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Saturday, December 20, 2014         

LEGISLATURE 2011: WHICH MAJOR BILLS ARE FLYING, FALLING


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Governor's aide tied to big donor

Marvin Wong, once with a top contractor, now a key researcher on state contracts

By Derrick DePledge

POSTED:



A former contract coordinator for one of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's largest campaign and inaugural donors is now a community liaison to the governor who does research on state contracts.

Marvin Wong was a contract coordinator for Mitsunaga & Associates, an architectural, engineering and construction management firm with government and private contracts, for more than six years before leaving in December 2009. He worked in operations for Abercrombie's campaign for governor, helped with the transition after Abercrombie was elected in November, and was hired by the governor as an assistant.

Wong is a community liaison and has an office in the governor's fifth-floor chambers at the state Capitol. Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor's spokeswoman, said Wong also does research on state contracts and will advise the governor on a rollout strategy for capital improvement projects. "He will be key in initiating the governor's CIPs," she said.

Dela Cruz said the Abercrombie administration does not have a concern about Wong's former job with Mitsunaga & Associates. "No," she said. "I think it's a separate issue." She said Wong has known Abercrombie for years and has long been a political supporter.

Dennis Mitsunaga, president of Mitsunaga & Associates, and several of the firm's executives, architects, engineers and project managers gave more than $55,000 to Abercrombie's campaign, state campaign-finance records show.

Dennis Mitsunaga and his wife, Chan, also gave $50,000 to the Democratic Party of Hawaii, which helped finance the party's advertising on Abercrombie's behalf in the general election.

Mitsunaga & Associates was also the largest single donor to Abercrombie's inaugural festivities — at $30,000 — and Terri Otani, Mitsunaga's office manager, helped with inaugural arrangements.

During the Abercrombie campaign, Mitsunaga's name was on at least one fundraising appeal on official Abercrombie for Governor stationery. But Abercrombie's campaign advisers downplayed his role at the time and said he was not a principal fundraiser. Mitsunaga Construction did the renovation to the campaign's headquarters at a former steakhouse at Ward Warehouse.

State law prohibits campaign donations by state and county contractors, a response to the culture of "pay to play" that existed for years between politicians and contractors looking for lucrative government construction contracts.

But the law allows individual executives and employees of government contractors to make political contributions. The law does not apply to inaugural festivities, which are private events, which was why Mitsunaga & Associates was able to give directly to the Abercrombie inauguration.

Kory Payne, of Voter Owned Hawaii, an advocacy group that favors publicly funded elections, said such substantial political contributions and personal connections can create the appearance that money translates into influence.

"When we look at something like this from the outside, it's reason for alarm," he said of the connection between Wong and Mitsunaga & Associates.

Mitsunaga said he has been a longtime supporter of Abercrombie and wanted to help his campaign.

"I've supported Neil for 20 years, since he was a congressman, and I really like him," he said. "In all the years that he was a congressman, I never asked him for anything, and he obliged by not giving me anything.

"He's just a good guy."

Mitsunaga has been a significant fundraiser for Democrats, including former Gov. Ben Cayetano and former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris. Mitsunaga famously took a private polygraph test in 2004 to help clear his name after a city prosecutor suggested he was a target in a campaign-finance probe of Harris. Mitsunaga was never charged with a crime.

Mitsunaga & Associates, according to its website, has completed more than $800 million in construction-related projects in the past six years alone.

The firm's state work, according to its website, includes Ewa Makai Middle School, Kapolei High School, Kapolei Middle School, the Kapolei state office building, and Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor floating dock replacements.

The state Procurement Office oversees state contracts. While Wong may advise Abercrombie on state construction projects, neither he nor the governor have roles in choosing contractors.

Dela Cruz, the governor's spokeswoman, said Wong declined to be interviewed.

Mitsunaga said Wong helped MM International, a subsidiary, coordinate work on military contracts in South Korea.

"I want to get him back," he said. "He was very, very useful to me. He was very well organized. He has a good demeanor with people, working with people. So I really miss him."

Mitsunaga said he does not believe his relationship with Wong or his donations to Abercrombie's campaign, his inauguration and the Democratic Party give him any advantage in competing for state contracts.

"Absolutely not," he said.

 

HOW MAJOR BILLS FARED AT THE CAPITOL

Here is the status of the major bills at the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session. The bills that are alive have passed in at least one chamber of the Legislature. The bills that are failing were not approved by either the House or Senate by last Thursday's procedural deadline. But failing bills can be revived and measures can be rewritten before the session adjourns in May.

