State Legislature Takes Significant Steps To Improve Broadband Service In State

Hawaii Public Radio

Nearly 3,000 bills were proposed this past legislative session. But only a few hundred were passed by both the House and Senate last week. Among those that were approved, are measures that could improve the state’s broadband infrastructure.

The 2021 legislative session adjourned last week, ending a four-month period when state lawmakres considered thousands of proposals to address new and ongoing challenges in the islands. Some of the larger topics legislators had to contend with were the state budget in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, education, and economic recovery efforts.

But there were a couple of items that were approved, that could have a great impact on everyday life in the islands.

One is House Bill 1191, which could help improve internet service in the state.

It establishes the broadband and digital equity office at the department of business, economic development and tourism. This new office would be in charge of developing and implementing strategies to improve broadband service in the state — especially in rural areas that have limited or no internet connection.

The office would also oversee broadband infrastructure in schools throughout the state.

The measure also establishes a grant program to incentivize the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure in underserved or unserved areas.

“That was quite significant,” said state broadband strategy officer, and host of HPR’s Bytemarks Cafe, Burt Lum.

“I think it’s a recognition by the legislature that it’s important to have a central clearinghouse for all things broadband and digital equity.”

Another big step the legisltaure took is approving a line item in the state budget. It allocates $10 million, in mostly federal funds, to begin work on developing facilities to house transpacific fiber optic cables.

The state depends on these underwater cables to provide internet service. But the challenge is that it takes a lot of investment to build the facilities for them to land here.

Lum says although there is still a lot of capacity on the current cables, it’s always good to have more.

“With all the new technologies that leverage digital technologies — all the applications, all the big data, all the AI machine learning — that’s going to all need more data,” he said.

“What we need to build is, not only the ability to lower the barrier to allow transpacific fiber optic cable landings here, we also need to look at how do we build diverse routes and create rings that allow redundancy and resilience.”

Lum says creating facilities to host transpacific fiber optic cables are one part of improving the state’s broadband infrastructure. He says improving internet service in the islands are just as important.

“When you are looking at building brandband infrastructure, and you want to connect the islands, it’s not just to connect the islands. It’s to continue to close the gap between rural communitites and communities of need. And we look at the interest of things like distance learning, telework, telehealth, you need to have broadband connection.”

Both the state budget and HB 1191 were passed by the state House and Senate, and are being considered by Governor David Ige for final approval.

House Creates Panel To Probe Land Fund, Agriculture Agency

A resolution to create the special investigative committee cites audits of the DLNR’s land and development fund, and the Agribusiness Development Corp.

Civil Beat
By Kevin Dayton

In a rare move on the last day of session, House lawmakers voted Thursday to create an investigative committee to delve into the findings of state audits of the controversial Agribusiness Development Corp. and a state-controlled special land and development fund.

House Resolution 164 establishing the investigative committee cites critical findings of a 2019 audit of the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Special Land and Development Fund as well as this year’s audit of the ADC.

The committee will consist of at least five House members who will be appointed by Speaker Scott Saiki, and will have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony, according to the resolution.

The committee is to examine the operations and management of the agencies as well as the audit recommendations, and prepare a report by the start of the 2022 session next January.

The House adjourned for the year moments after approving the resolution in a voice vote.

The 2019 audit of the special land fund found that the DLNR did not have a strategic plan for state lands, and lacked complete or coherent policies and procedures that would enable the department to properly manage its leases and revocable permits.

The House resolution quotes the audit finding that “lack of transparency and accountability hinders the administration of the Special Land and Development Fund.”

Meantime, the ADC audit found the corporation has “done little to fill the economic void created by the closure of the sugar and pineapple plantations,” according to the resolution.

The auditor’s report also found the ADC’s financial records were in such disarray that they were “not auditable.”

In an interview after the House adjourned for the year, Saiki said that “the House wanted to follow up on the two audits that were done previously, because both of those program areas are probably in need of some reform.”

State Agribusiness Development Corporation Executive Director James Nakatani said in a written statement Thursday the agency has already begun to take steps recommended by the auditor.

