Monday, April 27, 2015         

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The House and Senate conference committee hashing out ways to raise construction funds for Oahu's rail-transit project have a clearly superior option before them.

The federal agency that wants to remove humpback whales from the endangered species list will take public comments on the proposal for roughly the next three months. Conservationists are urged to weigh in with local wisdom about the population plying Hawaiian waters, which are essential breeding, calving and nursing areas for the majestic marine mammal.

Howard Hughes Corp., in pursuing a permit amendment for its 988 Halekauwila project to allow construction of rental units in lieu of condos, created an opening for state authorities to seek a final product that would better meet the community's housing requirements.

When Gov. David Ige moved Tuesday to intervene in the legislative process that was about to yield a long-needed hospital privatization law, eyebrows went up. And among advocates, brows furrowed with worry.

The news from Oahu's latest Homeless Point-in-Time Count is disturbing, no matter how the numbers are crunched, or which lens is used for viewing them.

Hawaii officials need to keep their eyes on the prize — moving the state technologically into the 21st century — even if the timetable for making that shift has to be prolonged to make it more affordable and workable.

A doctor's primary professional obligation is to his or her patients, not to the patients' insurance companies. It's one thing for an insurer to encourage doctors to refer patients to other physicians in its network as a way to control costs, but quite another for it to require those doctors to emphasize financial concerns.

Legislative activity heats up now, during the waning weeks of the session. The conference committee process has lawmakers from the House and Senate hashing out the details on contentious issues such as extending Oahu's rail tax, privatizing public hospitals and establishing medical marijuana dispensaries

As a society we've seemingly lost some of our ability to focus on the task at hand. Ordinarily that's an annoyance, but as Hawaii sadly noted this past week, it can have tragic consequences.

For the past 40 years, a state health care law has ensured coverage for most Hawaii residents through an employer mandate, with benefits that are richer than in most other states.

The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II remains undiminished as a national disgrace, even with the passage of 70 years.

The adequate response to Honolulu's homelessness crisis, as many experts point out frequently, will require the use of every tool in the toolbox.

Well past midnight at a neighborhood bar, an off-duty Honolulu police officer's gun goes off, sending a bullet into a female worker's abdomen.

The work furlough program that's run by the state Department of Public Safety to prepare inmates for their return to the community is necessary and, in the majority of cases, a successful enterprise.

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi once was considered a rising star in Hawaii's Democratic Party, destined for statewide office, or even a national post. He has only himself to blame for ruining that future.

The intensifying outcry from protesters at the Mauna Kea site of the Thirty Meter Telescope could have been anticipated long before it flamed up in recent weeks, as heavy construction equipment started to arrive.

When elected officials and state and county employees use government-issued purchasing cards, commonly known as pCards, they are spending the taxpayers' money.

Anyone who has ever chaperoned even a simple field trip to the zoo knows that it's a lot of extra work overseeing children off campus. these trips, which usually occur over spring or summer breaks, are not vacations for the teachers. The chaperones work the whole time.

It's rarely a good idea to buy real estate in a heated rush. That goes double when it's government officials contemplating taking such a leap.

An uncomfortable tension has persisted for decades between the state's need for qualified candidates to fill top positions in the public sector and the impulse to manage the influx of new residents to the state.

A recent rape trial here illustrates the difficulty of improving sexual misconduct policies on college campuses. Given today's alcohol-fueled hookup culture, such efforts must refine an "affirmative consent" standard. The recent trial is a case study for a proposed task force devoted to this issue.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi's assertion that he thought it was OK to spend taxpayers' money on personal expenses such as a $1,200 surfboard and an $892 bill at a Honolulu hostess bar as long as he paid back the money does not withstand simple scrutiny.

Gov. David Ige has taken an important step, capitalizing on an opportune moment to make progress in the relocation and redevelopment of Oahu Community Correctional Center.

There comes a point when the diagnostic testing has to end and the treatment must begin. Maui County has reached that point with its financially ailing public hospitals, the only critical-care facilities Maui residents have, and it's time to transition to a new business plan involving a private nonprofit corporation.

Honolulu is not the unhurried city it once was. Its increasingly stress-ridden residents endure more crowds and traffic congestion, and are likely to see episodes like the recent "Carmageddon" of rush-hour gridlock more frequently in the years ahead.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi's seemingly cavalier attitude about using a taxpayer-funded credit card for personal expenses signals a potential pattern of misuse that demands the immediate release of relevant financial records.

