A Honolulu nonprofit is calling on the governor to make his travel records public without charging a ton of money.
In a news release Tuesday, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to demonstrate greater transparency.
"It’s unfortunate to see a journalistic news website face bureaucratic foot-dragging in response to a very reasonable request regarding the Governor’s use of state funds," said Tim Lussier, executive director of Grassroot Institute. “Not only is it antithetical to the spirit of Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, but it is an affront to the citizens of this state, who deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”
Mr. Lussier referred to a recent article in Honolulu Civil Beat, detailing that publication’s efforts to obtain a full account of Governor Abercrombie’s travel records and expenses for the entirety of his term in office. Even after an appeal to the state Office of Information Practices, Civil Beat is unable to obtain these records without paying the state $1,016 in estimated charges to compile the requested information.
Lussier said if the governor’s office doesn’t release the information, then Grassroot Institute will do what it takes to help raise the funds for it and “shower some much-needed sunshine over our state’s executive branch.”
Read Civil Beat's series on the cost of Hawaii's public records here.
— Nathan Eagle
The Hawaii Capitol Building is seen here in this 2013 photo. (Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat)
A major credit rating agency on Tuesday heaped praise on Hawaii for taking some big steps this past legislative session to get its finances in order over the next several years.
But Standard & Poor’s credit analysts said they are worried that spending is growing too fast.
The budget for next year that lawmakers approved in May, which Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed, is almost 11 percent higher than last year’s. This comes at a time when the average total personal income growth is less than 5 percent since 2000.
S&P said Hawaii’s moves to pre-fund public worker health benefits and replenish reserve funds are aggressive, but should have quite favorable results for the state’s credit profile.
"A key to the state’s future credit trajectory likely hinges on its ability to follow through on its (other post-employment benefits) funding measures when revenue growth ebbs lower," S&P said in its report.
Abercrombie said in a statement Tuesday that S&P is the first rating agency to publicly recognize the significance of the state’s efforts and “milestone legislation.”
— Nathan Eagle
Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Finance Director Kal Young appear at a press conference, March 1, 2013.
A local company is taking their underwater fish farming cages up north after receiving a Canadian patent.
Hawaii Oceanic Technology, Inc. has been growing thousands of Yellow Fin Tuna in the specially-designed cages in Hawaii since 2009. The company has a 247-acre lease site off the North Kohala coast of the Big Island.
The company has received US and Philippine patents and is expecting patents in the EU, Japan and Australia, according to TheFishSite. They plan to sell and license the underwater tanks, called Oceanspheres, globally. You can check out pictures of the tanks on the company’s website.
The technology raised alarms among a couple of environmental organizations, which we wrote about back in 2011.
— Alice Terry
The Navy will be naming a new destroyer after the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa in a press release said she was informed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that the next Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, which will be built at Bath Iron Works in Maine, will be named after Inouye, a veteran and staunch advocate for the military in Congress.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Brian Schatz said he and the rest of the delegation were also informed about the move and praised the decision.
In the dueling press releases, Hanabusa said, “Secretary Mabus informed me that he had tried to name a ship after Senator while he was still alive, and knowing Senator, he wanted no part of it.”
“The Arleigh-Burke Class is considered the strongest, most advanced surface ship in the world, responsible for multiple missions that ensure naval supremacy. This is a fitting tribute to Senator Inouye, whose own strength and determination inspired so many of us. Our navy will be proud to have a ship bearing his name deployed throughout the world, continuing to fight and defend us.”
Schatz said, “The naming of this destroyer appropriately honors his life and dedication to service during Pearl Harbor, World War II, and throughout his 58 years in elected office serving the state of Hawaii. Senator Inouye represents what it means to be a public servant and Hawaii should be proud of this great honor provided by the Navy.”
The ship is expected to be delivered in mid-2018.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also praised the decision, saying in her own statement:
“Senator Inouye inspired us all by his lifelong dedication to the service of the people of Hawai‘i and our country. It is only fitting that we honor and memorialize his legacy. For decades to come, the USS Daniel Inouye will bear the name of one of our most distinguished soldiers from our greatest generation and will serve as a constant reminder of Hawai‘i’s own iconic American hero. I thank the U.S. Navy for their recognition of Senator Inouye’s great commitment to our Armed Forces and our country.”
— Kery Murakami
The complaint was filed in July 2011 after the state imposed 5 percent pay cuts and higher medical premiums as part of its “last, best, final offer" to the union when contract negotiations fell apart. HSTA claimed the state violated its collective bargaining rights by forcing teachers to accept the contract.
The long labor board hearings wrapped up in May 2012, but the gubernatorial-appointed board never made a ruling on the case. This was convenient for the state negotiating team when contract talks resumed because as long as that case was pending, the union couldn’t strike.
In March, the state reached a roughly $350 million four-year contract agreement with HSTA that included pay raises, better health benefits — and a memorandum of understanding that required the union to withdraw its labor complaint.
On May 1, two weeks after the governor and HSTA President Wil Okabe signed the new deal, the union filed a motion to withdraw its complaint without prejudice with HLRB.
Abercrombie and members of the state contract negotiations team retorted May 7 with a motion in opposition. They didn’t like the “without prejudice” part, which means the union can bring the same complaint against the state at a later date.
The labor board, comprised of Chair James Nicholson and member Rock Ley, sided with the state this week.
