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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 22, 2007

Legislature 2007 update

 •  Legislature 2007
Read up on the latest happenings in the Legislature, find out how to contact your lawmakers, and explore other resources.

Compiled by Derrick DePledge and Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writers

Tomorrow is the 54th day of the 60-day session.

YOUNG HEARINGS

A state Senate panel on Wednesday completed five days of confirmation hearings on Peter Young for director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Senate Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee also heard from William McCorriston, an attorney for retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger, who testified that the department has failed to take responsibility for not inspecting Kaloko dam on Kaua'i before a fatal breach last year killed seven people. Pflueger, who owns property around the dam, is suing the state and private companies, alleging a lack of oversight.

The committee also heard closed-session testimony from state investigators about criminal and ethics probes into the department's Bureau of Conveyances.

Gov. Linda Lingle was rebuffed Tuesday when she asked to testify after the committee had closed public testimony. State Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-2nd (S. Hilo, Puna, Ka'u), the committee's chairman, explained it would be unfair to allow Lingle, but not others, to testify late.

Lingle said outside the hearing that the Senate had created an impossible standard for her nominees, suggesting they had to please all department workers and interest groups to be confirmed. The governor also criticized the committee's decision to allow McCorriston to testify, charging that the attorney was able to deflect attention away from his client's potential role at Kaloko.

The committee is expected to vote on its recommendation on Young early this week. The full Senate will likely vote later in the week.

BEFITEL RULE

Moved by the example of Nelson Befitel at the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the House and Senate have passed a bill that would prevent holdover appointments from staying on the job indefinitely.

Befitel, who was likely not going to be confirmed by the Senate, did not seek another term as director after Gov. Linda Lingle was re-elected last year.

Lingle has not nominated a replacement, and Russell Pang, a spokesman for the governor, said earlier this month that Befitel could remain on the job indefinitely.

Lawmakers have called that a loophole that circumvents the Senate's advice and consent power over Cabinet nominees.

The bill, passed Friday by the House and earlier this month by the Senate, would require the governor to appoint department directors by the 41st day of the following session. If no appointment is made, the existing director could serve only until the end of the 60-day session.

The job would then go temporarily to a department's highest ranking deputy or most senior civil service officer until a director is nominated.

"Otherwise, she can just have a holdover appointment, like Befitel, continue to serve," said state House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa).

House Republicans voted against the bill. State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (Lower Pearlridge, 'Aiea, Halawa), said lawmakers may not have thought through the consequences of the temporary replacement process.

REGENTS BILL VETOED

Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill Wednesday that would restrict her power to make appointments to the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents, but state House and Senate leaders promised to override the veto and enact the bill into law.

Two-thirds' votes by both the House and Senate are necessary to override a veto.

The bill creates an advisory council that would recommend regent nominees to the governor instead of the governor choosing them on her own. The bill also expands the number of regents from 12 to 15 with geographic representation and prohibits regents from serving more than two consecutive five-year terms.

"This bill is objectionable because it contradicts what public citizen trusteeship should be that is, citizens who are independent in their individual and collective judgment and who serve the people of Hawai'i, not special-interest groups," Lingle said in a statement.

"The governor is again choosing to ignore the will of the people," state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement. "Hawai'i's voters agreed that the selection of regents needs to be above the politics of this governor or any governor."

KOLLER CONFIRMED

Lillian Koller's bumpy ride toward confirmation for a second four-year-term as director of the state Department of Human Services ended Wednesday with a unanimous vote by the state Senate.

The vote went 24-0 in Koller's favor with one senator excused but 13 Senate Democrats voted with reservations.

Koller, who has had her differences with Democrats over welfare spending and other issues, received overwhelming public support during the confirmation hearings.

But a significant number of unidentified department employees who did not want to testify publicly had complaints about her management style.

State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, D-13th (Kalihi, Nu'uanu), the chairwoman of the Senate Human Services and Public Housing Committee, took the complaints seriously but still voted for Koller's confirmation.

The information, however, was enough for other senators to vote with reservations.

"I'm very grateful to all the senators for this vote of confidence," Koller said afterward. "This confirmation process helped me understand how I can build more unity within the department."

LEARN MORE

  • Monitor the status of bills at the state Legislature at www.capitol.hawaii.gov

  • Check out Capitol Notebook, a blog by The Advertiser's Capitol Bureau at http://blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com

    OVERHEARD

    "I'll tell you the political way we look at this: You throw a lot of mud, and you hope something sticks. And that's what's going on in these hearings right now. And it's a complete disservice to the process, to the voters, to the people all across the state."

    Gov. Linda Lingle on the Senate's confirmation hearings of Peter Young as director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    COMING UP

  • The deadline to deck non-fiscal bills for final passage is Thursday.

  • The deadline to deck fiscal bills for final passage is Friday.

    Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com and Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.