Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Cleaning House

By Henry Curtis

Last year House Finance Committee member Pono Chong asked during a committee hearing on Community Media: “What is the public benefit of democracy?”

The State Legislature goes in cycles. The more controversial bills are debated in the non-election years (the odd years).  Less controversial bills are debated in the election years (the even years).

Every ten years there is a U.S. Census, followed by a State Reapportionment Commission which re-draws district boundaries, followed by an election (1982, 1992, 2002, 2012) in which every Senate and House seat is up. The quietest sessions are in these years preceding these elections of everybody.

This is the conventional wisdom anyway. But it is not true this year. Rather, the State House seems intent on destroying democracy.

Numerous bills are being floated that would limit public participation, limit the applicability of environmental laws (Environmental Impact Statements, Shoreline Management Areas), limit free speech (gutting the funding for community media), limit sunshine (such as at county councils), limit county review of projects, and increase the amount and type of gifts and other freebies that Legislators can receive.

A bill to release annual ethics filings by land and water commissioners (Land Use Commission, Water Commission, Board of Land and Natural Resources) went nowhere.

Yesterday the State House heard a bill appropriately designated HB 1893 whereby the Governor and the Mayors could exempt state and county projects  from environmental review (HRS Chapter 343) if the projects are “entirely on state or county land”, and “funded entirely by state, county, or federal funds” regardless of whether the land is  “a historic site,” “a shoreline area,” or part of “the Waikiki area.” The project must be completed by 2015 unless its not, in which case the Governor or Mayor could extend the Act.

The bill alleges to place “reasonable limitations on ...article XI, section 9, of the Hawaii State Constitution”  arguing that  the “regulation and limitations are temporary and necessary for the economic revitalization of the State.”

Article XI, Section 9 discusses the environment and not the economy: “Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution and conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceedings, subject to reasonable limitations and regulation as provided by law”

HB 1893 states: “Exemptions [from environmental review] may be granted under this Act for narrowly defined projects.” The exemption covers all county and state roads, harbors, airports, and new and existing governmental buildings, including but not limited to the building of a private prison on Maui as long as the project was on State land and entirely funded by the State.

The public testimony was overwhelmingly negative. Representative Har then spoke up, saying “this would be very narrow in scope, but if you actually read the bill it really carves out, this is not a blanket exemption the way I read this, there are so many things that don't qualify.”

Of course, in conference committee, everything not included as an exempted project, could be added to the bill.

This dangerous bill was deferred, but the Finance Committee has passed plenty of other bills that are just as dangerous.

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