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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Brenda Ford, one of two Democratic candidates for State Senate District 3, which covers Kona and Kau. The other one is Dru Kanuha.
1) Should the Legislature be more transparent and accountable? What would you do, given how tough it can be for individual lawmakers to go against leadership, to bring about needed reform in areas like sexual harassment policies, lobbyist regulation, fundraising during session and televising and archiving all hearings?
Yes. I will write or co-sponsor legislation, policies, and rules to:
• Reduce and prevent sexual harassment and assault,
• Improve the laws regarding lobbyists; such as, higher fines for lobbyists who do not register within three days as lobbyists, require that they must swear an oath to tell the truth about being a lobbyist and no business or PAC represented by a lobbyist shall send funds to anyone until after the lobbyist is registered, require lobbyists to provide lists of businesses/PACs they represent, lobbyists who lie about their business ties in any situation should be charged with perjury against their sworn oath, require legislators to provide public lists of any funds that come through lobbyists, businesses, or PACs for any amount under penalty of perjury, and
• Provide televised hearings for committee and chamber floor discussions and votes that are broadcast to the neighbor islands on the same day, allow neighbor islands to testify via remote locations via satellite at committee and floor discussions at least 3 minutes each, and testimony shall be before votes are taken; all meetings shall be archived and available to any person via the internet.
2) Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
Yes. The residents of the State of Hawaii are entitled to have bills that they want brought to the floors of the House and Senate for a public vote. Many times, issues that are important to the public are killed in committees. The people need to be able to bring those issues through statewide citizens initiatives to the ballots if the legislators refuse to do it. Historically, the Legislature has not provided this method of control by the people. It needs to happen now!
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address states: “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I believe those words. We need statewide citizens initiatives now.
Being elected does not entitle a person to special privileges or allow that person to break laws. Elected officials are the servants of the people, not kings, dictators, or persons above the law.
3) Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with no Republicans in the Senate and only five in the House. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
I believe in multiple-party system of government; however, I do not accept that we have one-party control in Hawaii. We do have individuals who claim to belong to one party but do not vote in support of that party’s platform because they believe that they cannot get elected without such a subterfuge.
The voters choose who they want to be in the Legislature to represent them, hopefully, based on that candidate’s voting record, belief system, and willingness to stand up for the people’s constitutional rights. You can tell from the way someone votes what their belief system is.
I am well-known for doing my research, stating my position, explaining that position, standing by it, and encouraging my colleagues to vote appropriately in the best interests of the people. Additionally, I am also known for defending the people of all districts. Constitutional law and civil rights are good for everyone.
4) Would you support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, particularly before the primary? What other steps would you take to improve lobbying and financial disclosures?
Yes, I would support more frequent campaign finance reporting at least monthly and perhaps weekly in the month before the primary and general elections. Make the law have teeth – have financial penalties that are significant – thousands of dollars from the candidate personally or even negate their votes for violations.
Additionally, I support reporting donations that are less than $100, such as $25, for transparency. While on the Hawaii County Council, I reported anything over $5 even though $100 was an acceptable limit for reporting. I believe in transparency.
5) Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
While FOIA should provide the public with the information they desire, I realize that governmental agencies may inhibit transparency if they believe that the information puts that agency in jeopardy. I believe that the 10-day maximum is reasonable and should be followed.
I would write or co-sponsor legislation to fine the department heads, mayors, elected officials, even the governor, etc., with substantial fines paid from their personal funds or no-pay suspensions for dereliction of duty. If they need more help to respond to FOIAs, hire it, but do not keep the public waiting.
6) Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
No. Whether it is the state or the counties, unfunded liabilities shall be paid in full each year unless there is a natural or manmade disaster that precludes it. In such a disaster, only 90 perecnt should be required to be funded, but those missing funds shall be paid back within two years by adding 105 percent to liabilities to those two following years. (FEMA payments will be received for at least 80 percent of disaster repairs.)
For governmental entities who are far in arrears, they should be required to fund 100 percent each year going forward plus 25 percent of the debt to each year for four years until they are at 100 percent funding and the unfunded liabilities are fully repaid. Our employees work hard and deserve to know their retirements and health care premiums are secure.
The state has a fiduciary responsibility to pay 100 percent of liabilities.
7) Do you support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
Yes. A surcharge could be added to investment property. Without allowing any funds to be removed from the current and future budgets for schools, it will be necessary for the Legislature to “freeze” the amount provided to DOE at the current level and add a cost-of-living or 5 percent increase each year, whichever is greater. On top of that increased funding, investment properties, TAT, resort properties could have a small increase in their tax base to help our schools.
8) Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry and what would you propose to do about it?
It is a problem. I understand that people need to make additional income especially in their elder years. Long-term rentals will do that. Both the State GET and TAT and the counties’ real property tax may not be paid on illegal vacation rentals (VRs) since the owners want to be under the radar. The counties need to determine which residences are being used for VRs. VRs in restricted zones should be stopped, cited, and very steep fines should be applied for violations of the zoning code. Initially, a two-month grace period should apply during public notification to property owners, and the owners notify VR guests. After that time, substantial fines begin for violating the zoning code.
In view of the lack of affordable housing, and especially since the flooding on Kauai and the ongoing Puna lava disaster, VRs can revert into long-term rentals which will certainly please the neighbors and may help some of those 2,000-plus displaced people on Hawaii Island. Also, young teachers who cannot afford to live here with the high cost of living could find housing.
9) Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support a state constitutional convention. My response goes back to question No. 2. When the Legislature refuses to pass laws that the people want, disregards issues that even legislators try to get passed, and refuses to have a statewide citizens initiative process, it is time for a constitutional convention. Additionally, nominees to represent the various areas of the state need to be elected by ballot. This issue could be put on the 2020 ballot to save money.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Stop all development on the shoreline. Increase the setback to account for the sea level rise based on 2100 estimates. Remove any buildings on the shoreline that are more than 40 percent damaged by hurricanes, tsunamis, flood channel inundation, sea level rise, lava flows, etc. Allow only parks on such land with restrooms and cabanas beyond the setback zone.
Establish a permanent fund to buy the land (not the structure which should be insured) from the property owner and zone the land as open space. The fund would provide the land owner with some money to buy a lot. To protect the reefs, stop aquarium reef fish collection. Place buoys with ropes between them and above-water signage to prohibit standing on the reefs. Place on-shore kiosks with public information.
Encourage home and business owners to place solar units on buildings using state and federal tax incentives and create a fund to pay for the placement of solar on houses of very low-income people. Require solar units on all apartments and use tax incentives spread over several years to help pay for it. Do not allow geothermal on the islands of Hawaii or Maui due to active volcanoes.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Insufficient affordable housing, insufficient medical care, the need for a new hospital, and homelessness are all major issues in my Senate district.
I will write or co-sponsor legislation to stop vacation rentals in residential zones, help to start a physician’s assistant program in Kona (this does not require state funding), build a new Kona hospital that is a Level 3 (tertiary) that can handle trauma and cardiac cases without flying the person to Oahu, move the existing hospital employees to the new hospital, and provide emergency housing to the homeless to get them stabilized and safe before moving them into permanent housing. The old hospital can be used for homeless people, long-term care, and a drug treatment facility.