Committee tables ceded-lands bill
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
House lawmakers last night all but killed a bill that would have restored a blueprint for ceded land revenue payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs following hours of angry testimony by Hawaiians who opposed a plan to change the bill.
Yesterday was Day 45 of the 60-day session.
The proposal that the Hawaiians objected to would have granted OHA a portion of the money from ceded land leases, but eliminated revenue from buildings and other improvements on the property.
A new revenue formula is still needed because the Hawai'i Supreme Court in 2001 struck down an arrangement that conflicted with federal law, Namu'o said, but it appears unlikely that lawmakers will revive the proposal.
"This is the second year in a row that they have refused to re-enact something similar to Act 304, and that's what the Supreme Court directed us to do," Namu'o said.
That law entitled OHA to 20 percent of revenue generated by ceded land, some 1.8 million acres of former crown and Hawaiian government property ceded to the United States on annexation and back to Hawai'i upon statehood.
Lingle ordered that payments based on land not disputed in the court ruling resume. But the lack of a clear vehicle for calculating the amount leaves many questions.
Namu'o said the proposed amendment would have been far worse and caused annual payments to plummet from about $9 million to less than $3 million.
Some lawmakers have questioned why OHA should receive money from buildings it did not pay to construct, saying the state should seek a settlement that is fair to all taxpayers.
But OHA chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said the amendment would have required complicated land appraisals and likely led to lawsuits. It was also unfair because OHA does not decide what is built on the land, she said.
Dozens of Hawaiians packed a hearing room and blasted the proposal, calling it everything from theft to an instrument of genocide.
Rep. Dwight Takamine, the Finance Committee's chairman, cited the controversy in announcing his recommendation to hold the measure.
"The testimony represented a lot of strong feelings," he said. "We want to honor them."
Before the unanimous vote, Professor Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the University of Hawai'i's Center for Hawaiian Studies, said all ceded land and revenue should go solely to Hawaiians, and that reparations should be paid.
"Every Hawaiian who is in prison," on drugs, in poverty, is uneducated or commits suicide "does so because the state of Hawai'i has stolen our land," she said.
Vicky Holt Takamine, president of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani coalition of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, called the amendment an outrageous affront to Hawaiians.
"Should this bill pass, I challenge you to face the wrath of the Hawaiian people, because we are not going to sit by and watch this happen," she said.
Randy Roth, Lingle's senior policy adviser, said the administration opposed the changes because there had not been enough public input and discussion.
The high court struck down the older law because it required OHA to receive 20 percent of revenue from Honolulu airport, which is partially on ceded land. Federal law requires airport earnings to be spent exclusively on airport operations and infrastructure.
Reach Johnny Brannon at email@example.com or 525-8070.