The ADC and its board “have already begun prioritizing all of the Auditor’s recommendations in order develop a short-term implementation plan and a longer term management structure to ensure ADC can function more efficiently and effectively,” he said in his statement.

The ADC this week completed its process for accepting applications for 1,200 acres in Central Oahu, and agriculture-related tenants are scheduled to be selected later this summer. The remaining vacant parcels should be filled by the end of the year, Nakatani wrote.

“We acknowledge there have been challenges, particularly at our Wahiawa properties with previous community concerns,” he said in his statement. “As mentioned during a House briefing earlier this legislative session, we have spent the past year clearing the area of illegal activity, making the land suitable for farming and providing the necessary irrigational improvements.”

Bill to Dissolve Agribusiness Development Corporation Passed Out of House Committee

Hawaii Free Press
News Release from House Democratic Caucus, February 19, 2021 –

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – A bill to dissolve the Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) and transfer all its resource except the director to the Department of Agriculture was passed unamended by the House Agriculture Committee on February 17.

HB 1271 is in response to a devastating audit of the ADC that stated that the company – despite being given a clear mission, broad powers, and millions of dollars over the last 25 years – had failed to promote diversified agriculture that would feed the people of these islands and provide employment after the closure of the sugar plantations. Those findings were reaffirmed in an equally scathing report from the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO).

The bill was introduced by Representative Amy Perruso with the support of Representatives Jeanné Kapela, Matthew S. LoPresti, Lisa Marten, Richard H.K. Onishi, Adrian K. Tam, Tina Wildberger, Della Au Belatti, and John M. Mizuno.

“I introduced HB1271 because I believe as lawmakers, we have a duty to protect the common good. When problems with governance emerge, despite our best efforts, we are doubly obligated to move swiftly to address the situation by ending the malpractice and charting a better course,” said Rep. Perruso (D-46, Wahiawā, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley). “That’s what HB1271 does. I’m grateful for the support of my colleagues in moving to repeal this bill that created the ADC in the first place.”

Perruso has heard regularly from several small farmers in her district about the difficulties encountered when trying to secure agricultural leases.

“We should be encouraging our small farmers, not putting up roadblocks or refusing to provide transparency as has been the case with the ADC. Importing 90% of our food puts us in a very precarious position. After more than two decades we are still without the plan that the ADC was supposed to develop to address food self-sufficiency. We cannot simply reproduce the status quo as if nothing is wrong with this attached agency,” Perruso said.

State bill would end contested case land use hearings, sending them directly to court

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

In a supposed effort to streamline the state’s contested case hearing process, a controversial new bill in the state Legislature would end those hearings over land use issues entirely.

Under provisions proposed in House Bill 344, proceedings like the contested case hearing over the development of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea that stretched for four months between 2016 and 2017 would no longer happen, and would instead be relegated to Circuit Court.

The bill specifically targets language governing the Board of Land and Natural Resources and Commission on Water Resource Management, erasing clauses that allow disputes to be discussed before the board or commission. Those clauses would be replaced with language that allows people who dispute a board or commission action to seek relief “by timely filing a civil action before the circuit court having jurisdiction over the location of the alleged violation.”

According to a report by the House Committee on Water and Land — which voted unanimously in support of the bill on Tuesday — the bill’s intention is to reduce “some of the duplication, uncertainty and costs” associated with holding lengthy land use decision hearings. Other departments, the report went on, would be able to continue to use contested case hearings with no changes.

“The state does a lot of contested case hearings, and a lot of them end up going to court anyway,” said Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. “This would just speed that process along.”

Simons, who last year was one of three candidates identified in the currently suspended search for a new director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said it is in the best interest of both the public and the state to resolve disputes in a timely manner, rather than through a long contested case hearing that often just ends up getting relegated in the courts anyway.

Simons said the bill is part of a suite of measures in the state Legislature aimed at streamlining the contested case process — House Bill 343 would simplify the process of selecting officers to manage contested case hearings, while House Bill 342 would revise legal definitions related to the process. However, he said, the bills should not change the process too much for members of the public.

