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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 21, 2008

Public gets say on ceded lands

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Advertiser Staff

Three committees of the state House of Representatives will collect testimony from the public Saturday on its newly released version of a proposed settlement of disputed-land claims by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs against the state.

House Bill 266 keeps intact the bulk of the landmark settlement reached last month between OHA officials and Attorney General Mark Bennett, specifically a package of four parcels of state land valued at $187 million and a one-time cash payment of $13 million.

A key change is that it negates the proposed future annual payments of $15.1 million to OHA, as called for in the OHA-Bennett version and which has been criticized by many because it makes no allowances for inflationary factors. Instead, the House bill calls for an undefined pro rata share.

Saturday's 9 a.m. hearing at the state Capitol auditorium is being held jointly by three House committees: Finance, Judiciary and the Water, Land, Ocean Resources and Hawaiian Affairs.

While state lawmakers must agree to any deal, OHA and state administration officials also have the authority to nullify the settlement if it is amended in any way.

Yesterday, Bennett and OHA Administrator Clyde Namu'o each said they are willing to take a look at the proposed changes to the settlement agreement.

"The deal itself, from the House perspective, seems to be a fair agreement and I think we can work on the language and form issues," Bennett said. "There are some differences ... things we and OHA are going to talk about."

Namu'o said that OHA will support the House bill, but will offer amendments to it. "The bill keeps the $200 million intact but there are some of the technical issues that we are asking be changed," he said.

Namu'o declined to give the specifics of the proposed amendments, adding that OHA attorneys were expected to complete their analysis of the House bill today.

The agreement, which has been under negotiation for more than a decade, is aimed at settling how much OHA is owed by the state from revenues generated from public lands turned over to the United States by the Republic of Hawai'i in 1898.

House Bill 266 House Draft 1 appears to agree with most of the major points in the OHA-Bennett proposal, particularly leaving whole the $200 million for the years 1978 to 2008.

Its key difference is that it allows for the Legislature to decide annually how much should be distributed to OHA for its share of ceded land revenues in future years. If a decision can't be made by the Legislature, the amount is left up to the governor to decide.

House leaders were not available yesterday afternoon to explain their version of the settlement agreement. Last week, Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), and Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), said they generally supported the original proposal.

Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist Ikaika Hussey said most of those in the activist community that he's spoken to are opposed to the original OHA-Bennett proposal.

"Our basic concern is you don't want to see anything happen in the Legislature which jeopardizes the right of future generations to achieve self-determination," Hussey said. "I would say that the (original) bill would hinder those possibilities because it would force a global settlement."

Hussey also noted that the original proposal "would bind the hands of all parties, including OHA, from future lawsuits involving any claims that took place within those 30 years."

Hussey said the House bill attempts to address that issue.

Bennett, however, said the original agreement should not be considered a global settlement.

"The bill that we had asked them to introduce ... only deals with one issue and that is the issue of OHA's entitlement under Chapter 12 of the (Hawai'i) constitution to income and proceeds from the ceded lands. It settles no other issue."

On a related note, Native Hawaiians and the public will get two more opportunities before Saturday's hearing to learn about the bill.

OHA is holding an Internet discussion on the proposed settlement from 9 to 11 a.m. tomorrow. Go to www.oha.org/pastdue/index.php for more information.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Native Hawaiian rights groups will hold a panel discussion at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa titled "Why the OHA settlement is a bad deal."

It will feature Hussey, who belongs to the group Hui Pu, and Jonathan Osorio, the director of the UH Hawaiian Studies center.

Correction: A proposed settlement agreement between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs would resolve a dispute over the agency’s share of the revenues collected over the past 30 years from lands “ceded” to the state. A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the disagreement.

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