GOVERNMENT

PASSING

State budget
(HB 200 HD1)
Provides more than $10.9 billion overall in state spending for fiscal year 2012 and $10.9 billion in fiscal year 2013, about a 7 percent increase over the current fiscal year. (Pending House vote this week.)

Civil unions
(SB 232 SD1 HD1 Act 1)
Allows same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage under state law.

Hurricane fund
(HB 1043 HD1; SB 1270 SD2)
Diverts $42 million from the hurricane relief fund to the state's general fund to help balance the budget.

Rainy day fund
(SB 935 SD2)
Uses money from the state's rainy day fund to pay for state health, safety, welfare and education programs.

Hotel-room taxes
(HB 795 HD1)
Temporarily caps the amount of hotel-room taxes distributed to counties to help with the budget. The cap is roughly equal to what counties receive now.

Rail fund transfer
(SB 1426 SD2)
Diverts tax money collected for the Honolulu rail project to the state to help with the budget but reimburses Hono-lulu with general- obligation bonds. Extends a city general-excise tax surcharge for rail for two years to 2024.

Salary freeze
(HB 575 HD1)
Extends for two years a 5 percent salary cut for lawmakers. Applies the freeze to executive and judicial branch positions.

State bank
(HB 853 HD1)
Convenes a task force to study the feasibility of establishing a state bank.

Elected attorney general
(SB 1187 SD1)
A state constitutional amendment asking voters whether the attorney general should be elected, rather than appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

FAILING

Multi-state lottery
Requires the state to study whether Hawaii should participate in a multi-state lottery.

Hawaiian bingo
Allows one bingo hall on Hawaiian home lands regulated by a state commission.

 

BUSINESS/TAXES

PASSING

Pension tax
(HB 1092 HD1)
Imposes a pension tax and repeals a state income tax deduction on higher-income taxpayers.

GET exemptions
(HB 799 HD1)
Suspends general- excise tax exemptions on several business activities and imposes a GET on those activities of 2 percent, 3 percent and 4 percent over the next few years.

Itemized deductions
(HB 794 HD1)
Temporarily caps itemized deductions on state income tax returns.

Estate tax; satellite TV tax
(HB 306 HD1)
Adjusts the estate tax. Repeals a tax credit for residents who also pay out-of-state income taxes. Imposes a tax on direct satellite TV providers.

Standard deduction
(HB 793)
Delays increases to the standard deduction and the personal exemption but makes the higher deductions permanent.

Liquor tax
(HB 840 HD1; SB 1289 SD2)
Increases liquor tax rates.

Tobacco tax
(HB 273 HD1; SB 233 SD2)
Imposes an excise tax on tobacco products.

Vehicle weight tax
(HB 1102 HD2; SB 1329 SD1)
Increases the motor vehicle weight tax and uses the proceeds to help replenish the state's highway fund.

Vehicle registration fee
(HB 1101 HD2; SB 1328 SD1)
Increases the motor vehicle registration fee and uses the proceeds for the state's highway fund.

Rental car surcharge
(HB 1097 HD1; SB 1324 SD2)
Permanently extends a $3-a-day surcharge on rental cars to help the state's highway fund.

Film tax credits
(SB 318 SD2; HB 1551 HD2)
Expands film tax credits to lure more productions to the state.

FAILING

Soda tax
Imposes a tax on soda and other sugary beverages and uses the proceeds for health programs and to help with the budget.

Casino gambling
Grants a 10-year license for one stand-alone casino in Waikiki not in a hotel. Imposes a wagering tax on gross receipts.

 

EDUCATION

PASSING

Appointed school board
(SB 8 SD1 HD2)
Implements a state constitutional amendment approved by voters to allow the governor to appoint the state Board of Education. Reduces the school board to 10 members — down from 14 — including a nonvoting student member.

Bullying
(SB 934 SD2)
Establishes a bullying and cyber-bullying policy for all public schools. Requires implementation of the policy and sets reporting requirements. Establishes misdemeanor offenses of bullying and cyber-bullying of a minor.

University carry-over funds
(SB 238 SD2)
Allows the University of Hawaii to retain and carry over a portion of its general-fund appropriation to improve efficiency and to prevent money from lapsing. Requires an annual report to the Legislature.

DOE salary cap
(HB 953 HD2)
Changes the salary cap for the deputy superintendent, assistant superintendents and complex-area superintendents from 80 percent of the superintendent's salary to the same as the superintendent's salary.

