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Tuesday, September 16, 2014         

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Vote ‘yes’ on 2 Constitution items


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The state Constitution, like all organic documents of government, was not meant to be a permanent, marble edifice, unchanged through the ages. And while it's a dubious practice to amend it too casually, it's a living document that needs occasional tweaks to accommodate unforeseeable needs.

Such is the case with two constitutional amendments that are on the general election ballot, both of which should be adopted through the popular vote. One is a measure to provide a needed additional route for some reservoir owners to make needed repairs to their dams; and the other would give the chief justice the option of considering age-capped retired judges to fill temporary slots on the bench.

Here is the precise wording, and some of the background, on each proposal:

» Question 1: "Shall the state be authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds from the bonds to assist dam and reservoir owners to make their facilities compliant with current safety standards?"

This measure was precipitated by the 2006 breach of the Ka Loko Reservoir dam on Kauai following flood rains, which killed seven people. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted studies and inspections that are ultimately expected to lead to requirements for various expensive upgrades to the dams and reservoirs.

The Constitution sets out special purpose revenue bonds as a means of financing various improvements on public and specific private properties, improvements that serve a public purpose. Dam and reservoir owners would be added to the list of those eligible to sell these bonds, gaining a less costly source of funds, and the public purpose is obvious: safety.

Kalbert Young, director of the state's Department of Budget and Finance, said the state and its taxpayers would not incur any debt obligation in such a transaction, and that's important for voters to know.

The bond authorization won't help all reservoir owners, who will be held accountable for the debt, Young said. This is because they would need to generate a sufficient revenue stream from the land that can help repay the bond, in order to qualify. Since not all the reservoir owners have a going agricultural concern or other revenue-producing activity on the site, this may not be an option.

Still, we agree with Young that the change would at least provide another tool that will make some of the reservoir upgrades financially practical, and that can ensure a water supply for future agricultural activities.

» Question 2: "Shall the chief justice of the state Supreme Court appoint judges who have retired upon attaining the age of 70 years as emeritus judges, permitting the appointed judges to serve as temporary judges in courts no higher than the court level they reached prior to retirement and for terms not to exceed three months per each appointment?"

Under the state Constitution's mandatory retirement provisions, a judge's appointment to the bench ends at age 70, a requirement that the Star-Advertiser does not support.

However, that is now settled; six years ago, voters rejected a proposed amendment to repeal that mandatory retirement clause.

At least this provision would enable the Judiciary to tap the service of retirees who are still capable to fill vacancies in the interim while the process for selecting a permanent replacement moves forward.

Both of these proposed amendments would be common-sense changes to the Constitution, and voters should feel confident giving them a "yes" vote in this election cycle.






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