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Saturday, October 25, 2014         

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Hawaiian recognition, foreclosure aid bills advance

By B.J. Reyes

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The state would begin the process of formally recognizing native Hawaiians as the indigenous people of the islands by establishing a five-member commission to prepare and maintain a roll of qualified Hawaiians, under a proposal agreed to in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 1520 would have the Office of Hawaiian Affairs fund and administer the program and work toward the continuing development of a native Hawaiian governing entity.

"This gives the native Hawaiian people the standing — in terms of recognition — by the state of Hawaii," said Sen. Malama Soloman (D, Hilo-Honokaa), one of the key backers of the legislation. "It mandates a roll call so that the native Hawaiian nation is actually identified."

The Hawaiian recognition bill was among dozens of bills in play yesterday as lawmakers worked into the night to reach agreement on legislation ahead of next week's adjournment of the 2011 regular session. Any bills had to be completed by midnight so lawmakers could take final votes on them.

Lawmakers also struck an agreement on a measure establishing a temporary mortgage foreclosure dispute resolution program that aims to assist struggling homeowners.

A pilot program to set up a medical marijuana distribution center in the state also was shelved amid disagreement on the scope of the program and location of the so-called "compassionate care" center.

The native Hawaiian bill would work hand-in-hand with the proposal at the federal level being pushed by U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka.

Clyde Namuo, Office of Hawaiian Affairs chief executive officer, said the federal bill includes language about organizing and maintaining a roll that would no longer be needed if the state proposal is enacted.

"Once we have a governing entity in place, the federal recognition will be even easier," Namuo said.

OHA would fund the commission that would be dissolved by the governor upon publication of the roll. The Legislature had estimated the cost of the bill at about $55,000 in each of the next two fiscal years. A progress report is due to the Legislature before the start of next session.

Meanwhile, House Consumer Protection Chairman Bob Herkes hailed the mortgage foreclosure proposal, SB 651, as a "great benefit" for homeowners having trouble with their loans but who still are able to pay at some level.

"The lender is going to be required to meet with them with an impartial mediator to see what they can work out," said Herkes (D, Volcano-Kainalu). "It covers all of the problems we have seen the last few years with the mortgage lenders."

The 94-page bill specifies steps that lenders would have to take before foreclosure action is taken and spells out criteria that must be met. Mediators could help troubled borrowers work out a settlement with a longer term, lower interest or lower payments.

"So people can stay in their homes," Herkes said.

Lawmakers remained far apart on the measure to establish a medical marijuana "compassionate care" dispensary in a yet-to-be-determined county. Among the measures that failed to make it out of committee were tax credits to entice motion picture and digital media production to the islands and a proposal to collect a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores.

Lawmakers also tabled a last-minute proposal to establish a single stand-alone casino in the state.






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