Thieves know that Hawaii tourists can be easy marks for property crimes. Rules of evidence require that a victim return to Hawaii to testify in person against the alleged offender, assuming that a suspect is arrested in the first place.

Calling the city's proposed chart of prime farmland a map of Oahu's Important Agricultural Lands (IAL) is a misnomer.

The proposal to call for a state audit of the Honolulu fixed-rail project is a no-brainer, or it should be. Taxpayers should feel alarmed that, absent such a study, there would be insufficient scrutiny of Hawaii's largest-ever public works project and what it's costing.

Hawaii took decades to sink into its current technological abyss, in which too much of the state's critical data and functions were consigned to creaky computer systems that belong in a dusty attic. And now it seems that pulling out of that pit will be a painstaking, incremental journey — but one that the state can at least afford.

David Matlin said the right things during his introduction this week as the next University of Hawaii athletic director, projecting a positive outlook that the embattled UH department desperately needs to see.

People in Hawaii who are eligible for food stamps should be encouraged to sign up for the benefit, which is funded by federal taxpayers to help impoverished people afford nutritious food.

Progress has been slow but steady in efforts to counter Honolulu's homelessness crisis, but that progress is also illuminating the deep complexity of the problem, and the need for an even more intense focus.

In a state with such astronomical land values, achieving a public-private accord to preserve scenic resources in the middle of a resort development is a rare achievement.

The consultant hired to assess the future of Aloha Stadium recommends that the state build a new, smaller facility on the lower portion of the current site in Halawa.

Hawaii's natural resources are fragile and finite. The state's oceans, beaches, mountains, forests, streams and trails are invaluable assets, it's true, but they represent far more than a "brand" for the tourism industry.

Members of the state Public Utilities Commission have a job to do. They can do it speedily, or they can do it right.

The increasing pressure on Oahu's shoreline is especially apparent in urban areas, where the forces of nature and humankind combine to erode that most Hawaiian of experiences: enjoying a day at the beach.

The new chief of the state's social service agency has followed the right instinct in requesting an audit of Kolea, its heavily criticized online Medicaid eligibility system.

The University of Hawaii should receive its state funding as a lump sum, as in the House's budget plan, but the deep budget cuts proposed in tandem with this enhanced autonomy must not prevail in a state that depends on the 10-campus system to educate its populace.

Hanauma Bay is a jewel in East Oahu, a marine preserve perfect for snorkeling that attracts about 1 million visitors a year who are eager to ply the turquoise waters.

Raise prices and expectations soar, too. So it's little surprise that visitors who are paying more for their vacations are also finding more to gripe about. Still, that the Hawaii Tourism Authority's annual Spring Marketing Update regarding visitor satisfaction was predictable makes it no less troubling.

The concept of moving the goalposts isn't always a dodge of responsibilities. In the case of renewable energy, it's an acknowledgement that Hawaii can be more ambitious about producing its own clean energy, becoming more secure and economically stronger.

The marathon public and decision-making grilling sessions that Carleton Ching endured at the state Capitol provided a window into the democratic process that is rarely seen in Hawaii.

Virtually every development plan on Oahu encounters intense push and pull: the monetizing interests often equate highest and best use with ever-more buildup, while preservationist types staunchly resist any change for fear of opening that build-up door.

This year's legislative session has reached its midpoint, with bills that survived in their respective chambers crossing over for consideration on the other side. Only those measures that win approval from both the House and Senate will move on to the governor for his consideration, to be enacted into law.

The University of Hawaii at West Oahu is one of the linchpins in the development of Kapolei as the truly dynamic "second city" that was envisioned for the region.

The stewards of Ala Moana Park have resisted the urge to overdevelop it before, and now is not the time to reverse course.

Hawaii's Kakaako planning agency must make full use of an opportunity that won't come again: enhancing the public enjoyment of the waterfront, in one of the last parcels available to urban Honolulu.

The state House and Senate have diverged sharply in their approaches to the budget crisis vexing Oahu's burgeoning rail-transit system.

Perennial attempts to weaken state laws that promote open meetings and good government in Hawaii require constant vigilance to deter. Although it appears that some attempts have stalled this legislative session, several bills still require careful watching.

The sickest patients in the Hawaii system of public hospitals are the hospitals themselves, which are hemorrhaging losses at an alarmingly increasing rate. The cure is not going to be easy, but the basic framework of House Bill 1075 represents a strategy the state desperately needs.

