By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: June 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
`Ano`ai kakou… I had high hopes of a productive legislative session back in January, but my hopes were dashes by mid-session when several bills that were dear to me died in committee. Here is a brief run-down of three bills that I strongly supported:
Interim Revenue. Senate Bill 2948 establishes the amount of interim revenue to be transferred to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs from the public land trust, each fiscal year beginning with fiscal year 2005-2006, at $15,100,000. The bill also appropriates $17,500,000 as the amount of revenues owed to OHA for the underpayment of OHA’s pro rata share of the public land trust revenues between July 1, 2001 and June 30, 2005. As of this writing, the bill is awaiting signature from the Governor to be enacted into law.
OHA Retirement Bill. SB916 would have allowed trustees with at least five years of service with the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) to buy-back credit for their prior service. SB 916 was just a housekeeping measure that would correct an oversight in a previous bill passed in 2002. Unfortunately, for the past three years, the ERS board, through its Administrator, has lobbied the House not to pass the bill. For this reason, the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Scott Saiki, refused to even give the bill a hearing.
Property Tax Exemption for Kuleana Lands. SB914 would have exempted Kuleana lands from real property taxes if the land has been continuously occupied by the original titleholder. Commercial developments have led to sharp increases in taxes on real property, including Kuleana land, throughout the State. These increases have adversely affected many Hawaiian families who live on kuleana lands because they are unable to pay for the taxes. Hawaiian families living on kuleana land now face the loss of their land and legacy that took generations to establish and must confront the possibility of homelessness.
SB914 got a hearing on the Senate side, thanks to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committee chairman, Senator Colleen Hanabusa, but the bill came up one-vote short of passing. I tried to convince Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who voted “no,” to change her mind and support the bill. Unfortunately, she refused to budge from her position that we should first get each county to agree to it.
I am currently working to get a city ordinance passed at the Honolulu City Council. Bill 25 was introduced on March 15, 2006 and was passed unanimously by the Council’s Budget Committee on April 26, 2006. It is scheduled to be heard and voted by the full Council on May 17th.
Ceded Land Revenues. HB 459 would have clarified the lands comprising and the revenue derived from the public land trust under the state constitution and what is owed to OHA. Like in past sessions, this bill went no where. Ever since 2001, when Act 304 was repealed, OHA has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would reestablish the continued funding of OHA from ceded land revenues. We almost got the bill passed in 2003. It was passed unamended in the Senate but died in the House Finance committee after the committee changed the bill to leave out money from improvements to the land.
As the campaign season heats this fall, I ask that you question the candidates in your district about their positions on important Hawaiian issues. It’s time to take a stand against politicians who patronize Hawaiian issues with meaningless words and no positive action. Politicians like Representative Scott Saiki, who are influenced by lobbyists instead of their constituents, don’t deserve to be re-elected. In the last election, Rep. Saiki won by only 5,006 votes, while OHA trustees typically win with over 100,000 votes from all voters (not just Hawaiians) state-wide. It should be obvious who really represents the people.
Let’s remind all elected officials that our issues are important and should never be pushed aside and ignored. Hawaiians make up 20% of the population and in the last several elections have had a high voter turn-out rate of 75%, despite the fact that Hawaii has one of the lowest voter turn-out rates in the country. This should be a wake-up call for all elected officials that Hawaiians are aware of their political power at the ballot box. Imua e Hawai’i nei…