“By my understanding, the community can still provide testimony,” Simons said. “I don’t want to inhibit the right of people to testify.”

Among the written testimony submitted at Tuesday’s committee meeting was a statement from UH, which noted the need to mitigate taxpayer costs in light of the ongoing economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and argued that the measure does not impede public participation.

“The changes proposed by HB 344 do not come at the expense of less public participation, due process or judicial oversight,” UH’s statement read. “The bill leaves intact the right to participate in the agency decision-making processes under the Sunshine Law at open public meetings. The bill leaves intact public hearing requirements for certain discretionary permits and approvals … so that the public will have an opportunity to present information and views on the record. And finally, the bill leaves fully intact appeals through the Hawaii Judiciary.”

Other organizations, including the Maunakea Observatories and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, echoed UH’s statement Tuesday, as did Roberta Chu, a former member of UH’s Maunakea Management Board who testified as a private citizen.

“Contested cases hold up land use decisions across the state which create unpredictability in projects that could deter investors,” Chu wrote. “The economic impact of potentially numerous contested cases has the probability of making investment in Hawaii non-existent. The contested case option should be left to the court system.”

“This legislation is crucial for the Maunakea Observatories given that future land authorization for the Maunakea Science Reserve may be subject to a contested case, introducing lengthy delays in the land authorization process,” read a letter by the Maunakea Observatories. “It is in the interests of the State, Federal sponsors, Maunakea Observatories, and broader community to have timely and complete resolution of land use decisions that may arise in the MKSR land authorization.”

Others do not feel the same, however. Opponents of TMT who were involved in the 2016 contested case hearing believe HB 344 is a clear violation of due process and removes a way for members of the public to have their voices heard.

“It’s trying to eliminate any kind of public participation,” said cultural practitioner E. Kalani Flores, who participated in the 2016 hearing and other legal challenges against TMT. “The purpose of a contested case hearing is so we can provide the people making decisions with the information they need.”

Flores said that if the 2016 hearing had gone straight to Circuit Court rather than the initial contested case hearing, then far fewer members of the public would have been able to participate, purely because of the financial costs of hiring legal representation.

That sentiment was shared by Henry Curtis, executive director of environmental action group Life of the Land, who submitted testimony opposing the measure to Tuesday’s House Committee meeting.

“HB 344 appears to say that if an agency fails to do its job in protecting public trust resources, rather than filing a contested case proceeding, one must hire a lawyer and clog up the courts,” Curtis’ statement read. “As for those without abundant funds, tough noodles.”

The committee report acknowledged the due process concerns, and requested that future committees consider the possibility of allowing the BLNR to conduct contested case hearings “in certain circumstances.”

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a leader of the group opposing TMT construction, said the fact that the bill applies only to land and water disputes is telling.

“If they’re trying to speed things up, why not get rid of it in all cases?” Wong-Wilson said. “It looks like it’s just here to push through development on Maunakea and elsewhere.”

Flores said he finds it ironic that this bill would abolish certain contested case hearings for the sake of efficiency, while three other bills also active in the state legislature — HB 972, SB 1126 and SB 873 — seek to improve the process by legalizing the use of interactive conference technologies like Zoom, which would make the process accessible to more people.

Representatives of the Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to comment on pending legislation. However, DLNR chair Suzanne Case submitted testimony Tuesday, saying the department supports the measure because it would relieve the board of the burden of managing an increasing number of complex contested cases whose efficacy “is unclear especially since important and complex contested cases generally are ultimately referred to the Judiciary anyway.”

The bill passed second reading in the house Friday, with only three representatives voting against it.

Lawmakers Must Fix The Agribusiness Development Corporation

Civil Beat

Two new reports reveal that the government agency has failed miserably in its critical mission to diversify ag.

By Civil Beat Editorial Board

In 1992 Dole Food ended pineapple production on Lanai. Just two years later, Hilo Coast Processing shuttered its sugar operations for good, as did Hamakua Sugar, both on the Big Island.