The board on Tuesday granted the withdrawal of the complaint, but with prejudice, meaning the union can’t file the same complaint with the board.
And as the order states, “This case is closed.”
— Nathan Eagle
The Hawaii Labor Relations Board hears the teachers union’s complaint, March 27, 2012. (Civil Beat photo)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard took to the House floor today to speak a little about immigration The speech wasn’t tied to any particular legislation, but came as Congress is expected to take up immigration reform soon after Easter break.
She said in part:
In Hawai‘i, for example, Filipino families often wait up to 24 years to reunite with their loved ones. We are a community of immigrants – immigrants who came to Hawai‘i seeking greater opportunity, who toiled day in and day out working in our pineapple fields and on our sugar plantations. And yet, many are still waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. This is unacceptable and unnecessary.
Watch here speech here.
— Kery Murakami
A bill that would make it easier for World War II Filipino veterans to be reunited with their families today won the support of two influential senators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.
Menendez is part of a bipartisan group of senators who has been working on a package of immigration reforms, and his backing is a hopeful sign the cause of the Filipino veterans will be a part of the immigration discussion. However, it was unknown if it will be included in the as-yet-unreleased package. Reid and Menendez declined to say if their support was influenced by Sen. Daniel Inouye’s long-time push for it.
A spokesman for Sen. Mazie Hirono, who sponsored the bill, said the senator was “hopeful” of it being proposed as part of the package or added to it as an amendment. Sen. Brian Schatz is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Reid and Menendez’s support buoyed the hopes of veterans. Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, said, “We are very much optimistic. We have been assured by the staff of Reid, Hirono, Schatz and Menendez our bill is non-controversial and will be included in any final comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”
The bill would waive the relatives of the veterans, who fought alongside U.S. troops during the war, from being subject to annual limits on how many Filipinos are allowed to immigrater. Because of those limits, the veterans said they’ve waited decades for their families to be given permission to join them.
Reid, D-NV, said in a statement, “In 1941, 250,000 Filipino veterans answered a call-to-arms by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and traveled to the far corners of the earth to protect the American virtues of freedom, liberty, and justice. It is time these brave patriots are reunited with their loved ones.”
Menendez in a statement said, “No service member – especially aging Filipino veterans who served shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in WWII – should have to wait to be reunited with their families because of our outdated immigration system.”
Hirono’s statement said, “Our nation can never fully repay the debt we owe the Filipino World War II veterans who bravely served and sacrificed alongside American forces. The brave servicemen who are still with us, now in their eighties and nineties, should not have to wait any longer in order to be reunited with their children.”
— Kery Murakami
Both U.S. representatives from Hawaii — Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard —voted against continuing to freeze the pay of federal workers today.
However, the measure passed overwhelmingly in the Republican House, according to The Hill.
The House voted Friday to freeze the pay of federal workers for the third year in a row over the objections of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration.
Members voted 261-154 in favor of the bill, which would also lock in a pay freeze for members of Congress. It exempts people serving in the military.
The bill won significant support from Democrats — 43 voted for it — while 10 Republicans voted against it.
The legislation is an attempt to override President Obama’s executive order in December that seeks to give federal workers a 0.5 percent pay hike in late March. That order incensed congressional Republicans, who criticized it as an attempt to seize control of an issue that has traditionally been under Congress’s purview.
— Kery Murakami
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined the call on Senate Republicans to allow a final vote on President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans in a 58-40 vote blocked Hagel’s (R-Neb.) nomination as Defense secretary from proceeding to a final up-or-down vote. Sixty votes were needed to cut off debate.
Hirono said in a statement:
“At a time when the nation lies on the brink of potentially devastating defense cuts and the Asia-Pacific region is seeing growing instability, now is not the time to leave the Department of Defense without a leader. Hawaii and our nation need a Secretary of Defense in that chair as soon as possible. Senator Hagel is a qualified, principled leader who has served with distinction. He would be the first person of enlisted rank to lead the Pentagon. Senator Hagel deserves an up-or-down vote. With our nation’s military facing so many urgent needs, we simply should not have to wait any longer just for the sake of politics.”
— Kery Murakami
The Hill reports:
Senate Republicans in a 58-40 vote blocked former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) nomination as Defense secretary from proceeding to a final up-or-down vote.
Four Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mike Johanns (Neb.) joined 55 Democrats and Independents in supporting the nomination. Sixty votes were needed to cut off debate, leaving Democrats one vote short…
Republicans said it was too early to clear Hagel’s nomination, but that they would consider allowing an up-or-down vote after the Senate returns to business on Feb. 25.
They blamed Democrats for rushing the vote and the White House for not providing additional information about Hagel’s compensation for paid speeches.
Reid scolded Republicans for holding up Hagel, saying it was the first filibuster of a Defense nominee in history.
Hagel seems likely to win confirmation eventually despite Thursday’s vote, but the delay highlighted the contentiousness of his nomination.
Hawaii’s senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono voted to bring up the final vote.
Schatz tonight released this statement:
“It is deeply disappointing that President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense was blocked through the unprecedented use of a filibuster at a time when we are still in a war and there are serious threats and challenges across the globe,” said Senator Brian Schatz. “It is critical for Senate Republicans to put politics aside and move expeditiously in a bipartisan fashion to make sure the President and Defense Department have the leadership they need to keep our country safe.”
Photo courtesy of TWCEDU
— Kery Murakami