An Oahu judge ruled Friday that the state failed to adequately fund the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in violation of the state Constitution for more than two decades.
The ruling means legislators must appropriate at least $28 million to the department this coming fiscal year.
“The legislature has failed to appropriate sufficient sums to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for its administrative and operating budget in violation of its constitutional duty to do so,” Circuit Judge Jeannette Castagnetti wrote in her 40-page decision. “This failure includes every fiscal year since at least 1992.”
“DHHL suffers from a lack of funding and staffing, which adversely affects beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust,” she continued.
The nonprofit Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation brought the suit in 2007 on behalf of six native Hawaiians.
Moses Haia, the executive director of the law firm, said the ruling may result in a significant increase in the number of beneficiaries living on Hawaiian Home Lands.
The legislature failed to appropriate any general funds to DHHL in fiscal years 2010-2013 and restored funding in 2014 after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state failed “by any reasonable measure” to provide sufficient funds to DHHL.
For the last three fiscal years, the Legislature has provided $9.6 million to the department.
The six original plaintiffs are: Richard Nelson III, Kelii Ioane, Sherilyn Adams, Kaliko Chun, James Akiona, and Charles Aipia. Akiona and Aipia have since died.