The year 1994 was, not coincidentally, the year the Hawaii Legislature created the Agribusiness Development Corp. to “facilitate the transition of agricultural infrastructure from plantation operations into other agricultural enterprises,” as Act 264 stated.

The ADC’s work would involve analyzing marketing approaches and providing leadership “for the development, financing, improvement, or enhancement of agricultural enterprises.”

The Legislature gave it wide latitude, exempting it from public land trust regulations and from Public Utilities Commission regulations and civil service laws.

ADC’s mission soon grew even more urgent. Beginning in 1995 with the closure of Oahu Sugar and continuing to 2016 when Maui’s Hawaii Commercial and Sugar Company closed — the end of King Sugar — more than a half-dozen more large-scale ag operations folded. (Some pineapple is still grown locally.)

But, even though the trend was painfully obvious and thousands of people were losing jobs, ADC was slow to act.

It wasn’t until 2003 that it assumed management of the Kekaha Sugar operation (which halted for good in 2000) and not until 2012 that it made its first land purchase (1,227 acres of former pineapple plantation lands in Wahiawa owned by the George Galbraith Estate). And it wasn’t until 2017 that ADC issued its first license for those lands.

Indeed, the Agribusiness Development Corp. has transformed into an organization that mainly purchases farm land but does little with it.

Today, 27 years after its founding, the ADC has not become “the entity the Legislature envisioned,” one that would develop an agriculture industry “to stand as a pillar” of the state economy alongside tourism and the military, according to the audit, which is rightly described in news reports as “scathing.”

Instead, it has been a complete “fiasco,” in the words of a University of Hawaii economist.

The one-two punch of the state audit and the UHERO analysis, both released last month and both coming at a time when the state is hungry for new revenue sources in the wake of the novel coronavirus calamity, is a serious wake-up call.

The responsibility for the ADC’s failure falls to the agency’s leadership, of course, but mostly with the organization that created it: the Legislature. They made it; they own it.

It’s encouraging that House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi are troubled by the reports. Saiki, who has promised a public hearing on the ADC, described the agency as “dysfunctional,” which is an understatement.

We are worried, though, that this may become less of a concern as the Legislature continues its 2021 session restricted by deep budget deficits. Will the end result be yet another task force to study the issue?

The ADC itself seems resistant to change, with Executive Director Jimmy Nakatani previously claiming it could not be bothered to get audited because it was “too busy.”

Too busy doing too little, it seems. Nakatani himself is quoted in the audit as saying, “No one here has a deep agricultural background.”

But there is more good news amidst these shameful findings: Other legislators are already working on constructive plans for the ADC.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Agriculture and Environment Committee, has scheduled a hearing next week on his bill to require the corporation to annually lease at least 50% of its land to businesses primarily focused on local food production. The bill notes that the ADC manages over 22,000 acres of public agricultural lands “with significant potential to shape” the state’s goal of greater food self-sufficiency.

That’s an idea that deserves attention. As Civil Beat’s new series, Home Grown, points out, Hawaii imports more than 80% of what we eat.

We are pleased as well to see that Gabbard’s House counterpart, Rep. Mark Hashem, has authored a companion bill to Gabbard’s. Both also require the ADC and the Department of Agriculture to submit reports to the Legislature on leasing activities. (Hopefully, Mr. Nakatani can make the time.)

Even if the bill passes, we are a long way from true diversification, let alone returning ag to its premier status as an economic driver. Seed crops, coffee, cattle, macadamia nuts, aquaculture, papayas, bananas and other island agricultural commodities generate around $400 million of revenue a year of the state’s total GDP of $97 billion in 2019 — that is, pre-COVID-19.

But agriculture must be a part of our economic future. If the ADC is to play a role, lawmakers would do well to review the 28 recommendations in the auditor’s report, including the first one:

“Update and revise its mission statement to reflect the corporation’s purpose more completely as intended by the Legislature to address, among other things, facilitating the development of Hawaii-based agricultural enterprises and strategies to promote, market, and distribute Hawaii-grown agricultural crops and value-added products in local, national, and international markets.”

