Sen. Clayton Hee has credibility as a proponent of Native Hawaiian rights. So when he says there’s something wrong with a bill that would give the Office of Hawaiian Affairs $200 million to settle a 32-year-old debt, there must be something going on.
Hee, who once served on OHA’s board, made quick work of Senate Bill 984 Wednesday. Before an afternoon joint hearing held by his Judiciary and Labor Committee and the Hawaiian Affairs Committee could even get rolling, Hee stopped the measure in its tracks by stating that he thought a deferral was in order.
Within a few short minutes, his fellow senators and even OHA leaders agreed Hee was probably right. The bill was deferred indefinitely, without objection.
When Civil Beat spoke to the chairs of all the other committees to which the Senate bill or its House companion were referred, they all said, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that they’d be open to the proposal.
Apparently, Hee, who did not return messages, disagreed.
The senator argued that if the Council on Revenues provides less-than-optimistic projections for this year, or if the economic reality of an $800 million budget gap is still hanging over the Legislature’s collective head, the final number could end up somewhere much lower than the $200 million that OHA and former Gov. Linda Lingle agreed on in 2008. If the Legislature approves, for example, a $100 million payment, that would be OHA’s first, last and only chance to be compensated for its fair share of more than 30 years of ceded land revenues.
OHA CEO Clyde Namuo at first tried to sway Hee and the other senators, pointing out that the proposal wouldn’t kick in until Fiscal Year 2015. He also said that transferring land rather than cash would be OHA’s preference and would also present less of a financial strain on the state.
Hee told Namuo that the prospect of moving forward at this time would be a “roll of the dice.”
Instead, Hee said, OHA should approach Gov. Neil Abercrombie — “a huge supporter of Native Hawaiian people” — to memorialize an agreement. Once the governor and OHA agree on a final number, the Legislature will have little choice but to fall in line, even if there’s another delay. (The agreement with Lingle was not binding, while a written agreement with Abercrombie would be more difficult for the Legislature to change.)
“The time is right to go talk story with the governor,” he said.
After the deferral, Namuo told Civil Beat that Hee has years of legislative experience and understands the process as well as anyone. Namuo said he believes the senator has Native Hawaiians’ best interest at heart, and that OHA would continue to talk to the governor about producing a Memorandum of Agreement.
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