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Senate panel begins hearings on challenge to Galuteria residency

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A panel of Hawaii lawmakers is discussing a challenge to a senator’s qualifications to serve, taking up a complaint from a citizen who claims that Sen. Brickwood Galuteria doesn’t live in the district he represents.

A special Senate committee was formed to look into the matter and on Thursday it adopted a set of rules to follow while it conducts its business.

The rules set out a plan for the committee to review documents related to the accusations. The panel also may conduct further investigations if its members decide it’s appropriate, and will eventually recommend to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim whether the Senate should take any action.

Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran, chairman of the special committee, asked his colleagues whether they want more information.

"I’m pretty satisfied with the information that we have right now that we can start our discussion," said Democratic Sen. Jill Tokuda. Republican Sen. Sam Slom agreed.

The challenge was filed by Richard Baker, who previously petitioned the city clerk to question the validity of Galuteria’s voter registration. That attempt was unsuccessful, but Baker filed an appeal. Baker had worked on the campaign of Chris Lethem, who ran unsuccessfully against Galuteria last year.

Galuteria represents Kakaako and Waikiki in Honolulu. The complaint is based in part on Galuteria’s claiming property tax exemptions on two homes besides his Kakaako residence, in Kaneohe and Palolo Valley. The senator maintains that he lives in his district.

It’s the second time this year that a Hawaii lawmaker’s qualifications have been questioned based on where he lives. Rep. Calvin Say faced a special House committee when his qualifications were challenged but he was cleared by the panel in March.

The panel plans to reconvene on Monday.

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