Barring that, lawmakers should take a look at another proposed bill this session, one that references the auditor’s report directly: Dissolve the ADC and transfer all lands and staff — “except for the executive director” — to the Department of Agriculture.

Contact Key Lawmakers
Senate President Ron Kouchi

House Speaker Scott Saiki

Hawaii State Legislature HB1271 – Agribusiness Development Corporation; Department of Agriculture; Repeal

Measure Status HB1271
Report Title: Agribusiness Development Corporation; Department of Agriculture; Repeal
Description: Dissolves the agribusiness development corporation and transfers all lands and staff, except for the executive director, to the department of agriculture.
Package: None
Current Referral: AGR, FIN

Sort by Date Status Text
1/27/2021 H Introduced and Pass First Reading.
2/1/2021 H Referred to AGR, FIN, referral sheet 3

S = Senate | H = House | D = Data Systems | $ = Appropriation measure | ConAm = Constitutional Amendment

Hawaii State Legislature HB827 – Measure Title: RELATING TO AGRICULTURE

Measure Status – HB827
Report Title: Department of Agriculture; Agribusiness Development Corporation; Diversified Agriculture; Leased Lands; Reporting Requirements; Local Food Production; Enterprise –
Description: Requires the Department of Agriculture and Agribusiness Development Corporation to annually lease at least fifty per cent of land leased or up for lease renewal to operations whose primary business is local food production beginning 1/1/2022. Requires the Department of Agriculture and Agribusiness Development Corporation to submit reports to the legislature on leasing activities. –
Companion: SB335
Package: None
Current Referral: AGR, FIN

Sort by Date Status Text
1/25/2021 H Pending introduction.
1/27/2021 H Introduced and Pass First Reading.
1/29/2021 H Referred to AGR, FIN, referral sheet 2

S = Senate | H = House | D = Data Systems | $ = Appropriation measure | ConAm = Constitutional Amendment

Rep. Ed Case’s bills take aim at reforming Jones Act


U.S. Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii said today he has reintroduced three bills in Congress to reform the Jones Act, which many critics say is responsible for artificially inflating the cost of shipping goods to the state.

“These three bills are meant to end a century of monopolistic closed market domestic cargo shipping to and from my isolated home state of Hawai‘i as well as the other island and separated jurisdictions of our country that lie outside the continental United States,” Case said. “The bills aim directly at one of the key drivers of our astronomically high cost of living in Hawai‘i and other similarly located jurisdictions.”

Case said because the Jones Act severely limits the supply of shipping to and from Hawaii’s communities, it has allowed a few companies to control the state’s lifeline to the outside world and, as a result, “command shipping rates way higher than the rest of the world.”

The 1920 Jones Act requires all cargo moved between two U.S. ports to be carried by vessels that are built in the country, owned by a U.S. entity and manned by an American crew.

Kahele: Neighbor Islands won’t get overlooked

Maui News
Kehaulani Cerizo –

New rep-elect heads to Congress for freshman term

After traveling thousands of miles from his native Hilo, Kai Kahele is immersed in the Washington, D.C., bustle, making preparations for his freshman term as U.S. representative.

Office selections. Loads of paperwork. Hours of training.

All the while at the nation’s capital, Kahele is seeking to maintain a pulse on Hawaii’s needs. He assured smaller Neighbor Island communities that once he’s in Congress in January, they won’t get lost in the fray.

“I understand the challenges of living on the Neighbor Island — every aspect of it — from education to health care to kupuna care to social services,” Kahele told the The Maui News in a phone interview on Wednesday. “And as a result, I can be that very important voice for the delegation and what the delegation needs.”

Kahele, who’s spent most of his life on the Big Island, discussed ways he’d like to get COVID-19 relief funds directly to county municipalities so they don’t have to ask Gov. David Ige for a “piece of the pie.” He touched on the balance of reopening tourism and public safety and also detailed goals for Maui County, such as building a long-awaited veterans center and funneling money toward agriculture.

