It’s summer, and there’s nothing more fun than an informational briefing at the Hawaii Legislature!
Got a couple hours to kill? Don’t mind sitting on a cheap plastic chair? Love to listen to testifier after testifier … after testifier?
As the Civil Reporter who covers the Capitol, it’s my job to cover such briefings. Sometimes, pretty interesting stuff comes out of them — like the one on cybercrime earlier this week.
And sometimes, one wonders why lawmakers bother to hold a briefing — like the one before House Hawaiian Affairs on Wednesday.
It seemed promising enough. “Hawaii and her maoli people are one and intertwined into perpetuity,” the briefing agenda read.
As well, it is the job — the “purview,” as the agenda put it — of House Hawaiian Affairs to assess programs that impact the “culture, aina, resources (spiritual, physical), heritage, health, education, welfare” of Hawaiians. The agenda said that, too.
But, is a two-hour televised hearing in the middle of summer the best way to do that?
Better Things To Do
Dragging representatives from 16 cabinet departments and other government agencies down to the Capitol to say something along the lines of “Why, yes, Representative, we are doing everything we can to help Hawaiians” might not be the best use of anyone’s time.
It’s the kind of briefing that deputy directors or lower-level bureaucrats are often dispensed to take care of, although at least three directors did show up for the Hawaiian Affairs briefing.
One of them, William Aila of DLNR — a department whose kuleana is at the very core of Hawaiian identity — appeared to believe he had better things to do than answer questions from lawmakers. After all, he spent much of the past four months during the legislative session answering questions from these very same people.
Rep. Tom Brower asked him whether the state’s small boat harbors could be better run by private interests.
“I hear from voters around the state, and many feel facilities are not maintained as well as they should be,” said Brower, whose Waikiki district includes the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.
Aila fairly bristled.
“No, we should not hand this off to the private sector, because then access to the ocean belongs only to those who can afford it,” Aila countered.
(Aila didn’t say it, but surely — as a former Waianae harbor master — he knows there are not a whole lot of Native Hawaiian boat owners at the Ala Wai.)
Aila spoke longer than any other agency representative. Some, like the guy from the Agriculture Department, made a presentation that lasted at best one minute.
Useful information does surface in these briefings. Did you know, for example, that only 7 percent of faculty in the entire UH system are Hawaiian — but that 42 percent of female inmates are Hawaiian?
But other times the discussion borders on the banal.
Kauai Rep. Dee Morikawa, for example, told a representative from the HTA that she was disappointed to see that the water in Waikiki was cloudy and there was litter on the beach.
“Yes, we will take that into consideration,” the HTA rep respectively replied.
Morikawa had a more practical matter to take up with the Ag Department, noting that the spraying of pesticides on ag land in her Waimea district sometimes spreads to residential area. The department rep asked for more information and said they would follow up.
But, why does this have to happen at a briefing? Why doesn’t Morikawa call Russell Kokubun, for example?
For that matter, why doesn’t chairwoman Faye Hanohano just invite individual agencies over to the Capitol for lunch to talk story? It might be more productive.
No Republicans attended the briefing, by the way. Maybe they had better things to do.
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