Letters to the Editor
State not making it easy to run a small business
Gov. Cayetano: First raise the minimum wage, then introduce a smoking ban, now double liquor taxes? If your goal is to make life more difficult for restaurants to survive in this economy, you certainly are cooking on high.
We small businesses don't have the government-style luxury of raising prices if cash flow isn't good. We make do with what we have, cut expenses and pray the bureaucracy will leave us alone and let us survive.
Has it been brought to your attention that restaurants, their owners, staff and suppliers are struggling? Slapping another tax on a product cannot be passed on to the public in this economy and will doom more small businesses and create more unemployment.
Cisco's Cantina, Kailua
Act needs to be changed to help industry, Hawai'i
The Dec. 18 editorial on the Norwegian Star's arrival and story on Gov. Ben Cayetano's endorsement of a Jones Act exemption for foreign cruise ships illustrate the hope of a prosperous interisland cruise industry and the obstacles it faces.
That industry's potential contribution to economic revitalization is tremendous, especially to Neighbor Island counties and ports.
Federal laws enacted in the 1800s prohibit foreign ships from transiting passengers and cargo between U.S. ports. The Jones Act is the cargo version under which Matson and Sealand's U.S. vessels operate between here and the Mainland; that is another story. The Passenger Vessel Services Act is the passenger version under which American Classic Voyages' U.S. vessels previously operated.
Under the passenger act, foreign vessels cannot operate the same Hawai'i-only itinerary as did American Classic because they have to include one foreign-port stop. Thus, three days of a weeklong trip must be devoted to a cruise to Fanning Island, not only increasing voyage costs but also omitting Hawai'i port stops like Hilo.
In October, after American Classic's bankruptcy and following the lead of retired state Transportation Director E. Alvey Wright, I wrote our congressional delegation to urge such an exemption. Sen. Dan Inouye responded that, although he did not favor an outright exemption, there were areas in which the passenger act might be modified to increase the ability of foreign cruise lines to operate fully in Hawai'i.
I am hopeful that, with public understanding and input, the state executive and legislative branches, the counties, the business and labor communities, and the cruise-line industry will use the next legislative session to forge a consensus with our delegation toward law changes allowing full maturity of our interisland passenger-cruise industry.
Rep. Ed Case
D-23rd District (Manoa)
Prevent ship waste from polluting waters
In reference to Norwegian Cruise Lines and cruise-ship activities in Hawai'i: Is the state charting a course to ensure that this new era its maritime history will not be short-lived due to the degradation of the very beauty that our visitors will come to see? Unfortunately, no.
Many state officials prefer a handshake instead of legislation to protect Hawai'i's coastal waters from polluting discharges. It was that attitude that allowed unregulated and inadequately treated discharges of sewage, and sink, shower, galley and laundry wastes, and other more hazardous wastes to be dumped off Alaska until now.
Last June, the governor of Alaska called the Legislature into special session to pass a bill to regulate cruise-ship discharges and allow state inspectors to fine ship owners who violate state pollution laws. The governor cited a volunteer wastewater-sampling program undertaken in 2000 as the impetus for the legislation. In 79 of 80 samples taken from 23 ships, the industry failed to meet basic federal standards for removing fecal bacteria; some samples were 50,000 times the permitted federal level.
Furthermore, a recent U.S. General Accounting Office report found that, from 1993 to 1998, cruise ships were involved in 87 confirmed cases of illegal discharges of oil, garbage and hazardous wastes into U.S. waters and assessed more than $30 million in fines, as a result.
The industry is boasting about the advances it has made in operations and technology. We look forward to the installation of these systems on more vessels. At present, only three ships in the entire fleet have these systems on-board.
Alaska has led the way, adopting sensible, prudent rules that will redefine the industry's wastewater treatment operations worldwide. Alaska hasn't said no to cruise ships; it said no to unregulated pollution. Every other major discharger of wastewater into Hawaiian waters has to have a permit to discharge and must meet public health and aquatic life standards. Why shouldn't the cruise-ship industry?
Let your legislator know Ha-wai'i's waters deserve the same protection as Alaska's.
Director, Sierra Club, Hawai'i Chapter
Reason for harassment may not be what we think
For the last year and a half, our school system has been faced with the controversy of including sexual orientation in the Chapter 19 rule to bar students from harassing others. We have passed the rule and are debating how to implement it.
Increasingly, I am being convinced that the claims of gay and lesbian activists are dishonest and inaccurate and shouldn't be trusted in the implementation of the harassment policy.
If there is a real problem of harassment against gay students, this must be addressed. However, the way to go about doing this is not through brainwashing students into accepting this behavior. The way to solve the problem is for the Department of Education to do thorough research into who and for what reasons children are being harassed in our schools.
My guess is that we probably will find that they are being harassed much more often because of their race, religion and appearance. I find it extremely unlikely that harassment based on sexual orientation would be high on the list.