With the CARES Act expiring soon, state leaders have been mulling ways to secure additional COVID-19 relief money as Maui County buckles under some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Kahele pointed out that the U.S. House passed a Heroes Act, a second stimulus funding piece for the country. The bill would provide nearly a half billion dollars for direct payment stimulus checks for those who qualify, additional money for the unemployed, more Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses and an infusion of rent relief funding.

“The money would go from the federal government direct to Mayor Victorino and the County of Maui to be dispersed rather than having to go to the state government, Governor Ige, who would then decide,” Kahele said.

However, the proposal is sitting in the U.S. Senate, without debate or a floor vote, he said, adding that he will be pushing for these funds.

When it comes to the tension between reopening and public safety, Kahele said it’s a “delicate balance” that involves “tough decisions.”

Neighbor Islands have been reeling over the lack of tourism dollars, more so than Oahu, which is also bolstered by government and military sectors.

Kahele said there is no perfect plan, and at some point a certain level of risk must be accepted when reopening the counties and the economy.

“Difficult decisions have to be made because tourism is such a big part of our economy,” he said. “I mean, we are not going to diversify our economy away from tourism overnight. It’s going to take a significant amount of time, a significant amount of resources. It’s going to take years to do that.”

To mitigate reopening risks, testing, adequate medical facilities, opportunities for people to quarantine and a thorough contract tracing program are needed, he said.

First and foremost, it’s the responsibility of leaders to protect their people and prioritize residents’ health, safety and welfare, Kahele added. Because the economy is so reliant on tourism, tough choices need to be made to reopen safely, he said.

Beyond COVID-19, Kahele outlined goals for Maui County. He said breaking ground on a veterans center for Maui is among his top priorities. The center has been in the works for over a decade, and a Central Maui site has been selected, but the project continues to stall.

“After years of talk and all these great headlines, we still don’t have a building and a facility,” he said.

With almost 10,000 veterans throughout the state, Maui County veterans, including those on Lanai and Molokai, need a place to get adequate health care, he said.

“That’s something our country owes our veterans who have given a very large part of their lives, and the lives of their families, their spouses and their children,” said Kahele, who’s also a service member. “That’s an obligation our country has to our veterans.”

Kahele said he’s currently getting briefed on the project and what’s needed to get it “shovel ready.” He hopes to get it done during his first term.

Also, Kahele said Maui and Hawaii islands produce 98 percent of the state’s agriculture and that he’s looking forward to serving on a committee on agriculture. He said Maui’s under-utilized lands can be cultivated for ag, and he aims to procure funds to support local farmers, subsidize startup operations and invest in water delivery systems.

The young leader has plenty of work ahead, especially during one of the most politically divided times in recent history. Kahele, a 46-year-old Democrat, said he will work to build bridges, something 21 years in the military has instilled in him.

“I’ve served side-by-side with active duty and Guard and reserve, military members who may have disagreed on many different things, philosophically and morally, but we knew how to get the job done, and we were able to put the mission first and to do that,” he said. “And that’s what I think we need here in Washington, D.C., is individuals that are servant leaders, are here for the right reasons and are here to get things done rather than fight and, you know, get separated into our different tribes.”

Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and member of the Hawaii Air National Guard, entered politics in 2016. Ige appointed him to the Hawaii State Senate to finish the term of his father, Gil Kahele, who died unexpectedly after a heart attack.

In January 2019, Kahele announced his bid for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, representing all rural and most suburban areas of Oahu/Honolulu County, along with Kauai, Maui, Kalawao and Hawaii counties.

He won handily to succeed U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who ran unsuccessfully for president and said in October 2019 that she would not seek re-election.

Once he takes office, Kahele will be the second Native Hawaiian to serve in Congress since statehood. U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who died in 2016, was the first.

“I’m also looking forward to being the second Native Hawaiian since statehood to represent Hawaii,” he said. “I feel like I can be a voice for Native Hawaiians in the United States Congress.”