Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Reapportionment vote unlikely to stand, official says

By B.J. Reyes


The Hawaii Supreme Court likely would rule that nonresident students, members of the military and their dependents cannot be included in the state's population base for the purpose of redrawing Hawaii's political districts, according to an opinion from the state attorney general.

The opinion, contained in a letter dated Tuesday to Rep. Bob Herkes (D, Volcano-Kainaliu), was presented as testimony to a state commission as it continues work on redrawing state political boundaries to reflect shifts in the state's population documented in the most recent U.S. Census.

Reapportionment Commission members voted 8-1 last month to include nonresident military members and their dependents, nonresident students and incarcerated felons in the state's population for the purposes of redistricting. The inclusion of those groups reverses decisions made by the last two commissions and prevents Hawaii County from gaining a state Senate seat.

Based on statewide population growth since 2000, Hawaii island is in line to gain a Senate seat if the roughly 70,000 people in the nonresident groups are excluded.

Neighbor island advisory councils and a host of state lawmakers from Hawaii County have opposed the decision.

Herkes sought an opinion from the attorney general after the decision.

The letter, signed by Attorney General David Louie, cites a 2005 ruling by the state Supreme Court and its interpretation of "resident population" for determining the base for Hawaii County reapportionment. The court concluded that the drafters of the county charter intended to "limit the population base to residents of Hawaii County."

"It appears that the Hawaii Supreme Court would likely hold that to the extent they are identifiable, nonresident college students and nonresident military members and their families cannot properly be included in the reapportionment population base the commission uses to draw the legislative district lines this year," Louie's letter stated.

Herkes said, "How clearer can you get than to say to this commission, if it goes to court, it is our opinion — from the attorney general — that the Supreme Court will not uphold your decision."

Commission Chairwoman Victoria Marks said the commission continues to receive email and other correspondence and encourages further input as public hearings begin next month, once the commission publishes its planned redistricting maps.

"I think the commission members basically are open to reconsidering views that they voted on or expressed, and we're happy to hear whatever information any member of the public wishes to provide," she said.

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