, the agency faces another substantial hurdle as the current appropriation is $35 million — a more than 50% cut from the $75 million that it requested this legislative session. The request included $15 million to help the agency make up for receiving just $35 million in 2022 from Gov. David Ige, who found the agency federal funding after vetoing a so-called “gut-and-replace” capital improvements bill, which contained its only legislative appropriation….

HB 1375, which was introduced by Rep. Sean Quinlan (D, Waialua-­Kahuku-Waiahole) and other House members, in its current form provides a $60 million appropriation to establish an Office of Tourism and Destination Management within the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism that encompasses regenerative tourism and best-practice destination management. It also makes a $64 million appropriation to the Hawai‘i Convention Center to fund repairs for its leaky rooftop.

The measure, which is effective upon approval, dissolves HTA and its board of directors. It establishes a new nine-member board and transfers the agency’s functions, duties, appropriations and positions to the Office of Tourism and Destination Management. It caps the executive director’s salary at the same level as the DBEDT director’s salary and the assistant executive director’s pay at 90% of the top DBEDT job, which would likely have a trickle-down impact on HTA’s current pay rates, which have always been based on higher private- industry executive scales.

For example, according to the terms of HTA President and CEO John De Fries’ three-year contract, which ends Sept. 15, the base salary was $270,000 with an automatic 5% increase for each full year of the contract. In contrast, DBEDT Director Mike McCartney was making about $155,000 in 2022.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-­Mililani Mauka), who chairs the Senate Ways and Mean Committee, introduced SB 1522. The bill now has an effective date of June 30, 3000, which almost guarantees that it will head to conference. Similar to the House bill, in its current form the bill seeks to repeal HTA and instead establish within DBEDT an Office of Destination Management, which will be governed by a nine- member board of directors…. 

BIG Q: Should the Hawaii Tourism Authority be dissolved?

read … Bills to repeal Hawaii Tourism Authority advance

Campaign Cash Flowed To Hawaii Senators Just Before An Energy Bill Vote

CB: … In February 2020, days before Hawaii’s Senate Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to hear a bill benefiting some developers of solar farms, the checks started rolling in from lobbyists for companies that wanted it to pass.

On Feb. 13, a week before WAM’s hearing, campaign finance records show lobbyist Joanne Hamm donated $1,000 each to the Ways and Means chair, Sen. Donovan Cruz, and Sen. Lorraine Inouye, another committee member. Records show that on the day of the vote another WAM member, Sen. Michelle Kidani, accepted a $1,000 donation from Hamm, who goes by the name Nonie Toledo.

At the time, Hamm represented a firm called 174 Power Global, which testified for the bill. The measure would have eliminated a tax credit program for solar farms but grandfather in firms like 174 Power Global, which were pursuing projects already approved by regulators but not completed. Firms like 174 Power Global said they had baked the expected tax credits into their financial plans and that losing the credits would be a major blow.

Hamm wasn’t alone making donations to Ways and Means members. SanHi Government Strategies, a lobbying firm representing a solar company called Innergx, also supported the measure generally – but wanted a small change. SanHI donated $300 to Inouye on Feb. 13 and $300 to Kidani the day of the vote.

After the committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill, including SanHI’s requested amendment, the lobbyists rewarded the members with more largesse. Hamm on Feb. 25 donated $250 each to Sens. J. Kalani English, Dru Kanuha and Gil Keith-Agaran. SanHI donated $250 to Kanuha and $500 to English. All those donations came during the legislative session.

While such donations are completely legal, that soon may change. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit registered lobbyists from making donations to legislators during the legislative session.

People and entities who are not registered lobbyists, like the energy company execs, would still be allowed to donate during session. A bill that would have prohibited all donations during session was recently killed by lawmakers….

Fifteen states ban all donations, including those from individuals and corporate executives not registered as lobbyists, according to NCSL. Hawaii’s restriction would apply only to registered lobbyists….

read … Campaign Cash Flowed To Hawaii Senators Just Before An Energy Bill Vote

Kaua‘i farmers and businesses need tax relief

TGI: … It’s budget season on the County of Kaua‘i, which means county lawmakers have been busy haggling over what to fund and what to cut in Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami’s proposed $402 million budget.

The proposed budget contains provisions that would increase county employee salaries, pay off county debt, and buy new county equipment. It even contains a 10 percent property tax rate cut for homeowners, including owners of apartment, rental, and other residential properties.

However, it doesn’t include any property tax relief for businesses or farmers, who also have seen their costs skyrocket over the past two years.

For example, if the property valuation of a small business in Lihu‘e increased by $100,000 this year, the owner or owners would be looking at an extra $810 on their tax bill….

At a recent Kaua‘i County Council meeting, I suggested a range of ways the council could provide relief to commercial, industrial, agricultural, and commercialized home-use properties. These options included extending the proposed 10 percent rate cut for homeowners to these other property classes, as well.

The council could also freeze the amount of money it collected from each of these classes at last year’s levels, which would translate to lower rates overall.

These options would “cost” the county around $3.5 million and $5 million, respectively. But with the big windfall the county is projecting due to higher property values and inflation, it could easily afford to extend property tax relief beyond just homeowners.

