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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 19, 2010

Flag-flying bill fails to gain support for revival

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Members of U.S. Vets, a group that helps get work for homeless veterans, attended a rally in support of Harold Alejandro, who is opposing an 'Ewa Beach homeowners' association rule requiring approval of large flag displays.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Pulling threads of patriotism and freedom of expression, a state House lawmaker yesterday tried to free a bill that would allow residents of planned communities to erect flag poles and display the American or state flags.

The motion failed, but state Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-43rd ('Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point, Pu'uloa), the bill's sponsor, received a promise from majority House Democrats to explore a task force to study flag displays.

The bill had been deferred by state Rep. Rida Cabanilla, D-42nd (Waipahu, Honouliuli, 'Ewa), the chairwoman of the House Housing Committee, after no one came in person to testify in support at a committee hearing earlier this session. Only a few people offered written testimony.

But the issue took on a second life among some in the military veterans' community, then spread to talk radio, including a segment on conservative host Rusty Humphries' nationally syndicated show.

Pine and other minority Republicans urged veterans to come to the state Capitol yesterday, and dozens filled the House gallery, with many carrying large American flags.

Harold Alejandro, an Air Force and Army veteran whose experience of trying to display an American flag at his home in 'Ewa by Gentry prompted the bill, said he simply wanted to honor the memory of fallen soldiers in Iraq.

Restrictions by community associations, he said, holding a large American flag, "are doing dishonor to this flag."

Rodel Cruz, who served in the Navy and is now receiving guidance from U.S. Vets, an organization in Kalaeloa that helps homeless veterans, said he came to stand with Alejandro.

"Freedom is not free. We worked hard for it. We have that one thing in common we served our country I don't see why we can't raise our flag," he said.

Lawmakers have waded into the occasionally prickly relationships between residents and community associations over what is permissible in planned communities.

Last year, looking to reduce energy consumption, lawmakers passed a new law allowing residents in planned communities to hang clotheslines. Earlier this week, the House advanced a bill that would give community association boards the authority to install solar or wind energy devices in common areas of condominiums.

Pine's bill would allow community associations to restrict the size and location of flagpoles, but not to prohibit the displays.

An emotional Pine, whose husband serves in the Navy and was in the House gallery yesterday, said denying her recall motion, for veterans, is "like taking away air from their lungs."

Pine wanted to recall the bill from committee, a rare procedural motion that requires the votes of one-third or 17 of 51 lawmakers to succeed. Fourteen lawmakers all six Republicans and eight Democrats voted for the recall.

Some Democrats privately said Pine and other Republicans were being melodramatic, playing to veterans in the gallery and blurring the difference between flying an American flag and erecting a flagpole on your property.

State Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Hanalei, Anahola, Kapa'a), said she does not believe the bill rises to the level of statewide importance.

"We have many important matters, especially given our budget situation, that we must take up," she said on the House floor.

Several veterans in the gallery booed Morita, including one man who said: "Sit down."

Other Democrats tried to defend a flustered Cabanilla, who is a lieutenant colonel and critical-care nurse in the Army Reserve. Cabanilla had said earlier that she is concerned about what would happen to flagpoles if residents lose interest and they become eyesores. But she made the offer of a task force yesterday.

State Rep. Karl Rhoads, D-28th (Pālama, Chinatown, Downtown), said it was not as if Cabanilla was a "pinko commie liberal that doesn't care about her country."