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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2008

UH prof's pothole bill shelved after hearing

 •  Legislature 2008

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Amy Brown

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Amy Brown, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, is a citizen with an idea. She believes the state should identify 10 critical road repairs each year and then commit to do the work.

She has no lobbyist. She has no interest group behind her. She has no campaign money to give out. How will her bill fare among the more than 2,750 bills introduced at the state Legislature this session?

Follow her progress in The Advertiser.

Read the bill online capitol.hawaii.gov

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Amy Brown could not stay for the entire state Senate hearing yesterday afternoon on her road repair bill - she had a grant to deal with at work - but she guessed the outcome before she left.

Brown, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Hawai'i Manoa, had gotten lawmakers to introduce a bill that would require the state Department of Transportation to set aside a percentage of the state highway fund each year for road repairs and maintenance. The department would also have to identify the 10 most critical highway repairs each year and then commit to do the work, and do the same with 10 critical repair projects in resort areas.

Brown's bill - one of more than 2,750 bills introduced this session - was quickly scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Transportation and International Affairs Committee. Three people, including Brown, signed up to testify yesterday.

Georgina Kawamura, the state budget and finance director, told the committee the bill was too restrictive and would limit the department's flexibility in responding to road repairs.

Glenn Yasui, the state highways administrator, said the bill would mix state road repairs with projects that should be the responsibility of the counties. He also said passing the bill would be like earmarking certain projects as priorities that could be different than the department's priorities.

Brown, who lives in Kaimuki, told the committee she came up with the idea after being tired of potholes.

"I'm just one person," she said. "But I think I represent hundreds of thousands of people in Hawai'i who have a car."

And then it was over. The committee went on to the next bill on the agenda. Brown went back to work.

A few hours later, state Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i), the committee's chairman, announced the verdict. He was deferring the bill.

English said that the state highway fund is used to match federal money and that placing restrictions on how the state money is used could jeopardize federal funding. "It could effect literally millions, millions and millions of federal dollars coming in," he said.

English said Brown's idea was well-intentioned and that he has been frustrated by potholes while driving in Hana. He said the committee has passed a bill establishing a task force to study long-term road repair and maintenance solutions, which is now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. He congratulated Brown, who had left, for getting the bill to the hearing stage.

The committee's vote essentially means that Brown's bill is dead in the Senate for the session, unless it is taken up as an amendment to another bill. A companion bill has been introduced in the House. State Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Wai'alae Iki, Kalani Valley, Kahala), has asked state Rep. Joseph Souki, D-8th (Wailuku, Waiehe'e, Waiehu), the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, for a hearing.

Marumoto's staff is also helping Brown research state road repair and maintenance spending and is advising her on how to approach the city on fixing potholes in her neighborhood.

Brown, when told of the committee's decision to defer the bill, asked if that meant "it was axed." She did not like the task force idea.

"A task force is just a delay- and-ditch tactic," Brown said. "You don't need a task force to prioritize what's important at the state Department of Transportation. You mean they haven't done that already?"

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.