The development of a thriving high-technology sector in Hawaii has been long on promise, short on results. Those who want to increase technology's tiny share of Hawaii's economy bemoan the difficulty in hiring and keeping qualified employees.

It's good fiscal planning, when tax collections are high, to set aside money for a rainy day, when there might not be enough to cover even the essential needs.

The past few years have left a blot on the reputation of police departments in this state and, on Oahu, the last several months has proven especially damaging. And in all of the drama, the general public has lacked a voice to raise a protest or demand improvements.

There's plenty to like in Mayor Kirk Caldwell's E Paka Kakou initiative, which commits to spending more to improve Honolulu's public parks, and, dovetailing with a bill before the City Council, encourages community members to also spruce up the facilities.

The Hawaii visitor industry has done better than merely weather the economic storms of the last six years, and the people marketing this destination seem to be bullish on its future potential.

Hawaii's grand ethanol experiment has come to naught. It is time to pull the plug. Mandating the use of ethanol as a transportation fuel, as the state has done since April 1, 2006, was supposed to revive the local sugar industry — ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel that can be made from sugar or corn — and reduce energy imports.

If "Keep the Country Country" is to be more than a mere slogan, more than a wistful aspiration expressed by the popular bumper stickers, Oahu's elected officials must be prepared to make very tough decisions about development, decisions that may dismay as many voters as they delight.

Hawaiian Electric Co. asserts it is in the best interest of the company and all of its customers to halt approval of rooftop solar systems in certain neighborhoods until the state Public Utilities Commission rules on HECO's request to pay less for the excess energy it buys from those so-called distributed producers.

What a difference a year makes — a $910 million difference, which is now the estimated shortfall for Oahu's 20-mile rail project.

Senate Bill 637, seeking to reverse a state constitutional provision for semi-autonomy of the University of Hawaii, should be received as a wakeup call by the UH Board of Regents and administrators, a signal of public dissatisfaction with the way they've been fulfilling the mission of higher education.

An ecological treasure and engineering feat may soon be lost to history, and that would be a real shame. The Board of Water Supply should not move ahead with a plan that could result in dismantling the Haiku Stairs.

The state Public Utilities Commission is embarking on what has to be its most consequential year to 18 months. That's the time span its new chairman said it will take to clear the deck on a string of key dockets, or proposals, affecting the regulation and operation of the islands' principal electric company.

The shameful spectacle of government regulatory failure is on full display on the 854 acres that comprise the dubiously named Kunia Loa Ridge Farmlands.

It's become nearly a cliche for young students to complain about school cafeteria fare being inedible or, at the very least, unpalatable. The truth is, schools in Hawaii, and elsewhere across the country have found ways to improve the operations and win over more of the young clientele.

The discussions arising from a proposal to encourage the purchase of "body-mounted video cameras" for law enforcement officers have drawn wide support — deservedly so — and from organizations generally suspicious of most forms of surveillance.

Some ideas are worth pursuing, even if there's a cost attached. The feasibility study for a land swap aimed at relocating the state's overcrowded Dillingham Boulevard prison and preserving agricultural land is one such proposal deserving of legislators' support.

By settling on a compromise that further restricts aquarium fishing in Hawaiian waters but does not ban the practice, a state House committee has made headway on a contentious issue of significant interest this legislative session.

The mission of the Department of Land and Natural Resources is to "enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii's unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawaii nei, and its visitors, in partnership with others from the public and private sectors."

After last year's tumultuous, unsuccessful attempts to upzone some of its Kakaako lands to allow residential condos, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs has regrouped with a new strategy.

Rather than looking to regulate ride-booking companies such as Uber and Lyft like conventional taxi companies, state lawmakers should be trying to lift some of the rules that help make driving a regular cab such a tough way to make a living.

Critics of the "affirmative consent" movement sweeping U.S. colleges, including in Hawaii, claim that what amounts to a redefinition of consensual sex could turn the romantic trysts of even willing, loving couples into grounds for a rape accusation.

When the Legislature in 1995 granted police an exemption from a disciplinary disclosure rule that applies to all other government employees in Hawaii, some lawmakers at the time speculated that the special treatment was warranted.

A spike in the number of measles cases in Hawaii last year, coupled with the fact that the percentage of unvaccinated kindergartners has doubled over the past decade, serves as an urgent warning that the islands are not immune to the kind of outbreaks that have sickened hundreds of people in the continental United States.

