The same withering criticism that surfaced about a number of controversial development bills in the 2012 Hawaii Legislature has been raised about a single measure this session.
“Dirty,” “unconstitutional,” “gut and replace,” “shortcut exemptions” and “no public input” are some of the descriptions directed at House Bill 252, which has a critical vote Thursday.
As first drafted, HB 252 (introduced by Big Island Rep. Faye Hanohano) asked the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to give annual updates to lawmakers and called for amending the definition of “qualified Native Hawaiian” to include those who meet “expanded” ancestry requirements.
But now there is a proposed second section that includes language from a separate controversial bill that could open agricultural and rural districts to geothermal development.
The new section incorporates the language of House Bill 932, which concerns permitting for geothermal projects.
HB 932, which passed the Hawaii House of Representatives, stalled in the state Senate last month. But it lives anew in HB 252.
If it passes and heads to conference committee, the public will not be able to testify directly on the measure. That upsets some senators who say the amended bill bypasses due process and ignores public participation.
“In my opinion the voice of the community was ignored,” said Democrat Russell Ruderman, whose Big Island district includes Puna Geothermal Venture. “This is a continuing of a longstanding trend, where the impact of the community is disenfranchised.”
But the added geothermal section runs more than 7,000 words — 10 times the length of the original bill.
HB 252 was amended by the Senate Tourism and Hawaiian Affairs Committee April 1 to establish county geothermal permitting, mediation and regulatory standards.
Geothermal developments could happen in rural, urban and agricultural districts, according to the proposed Senate Draft 2, even if it’s currently not allowed under county zoning laws or plans.
Put another way, the bill appears to allow counties to bypass their own rules when it comes to geothermal.
Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, who also chairs Tourism and Hawaiian Affairs, said he understood that the public might be frustrated about having limited input.
“But we were backed up into a deadline in committee,” he said. “And we didn’t post [the proposed amendment] either because it was not a ‘gut and replace.’ We’ve added to the bill.”
(At least one critic calls the change a “cut and paste” job.)
Galuteria said the Senate gave the bill a “defective date” of 2050 — a common legislative procedure — “to allow the bill to move into conference committee and for people to get to their legislators and weigh in that way.”
Sen. Russell Ruderman
Still, the Senate’s maneuvering has raise red flags.
Just a month ago, Kim, who is in her first term as president, said the Senate was moving legislation to “reform and improve government, making it more transparent and accountable.”
The PLDC-repeal measure, House Bill 1133, passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday and awaits either House acceptance of Senate amendments or heads to conference committee.
But HB 252 has raised concerns among many of the same renewable-energy, pro-environment, controlled-growth activists that rallied last year to defeat legislation they argued skirted the law and was harmful to Hawaii.
“Considering that geothermal resources are found on all islands, and the sneaky way Part II was inserted in this bill at the last minute, and without public input, HB 252 HD1 SD1 must be opposed,” warned Donna Wong, executive director of Hawaii’s Thousands Friends, in an email blast to supporters.
“SD1” refers to the first Senate draft of the bill, now largely contained in an SD2.
Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, said the SD2 is unconstitutional, citing Article III, Section 14: “Each law shall embrace but one subject.”
Curtis, who also spoke out about the bill on HPR’s “The Conversation” Wednesday morning, told supports in an email that the amended bill represents “two diverse subjects in one bill.”
But Galuteria rejected the charge that HB 252 was unconstitutional.
“There is no violation,” he said. “We made sure the title in and of itself was broad enough to embrace more than one piece. Other bills do that. This is titled ‘related to government.’ That’s as broad as you can get.”
Galuteria also said the SD2 incorporates the recommendations of a floor amendment introduced Tuesday by Ruderman that eliminates the “mediation” clause.
“That gives back the home rule,” said Galuteria, referring to county control of zoning and other ordinances.
But others say the amending of HB 252 remains troubling.
Carmille Lim, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, is urging the Senate president to remove HB 252 from Thursday’s Senate agenda and to take “whatever action is necessary to remove the amendment, before allowing a vote on the bill.”
Lim told Kim that, at the beginning of this legislative session, Common Cause Hawaii and 13 other organizations asked her “to rein in various abuses of the legislative process by promulgating new rules that would increase transparency and public confidence in the legislature.”
“Based on results, we can assume that did not happen,” Lim wrote. “The current attempt to by-pass the public (and also perhaps legislators), is but one of several high-handed actions by various Senate committees. We had counted on your leadership to change the tone of the Senate. We continue to hope that you will live up to these expectations.”
In addition to his frustration about preventing due process and public input, Ruderman said there is actually a better geothermal permitting bill before lawmakers.
House Bill 106, also sponsored by Hanohano and two other Big Island lawmakers, attracted the support of most testifiers, said Ruderman, “but was killed in committee because Malama wanted HB 932 instead. Now we see 932 inserted into some other bill.”
HB 106, which cleared the House, was deferred by three Senate committees March 21. One of them was Water and Land, chaired by Solomon and with Ruderman and Dela Cruz as members.
REPORTING ON HAWAII’S BIGGEST ISSUES
A good reason not to give
We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share.
But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.
Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.