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Kalaupapa memorial bill advances after heartfelt hearing

                                An aerial view of Kalaupapa National Historic Park in 2008.


    An aerial view of Kalaupapa National Historic Park in 2008.

A bill appropriating funds for a memorial to the 8,000 Hawaii residents who were exiled to Kalaupapa on Molokai from 1866 to 1969 after being diagnosed with leprosy is advancing through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 3338 SD2, introduced by Sen. Lynn DeCoite, crossed over to the House of Representatives March 8 and made its way to the House Finance Committee, where it passed following a public hearing today.

After hearing heartfelt, in-person testimony delivered by five people representing four generations of Kalaupapa descendants, the committee restored the original $5 million in funding, a number that had been redacted in amendments to the previous draft.

“We usually wait until the end of conference to fill in the amount,” Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said before the Finance Committee voted, “but we do appreciate the compelling testimony of the descendants, (and) the recommendation is passage, with $5 million, a commitment by this body to the individuals who have been taken from their homes and recognize the sacrifices (they) made for health & safety of the entire state.”

Luke, like many of those who testified, referenced how societal isolation during the Covid pandemic stirred empathy for the exiled Kalaupapa patients.

Nainoa Woodward, age 10, was the first to testify in support of the bill, followed by his mother Charmaine Woodward, president of the nonprofit Ka Ohana o Kalaupapa, which helps descendants reconnect with family history.

As she removed her face mask to testify, Kehaulani Lum said she had initially planned to testify via Zoom, but decided to attend the hearing in person because the representatives and other members of the public were doing so.

Lum, a relative of four people who were sent to Kalaupapa as children, held up a photograph.

“This is my Uncle Henry, who was taken into custody when he was 10 years old,” she said.

If it passes the full Legislature, SB 3338 will take effect July 1.

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