Editor’s Note: In July 2012, Civil Beat sent six questions to each of the candidates registered to run in the Aug. 11 primary for Hawaii State House of Representatives District 11. Four out of five candidates responded, including Netra Halperin. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full. Read responses by her competitors, Colin Hanlon, Kaniela Ing, and George Fontaine. Joseph Bertram III did not turn in a response. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and Halperin’s response.

Preferred Candidate Name: Netra Halperin

Senate/House District Number: House District 11

Date of Birth: 05/26/1959

Place of Birth/Hometown: Redwood City, CA

Current Profession/Employer: Executive Producer, Netra’s News TV

Education/Alma Mater(s): BA Political Science, San Francisco State University; MA Psychology, Antioch University

1. With the exception for Honolulu rail, the state has not raised the general excise tax in decades. Would you consider increasing the GET to help the state meet its budget demands?

I oppose an increase in GET, as it is regressive, in that everyone must buy the same basic necessities of groceries, rent/mortgage and services. This is a larger proportion of low-income people’s expenses and adds strain on people already struggling. I would only approve an increase if the tax system were re-structured to exclude groceries, rent and services. ↩ back to top

2. Lawmakers proposed relaxing environmental regulatory review to spur development and job growth in the 2012 session, and the issue is expected to resurface next year. Where do you stand?

It is not true that regulation is bad for the economy. Good regulation encourages responsible development that does not pass on the developers’ and owners’ costs to public trust resources. Fast track permitting and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. Our laws are good but implementation needs improvement through proper funding and staffing of decision-making and enforcement agencies. We need to design a system that rewards projects that have adequate environmental assessment and mitigation by moving them through permitting quickly. Those who have not done the research, have not fully exposed the potential harm, and have not been forthcoming with mitigation for their projects should not be rewarded by fast-tracking the environmental permits, even if they propose to serve a social need such as affordable housing. How affordable is housing that does not have energy and water efficiency and does not protect the health of the residents who live there? The critical component of intelligent regulation is to have qualified professionals doing the regulation. For instance if a housing authority is the accepting agency for an EIS, the person signing for the acceptance of the EIS should either be a qualified environmental professional, or certify that they have hired one to inform the decision. ↩ back to top

3. Gambling — are you for it or against it? If not, why not? If so, what type of gambling and with what kind of restrictions?

I am only for small stakes gambling in private residences. There is an argument for lotteries that fund education, however research has shown that much of the money doesn’t actually make it to the schools and that the “social problems” created by gambling cost taxpayers, and eventually negate any financial gain to the state. ↩ back to top

4. The Sunshine Law is a hallmark of an open democracy accountable to its citizens. Yet, the Legislature exempts itself from this requirement. Do you support more transparency in government operations, or are there legitimate reasons to conduct some of the people’s business behind closed doors?

Yes, in general. But it is the effects of corporate and large donor financing of campaigns that is the cause of the most corruption of government process, not just the ability of lawmakers to discuss issues privately. If legislators are supposed to represent all the people, yet some people give them disproportionably large amounts of money, their allegiances can become skewed. In the field of ethics—in any other situation—this could be considered bribery, yet it is perfectly legal in campaign finance law. This needs to change.

It is reasonably necessary for legislators to be able to discuss issues “off camera”. I have noticed that often for County Council members, who are not allowed to meet in groups outside of sessions, there is less cooperation as they merely refrain from discussing possible alternative solutions as opposed to discussing them in front of an audience. Legislator’s voting and campaign finance records need to be scrutinized by journalists and citizens to determine whether there has been an orientation to the public interest or to private campaign donors and other special interests. ↩ back to top

5. What is the best legislation — and worst legislation — that the Legislature has approved in recent years? Please explain.

Key areas of legislative focus last session were: Open Government, Education and Public Safety.

Education will benefit from “Safe Routes to School”: HB2626 which will help fund biking and walking trail improvements. Funding for Early Education Initiatives and enrollment growth at Community Colleges were also positives. Not funding certain schools, like a high school in South Maui—where populations have grown over the years—has not yet been accomplished.

Public Safety is a long-term focus of mine. HB 2848 begins preparation for a Hawaiian culture focused work release and Wellness Center at Kulani and SB2866 bolsters services for reintegration of prisoners back into society. SB2776 ensures the use of established pre-trial risk assessment and other adjustments that help lower costs and reduce crowding. Justice Reinvestment Initiative bills: HB2515 and others aim to reduce repeat offenses, focus on cost effectiveness in the handling of criminal justice and invest in community based treatment programs. This is a big step in the right direction by the Democrats and I look forward to continued progress.

Regarding Open Government, exempting Task Force Members from ethics laws—HB2175, may have questionable results. For example, the Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force consisted of a preponderance of bankers—thus their recommendations were good for bankers and bad for the public. Because of this scenario, task force member should be scrutinized for conflicts of interest. HB2751 criminalized “disrespect” for the legislature. This seems a little overly sensitive and potentially against free speech. We should be focusing more on fair open operations and earning the respect of the citizens.

Another point of positive note was HB1755, enabling electronic voter registration. Also, I will be paying attention to tax issues such as reducing taxes on poorer families in housing, food and healthcare, making the rates reasonably progressive and simplifying the code to make things easier for people. There is more work to do in this area. So as always there was a mixed bag of good and bad legislation— but preventing legislative backsliding from the overall public interest and solidifying progressive gains must be the focus of an effective Representative. ↩ back to top

6. What is an issue that you would champion at the Legislature — one that perhaps has not received much attention, or an issue that is important to your district?

The issue that I would champion specifically for my district is securing funding for Kihei High School. I would look at multiple sources – including the general fund controlled by the legislature, the funding controlled by the Governor and private or developer financing – or a combination of the above.

The issue that has not yet received enough attention in the legislature is Justice Reinvestment. JR is a project of the Council of State Governments with the goal of decreasing State’s expenditure on incarceration and re-investing a portion of the savings in programs that have proven to decrease crime. Myself and other criminal justice reform advocates invited all three branches of government to invite Justice Reinvestment to come to Hawaii to perform a data-driven analysis of Hawaii’s criminal justice system. Their analysis showed Hawaii how to improve the criminal justice/prison system, to save money and increase public safety at the same time. I would continue to advocate for more implementation of their recommendations. ↩ back to top