Rep. Gene Ward, a Republican representing Hawaii Kai in the state House, is urging his colleagues to oppose the position of House leadership and Gov. David Ige regarding payments to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

DHHL could receive at least $28 million in general funds this coming fiscal year, after a First Circuit Court decision found the state violated its constitutional duty by “continually failing to provide adequate funding” to the department.

The Ige administration, with the support of leadership in the House and Senate, is challenging the decision, arguing that the judicial branch is overreaching into the jurisdiction of the legislative and executive branches.

The House and Senate have retained the services of former Attorney General Mark Bennett in the appeal, at the cost of $50,000.

Rep Gene Ward gestures on the floor. 27 april 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Rep. Gene Ward. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a press release Sunday, Ward said he sent an email to fellow legislators “in support of the Hawaiian community noting that no one in the Senate or the House was ever consulted by leadership’s terse ‘Notice to Intervene.'”

“After 96 years of neglect by not providing housing for the Hawaiian community (as mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1920), the Legislature and Governor are behaving in a heartless legalistic manner to avoid funding the Department of Hawaiian Homes the $28 million that Judge Castagnetti ruled that it deserves,” said Ward.

Ward warned that the timing is bad and “could be fodder for more hatred of the U.S.” and the state, given the recent protest over the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and the Nai Aupuni convention on self governance next month.

At a press conference Friday at the Capitol, House Speaker Joe Souki, a Democrat, insisted that he had consulted members of his chamber about the House’s DHHL stance.

A spokesperson for House leadership says the GOP leadership was consulted by the speaker as well.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Kalani English has reiterated the view that judicial branch is overstepping its boundaries in demanding that the executive and legislative branches give more money to DHHL. Senate President Ron Kouchi has expressed concerns about the financial implications of the court action.

Finally, the head of DHHL earlier this month complained about the state attorney general’s decision to appeal the case.

“It’s discouraging to see the attorney general pursuing an appeal of this matter on the basis that the court has overstepped its powers. The appeal will eventually end up at the Supreme Court level, and the Supreme Court already ruled in 2012 that the court can determine what is ‘sufficient funding’ for operating and administrative expenses for DHHL,” Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair and DHHL director, said in a July 12 statement.“It feels like an unnecessary delay that hurts DHHL and its ability to effectively meet its mission to place native Hawaiians on the land.”

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