Alakea location risking safety of children
I object to the editorial published on Dec. 9, "There's no perfect site for parole program." The editorial suggests that children should use their street smarts to protect themselves from sexual offenders, mentally ill criminals and "high risk" convicts. Exactly how does a 53-pound girl defend herself from a 230-pound convict?
The schools near Wai'akamilo are much farther away from the parole office than the schools in downtown. Parking is difficult in downtown, making it more likely that convicts will have to walk by the schools. Some of the kids catch the bus in front of the Alakea Street office. By moving the parole program here, we are providing the criminals with proximity, opportunity and temptation. The real issues are:
There is no security at the Wai'akamilo office, and parole officers are concerned for their safety.
Money about $40,000 will be saved.
I, too, want protection for our public officials, but do not do it at the expense of our children. Million-dollar lawsuits will outweigh the saving of thousands of dollars.
Will planet be friendlier, smarter, better place?
After reading your coverage on Pearl Harbor 60 years later, I began to wonder what kind of reports people will give 60 years after the Sept. 11 attack.
Will people be reassured by the increasing knowledge of science? Will they find solace in the interactions of people worldwide? Most important, will former enemies become friends as have Japanese and American participants after Pearl Harbor? Will the world be a more sustainable place for all people?
New system helps pedestrians in road war
For all of us citizens who do not drive but rely on walking and the bus, we are all for "traffic cams."
Crosswalks should be demilitarized zones, where pedestrians have the right of way when the walk signal comes on.
A recent letter to the editor from a pedestrian mentioned an "all-out war" against drivers who violate the law. I think that this "war" could be conducted by traffic cameras and heavy fines.
Money helping Penobscot Indians
My family would visit the poor Connecticut Pequots when I was little. Now, they own Foxwood Casino, employing more than 10,000 American Indians, who are paid well. Gaming is good for those Native American governments having these kinds of operations and for their tribal members because, with increased money, there is less drug, alcohol and domestic abuse. Money has helped them a great deal.
I've seen this on the Maine Penobscot Reservation, too. Things are far better today because of the money that bingo is bringing to the community. In my lifetime the Penobscot population has gone from about 1,000 to more than 2,000, paralleling the increased tribal wealth. More money translates into less stress and more babies.
As a food-service professional and musician, I can say gaming in Hawai'i would help my colleagues find more work. What some voters fear as becoming legal is already legalized in all the video game parlors our kids sink quarters into.
No fraud, abuse by Health Department
I am proud that, despite allegations of fraud and abuse, the Department of Health staff and our many providers remain undeterred in their commitment to serve children with special needs. In the atmosphere of distrust created by the committee investigating the state's compliance of the Felix consent decree, their steadfast devotion to the children they serve should be acknowledged.
In 1999, Judge David Ezra was understandably frustrated with the lack of progress in complying with the Felix consent decree. Despite a dismal track record over the previous five years, he had faith that new leadership in the departments of Health and Education could do the job. It has been difficult for everyone involved to make progress in a system that resists change, but we have done our best.
Since then, new programs have been developed, and service capacity has been expanded dramatically to meet the needs of the growing number of children who require mental-health services to benefit from their education.
This has happened at a much faster pace than any manager would like under difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, we are at a point where we have met the benchmarks set forth by the court and are poised to complete the job.
We have more to do. The DOH must continue to refine and further improve services we offer to children with intensive needs. It takes time to develop effective programs, and mistakes have been and will be made along the way. However, it's important that we move forward and look optimistically toward the future, not dwell on mistakes made years ago that have been corrected.
Despite months of intensive scrutiny of hundreds of contracts by a team of auditors, I have not seen any specific examples of actual abuse or fraud that involve the DOH. We would never have met the benchmarks required without the "special powers" conferred by the court. Even with these powers, we respected the process and took all necessary steps to assure that there was no opportunity for abuse, including the review of all contracts by the Attorney General's Office.
The only specific example of alleged fraud identified by the legislative auditor was that a service provider billed the department for 127 hours of service in one day. This was identified as a billing error through our own internal review more than a year ago, within a month of the billing. There was no fraud or abuse in the case; the error was made by a new provider unfamiliar with our electronic billing system and was corrected immediately. Unfortunately, the auditor never gave us the opportunity to explain the situation before it was presented as an example of abuse. The "we gotcha" attitude prevailed.
Our goal is to continue to provide support to children who need intensive mental-health services to benefit from their education. My respect and admiration goes out to the hundreds of individuals who remain committed and focused on this goal.
I have no doubt that when we comply with the consent decree, we will have one of the most outstanding special education systems in the country, one we can all be very proud of. When this is accomplished, it will be because of the dedication of those individuals who have committed their lives to providing these services.
Bruce S. Anderson
Director of Health, Hawai'i Department of Health