To put the windfall in perspective, the county is projecting it will take in about $220 million in property taxes next year — up from $187 million last year, and $157 million from the year before….

read … VOICES: Kaua‘i farmers and businesses need tax relief

Bissen’s Spending Plan For Maui --Largest Budget Ever

CB: …His $1.23 billion spending plan for Maui, Lanai and Molokai is only slightly higher than fiscal year 2023’s $1.21 billion spending plan — the largest budget in county history. Bissen gives $931 million to the county’s operating budget and $149 million for capital improvement projects, including police radio system upgrades, agricultural park expansions, road resurfacing, War Memorial Gym building improvements and Lahaina Civic Center reconstruction….

Last year, when the county budget surpassed the billion-dollar threshold for the first time, the council increased former Mayor Mike Victorino’s proposed budget by about $25 million….

Former Mayor Alan Arakawa, who held the county’s top office for two four-year terms in 2002 and 2011, said he supports what he described as a “very, very frugal budget,” applauding Bissen’s efforts to boost emergency fund coffers and pay down debt….

read … Bissen’s Spending Plan For Maui Targets Affordable Housing And A Rainy Day Fund

Reports show more healthcare workers leaving Hawaii

KHON: … Hawaii’s healthcare worker shortage continues to get worse. According to a recent survey from the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, vacancy rates went from 10% in 2019, to 17% in 2022.

The shortages are most felt on the neighbor islands, but a proposal in the state legislature could help.

Maui County is currently dealing with the highest vacancy rate with Molokai and Lanai having very little healthcare options for residents….

Another healthcare report showed the state is roughly 750 workers short, and more private practices are closing their doors.

“The cost of living is a real issue, as is the relatively low reimbursement for many healthcare providers in the state and the recent story about the OB clinic [on Maui] that is shutting down later this year is very, very troubling and very challenging,” said Raethel.

A John A. Burns School of Medicine survey found physicians who left Hawaii said it was the extra cost of caring for Medicare, Medicaid and Quest patients which made it financially burdensome to practice.

SB397 is moving through the legislature that would provide Medicaid payments at 100% the Medicare rate, and healthcare providers believe it will be one big step in helping to retain and recruit more workers to Hawaii….

read … Reports show more healthcare workers leaving Hawaii

Waitlists grow for Hawaii’s long-term care facilities

SA: … More than 700 days, or more than two years.

That’s how long a patient at one of Oahu’s hospitals has been waiting to be admitted to a long-term care facility. For others the wait can be weeks or months or at least a year, due to a variety of reasons including challenging placements.

This growing waitlist has been an ongoing problem, according to Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, a trade group representing both hospitals and long-term care facilities, mostly due to staffing shortages.

For years, Hawaii’s long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, have been dealing with staffing shortages, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today the situation has only gotten worse, with long-term care facilities operating in crisis mode.

On any given day there are about 200 patients in Hawaii hospitals ready to be discharged but unable to due to lack of availability at a long-term care facility.

Statewide there are about 4,400 skilled nursing facility beds….

The number recently shrank due to Wahiawa General Hospital’s closure of its 115-bed nursing and rehabilitation center. The hospital cited insufficient insurance reimbursements and financial challenges as the reasons for its closure.

Wesley Lo, CEO of Ohana Pacific Health, the largest operator of nursing homes across the state, said the inability to admit new patients is not due to lack of available beds, but primarily lack of available staff.

At The Villas, a post-acute care facility in Liliha, for instance, there are about 160 beds due to a recent wing expansion, but only about 90 are staffed and available.

The staffing shortage has persisted off and on for decades. At a recent low point, Lo said he saw one long-term facility with 240 empty shifts a week, resulting in a 58% jump in clinical overtime.

read … Waitlists grow for Hawaii’s long-term care facilities

HUD: Hawaii Among Highest Homeless per Capita

USNWR: … California, New York, Florida and Washington had the most homeless people in 2022, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The four states accounted for more than half of the nation’s homeless population, with 30% of the total living in California alone.

States with the highest rates of homelessness, calculated as the number of people experiencing homelessness per 1,000 residents in the state, were California, Vermont, Oregon and Hawaii. Washington, D.C., has a higher homelessness rate than any state, with over 6.5 people experiencing homelessness per 1,000 residents.

Meanwhile, North Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, West Virginia and South Dakota have the smallest numbers of homeless people, according to the report. The five states serve as the base for less than 1% of the nation’s unhoused population. Mississippi, South Carolina and Illinois had the lowest rates of homelessness….

read … States With the Most Homeless People

Popular beachfront restaurant in Haleiwa can't fully reopen because of staffing shortage

KITV:  … This significant labor shortage in the industry, makes it difficult for restaurants in Hawaii, like Haleiwa Beach House, to find qualified and reliable staff. The Oahu North Shore eatery hasn’t been able to reopen the second level of its restaurant since closing it about 3 years ago.

Now, owner Andy Andy Anderson says he is looking for 6 staff workers for the restaurant's kitchen so the popular terrace with its amazing view can reopen. Pay begins at $20 an hour and includes a 3-percent kitchen service charge that will be added to customer checks….

read … Popular beachfront restaurant in Haleiwa can't fully reopen because of staffing shortage

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