Activities for home-schooled students
(SB 871 SD2)
Requires the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education to develop policies that would allow home-schooled students to participate in extra-curricular activities available at the public school at which they would otherwise attend.

School restructuring
(SB 605 SD2)
Restructures the state Department of Education into separate divisions for academic and administrative functions. Establishes two deputy superintendent positions to head each division.

Weighted student formula
(HB 1054 HD1; SB 1281 SD1)
Requires the Committee on Weights, which sets the weighted student formula for school spending, to meet every other year instead of annually. The change could provide more stability in the formula for principals and school community councils.

FAILING

DOE audit
Calls for an independent financial and management audit of the state Department of Education.

 

CONSUMER PROTECTION/LABOR

PASSING

Mortgage foreclosures
(HB 1411 HD2; SB 651 SD2)
Repeals the nonjudicial foreclosure process and creates a new process to better protect homeowners. Promotes alternative dispute resolution. The Senate version has a six-month moratorium on judicial and non-judicial foreclosures.

Medicare Part B
(HB 1041 HD2)
Eliminates state Medicare Part B reimbursements for state workers hired after July. The workers and their spouses would not be eligible for the benefit upon retirement.

Employees' Retirement System
(HB 1038 HD2)
Adjusts the retirement benefits for future state and county workers, such as employee contribution rates, average compensation calculations, the vesting period and the retirement age.

Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund
(HB 814 HD1)
Requires the EUTF to provide group life insurance coverage only to public workers who retire before July.

Visitor guides
(HB 548 HD3)
Holds authors and publishers of visitor guides liable when readers suffer injury or death as a result of being enticed onto restricted property.

Complaint records
(HB 1141 HD2)
Adjusts state online public disclosure requirements for complaint records against licensed professionals.

Transgender equity
(HB 546)
Prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression as a public-policy matter and specifically with regard to employment.

Online harassment
(HB 618 HD1)
Makes it a misdemeanor to use another person's name online without permission and with the intent to harm. Makes repeat offenses a third-degree felony.

All-terrain vehicles
(HB 18 HD1)
Sets safety and other conditions for minors to operate all-terrain vehicles, including adult supervision for minors under 16.

FAILING

Helmet use
Requires helmets when riding motorcycles, bicycles, motor scooters, mo-peds and all-terrain vehicles.

 

LAW ENFORCEMENT

PASSING

Marijuana possession
(SB 1460 SD1)
Decriminalizes the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Establishes a civil fine of no more than $100.

Temporary restraining orders
(SB 1054 SD1)
Allows temporary restraining orders against harassment and domestic abuse to be issued upon the submission of oral sworn testimony or a complaint to a judge by electronic means.

Prisoner transfers
(SB 48 SD1)
Prohibits prisoners who have one year or less remaining on their sentences before they are eligible for parole to be transferred to the mainland. Sets criteria for prisoner transfers at state facilities.

Prisoner deaths
(SB 49 SD1)
Requires the state Department of Public Safety to report to the Legislature any prisoner deaths within 48 hours.

Human waste
(HB 254 HD1)
Makes public urination or defecation in Waikiki an offense punishable by up to 40 hours of community service or a fine of up to $200.

Dogfighting
(HB 108 HD1)
Establishes greater penalties for dogfighting to discourage animal cruelty.

Prostitution
(HB 242 HD1)
Expands the law on prostitution to cover patrons. Makes the habitual solicitation of prostitutes a third-degree felony.

Electric guns
(HB 551 HD2)
Permits county liquor authority investigators to possess electric guns. Establishes safety measures and reporting requirements.

Law enforcement memorial
(HB 1622 HD1)
Calls for a law enforcement memorial in the Capitol District, provided that private funds are solicited for construction.

Media shield law
(HB 1376)
Makes permanent a law protecting journalists from the compelled disclosure of sources or unpublished information by state legislative, executive or judicial authority.

FAILING

Sex trafficking
Establishes first and second-degree felony offenses for sex trafficking.

 

HEALTH/SOCIAL SERVICES

PASSING

Prepaid Health Care Act
(HB 1134 HD1; SB 41 SD1)
Deletes provisions for the termination of the Prepaid Health Care Act on the effective date of federal health care reform legislation.

Medical marijuana
(SB 1458 SD2)
Creates licenses for medical marijuana compassion centers, cultivation, and infused product manufacturing. Makes medical marijuana sales subject to income and excise taxes. Establishes a special marijuana sales tax.