What's a round of golf worth? It depends on who's buying. Nine current and former state employees agreed to pay $35,800 in penalties for allegedly accepting free golf from at least 26 companies that did business with the state, according to a Feb. 2 report by the state Ethics Commission.

Though it's not obvious looking at the many tented encampments around Oahu, action on the complex problem of homelessness is finally galvanizing, holding out the promise of real progress.

The University of Hawaii Cancer Center deserves a chance to succeed. Most Hawaii residents have or will have a family connection to cancer at some point, so there's a wellspring of public sympathy for the mission of fighting the disease.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has been deficit spending, with expenditures outpacing regular tuition revenues this year by about $31 million.

The Honolulu Police Department holds the dubious distinction of being the only major city or county law-enforcement agency in the country that has failed to report recent crime statistics to the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

One of the big selling points of replacing an elected Board of Education with one appointed by the governor was that the change would clarify the lines of accountability for Hawaii's sprawling public school system. The governor would appoint the board, which in turn would hire the superintendent, who would oversee the Department of Education.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim believes it's time for the counties to take over most of what the state Land Use Commission does and has sponsored a measure to eliminate it.

The best that can be said about the blistering report from the NCAA on Friday, citing former top University of Hawaii men's basketball officials with seven rule violations, is that UH may have hit bottom and already be on the road to recovery, given its prompt move to correct course last fall.

It's been nine months since the University of Hawaii-Manoa was named as one of 55 schools under federal review for its handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence, raising flags about the severity of these problems on campus.

As thorough as it is, the damning report about the Hawaii Health Connector, issued last week by the state auditor, should not mark the end of public inquiry into how taxpayer-funded grants, totalling $204.4 million, were spent establishing the online health-insurance exchange.

Several bills introduced in the Legislature this session would restore to Hawaii journalists special legal protections that expired in 2013. It's reasonable to ask why.

In this era of rising demands on the public educational system, officials are duty-bound to make the most of its limited resources, cutting waste where possible so that those funds can be plowed back into delivering service to the students.

Hawaii's vibrant network of nonprofit social service agencies plays a huge role in improving the lives of the state's most vulnerable, disenfranchised people. When it comes to tackling complex social problems, these nonprofits can be most effective when they work in sync, targeting their individual resources and expertise toward common goals.

Educational technology is no longer a luxury in elementary and secondary schools. It is an essential 21st century learning tool, in private and public schools alike.

There are lots of lessons Gov. David Ige undoubtedly took away from his decisive victory over his predecessor, Neil Abercrombie, as to what mistakes he would not repeat. Judging by his first State of the State address delivered Monday at the state Capitol, one of the takeaways must have been: Don't overpromise.

We build schools, hospitals, community centers, and places to work and play. And we safeguard the things that are important to us: our families, our freedoms, our environment and our future — because this is our home.

Nothing spells impending disaster the way this does: an aging population in need of health care with an existing shortage of doctors growing worse, day by day.

State lawmakers pledge to cast a critical eye as Honolulu's over-budget rail-transit project seeks to extend a tax surcharge financing the project. But legislators must also aim that laser focus at themselves, for allowing an exorbitant 10 percent state "skim" of intended rail funding to persist beyond all justification.

A bustling airport that has "international" in its official name must attain standards that befit the moniker and should continually strive to serve its global clientele well.

For the Hawaii population most in need of the social safety net, the state Department of Human Services is a critical conduit to health and other services. Where medical care is concerned, however, the web of clinics and providers is the real delivery mechanism, the extension of DHS services into the community.

Critics and pundits were quick to dismiss Democratic President Barack Obama's State of the Union address as dead on arrival, delivered as it was to a Congress controlled by an unfriendly GOP. This conventional view, however, overlooks that some of the president's goals resonate in blue states and red states alike.

Tourists are much more likely than local residents to suffer spinal-cord injuries in Hawaiian waters, and are doing so at rising rates.

The path to abundance for those who rely on fish for sustenance is through a route of some restraint. That restraint — which must apply to all users of the resource in equal measure — is what the Molokai fishing community seeks, to protect an important food source for the rural island.

Money -- where to get it and how to spend it -- is shaping up as the predominant issue as the 2015 Legislature prepares to convene on Wednesday.

Among all the priorities that will weigh down lawmakers when they convene on Wednesday, few have the urgency of narrowing the gap between the demand for affordable housing and the state's paltry supply.

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