Medical marijuana program
(SB 175 SD2)
Transfers jurisdiction over the medical marijuana program from the state Department of Public Safety to the state Department of Health.

Physicians' tax credit
(SB 595 SD2)
Provides an income tax credit to doctors who see a lot of Medicaid patients, practice in rural areas, or respond to emergency calls to help offset the cost of medical-malpractice insurance.

Childhood obesity
(SB 1506 SD2)
Creates a pilot program to encourage health care providers to cover childhood obesity services. Requires a report to the Legislature before the 2015 session.

Pseudoephedrine sales
(SB 40 SD2)
Reclassifies pseudoephedrine as a drug that may only be dispensed with a prescription, with certain exceptions. Requires retailers to remove drugs with pseudoephedrine from over-the-counter inventory by July. The drug can be used in the production of methamphetamine.

Emergency contraception
(SB 218 SD1)
Requires hospitals to provide sexual-assault survivors with medically and factually accurate information regarding emergency contraception and to make emergency contraception immediately available to sexual-assault survivors upon request.

FAILING

Assisted suicide
Allows a terminally ill, competent adult to receive medication to end life. Requires informed consent and specifically prohibits mercy killing, lethal injection and active euthanasia.

 

ENVIRONMENT

PASSING

Undersea cable
(SB 367 SD3; HB 1176 HD3)
Establishes the regulatory structure for the Public Utilities Commission to recognize an operator for an undersea cable project to bring wind power to Oahu from Molokai and Lanai. Allows a utility to help recover the costs of acquiring the cable system through rate adjustments, along with reasonable development costs if the project is not completed.

Renewable energy tax credit
(HB 566 HD2)
Requires renewable energy systems to be in service before January 2017 for residents to claim an income tax credit. Delays payout for credits claimed in 2012 to July 2013. Orders that credits be claimed two years following the cost of installing renewable systems.

Conveyance tax
(HB 808 HD1)
Temporarily suspends the distribution of a portion of the conveyance tax to the land conservation fund.

Plastic bags
(SB 1059 SD2)
Prohibits businesses with annual gross sales of more than $300,000 from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags to customers.

Public school lands trust
(SB 1385 SD2)
Allows for the redevelopment of unused or under- used public school land to generate revenue to finance school repair and maintenance projects. Requires two-thirds' votes from the House and Senate to sell any school land.

Poi
(SB 101 SD1)
Exempts the preparation of hand-pounded poi from certain processing requirements and from state Department of Health regulations regarding food safety. Imposes labeling requirements on hand-pounded poi made outside of certified food processing establishments. Authorizes the department to conduct inspections of hand-pounded poi producers' premises under certain conditions.

FAILING

Clean energy bonds
Establishes a clean energy bond loan program for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements on residential and commercial properties. Authorizes the issuance of revenue bonds to finance the program.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

PASSING

Native Hawaiian recognition
(SB 1 SD2)
Recognizes native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with the right to self government, a state version of a federal recognition bill that has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

First nation
(SB 1520 SD2)
Establishes a process for the reorganization of a first nation government and a roll of native Hawaiian constituents.

Gifts
(SB 671 SD2)
Allows lawmakers to accept invitations or tickets to charitable events from a charitable entity, regardless of whether the charity is the host of the event.

Nepotism
(SB 994 SD1)
Prohibits legislators and state employees from naming or appointing close relatives to a public office or employment position. Prohibits legislators from voting for the confirmation of a relative. Creates an exemption if the relative is highly qualified for a position.

Instant runoff voting
(HB 638 HD1)
Requires instant runoff voting — where voters rank candidates — in county elections when there is no primary or runoff possibility.

Homeless return
(HB 70 HD2)
Establishes a program to return eligible homeless individuals to their home state. Requires that a support network is available and able to receive the individual.

Interisland ferry
(HB 1239 HD1)
Establishes the Hawaii State Ferry System and a special fund for a system to transport people and cargo between islands. Appropriates funds for startup and operation of the system.

Leaf blowers
(SB 132 SD1)
Restricts the use of leaf blowers for more than 15 minutes per day per one-quarter acre per parcel of property.

State trees
(HB 1637 HD1)
Establishes the kukui tree as the official state heritage tree. Establishes the 'ohi'a lehua as the official state native tree.

FAILING

Shipboard gaming
Authorizes shipboard gaming on vessels in state waters. Imposes an admission tax and a wagering tax.






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