OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA gears up for the legislative session

Each year, OHA’s Public Policy staff review thousands of bills introduced during the legislative session, and track and testify on hundreds of measures relevant to the Native Hawaiian community. In addition, Public Policy staff advocate for a package of bills developed and introduced by OHA, specifically intended to further the interests of the agency’s beneficiaries.

The following is a summary of the measures that OHA will be pursuing at the Legislature this year. While Public Policy staff will endeavor to ensure that our legislators understand the benefits of OHA’s legislative package, the success of these bills depends upon the support of the broader community, and their willingness to get engaged in the legislative process. For more information on how you, your family and your friends can support these measures and the interests of the Native Hawaiian community, please visit www.oha.org/legislation.

Lifting the Cap on OHA’s Pro Rata Share of the Public Land Trust

Hawaiʻi’s Constitution guarantees OHA’s right to receive a share of income from the Public Land Trust (comprised of Hawaiian Kingdom government and crown lands) for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians.  While state law requires that OHA expend 20% of all funds derived from the trust, for decades OHA and the state disagreed on how to calculate OHA’s 20% share.

Most recently, in 2006 OHA and the state agreed on Act 178 as an interim resolution, and established OHA’s temporary annual share at $15.1 million “until the further action is taken by the legislature.” Importantly, Act 178 included a provision for reporting from state agencies on their Public Land Trust proceeds and revenues, and this data can now be used to compute OHA’s 20% share.

According to the state’s own reports, the state generated an average of $158,077,656 annually in Public Land Trust revenues in the last 3 fiscal years, 20% of which is $31,615,531, or more than double the $15.1 million OHA currently receives. Moreover, the state’s transfers to OHA, which are calculated using historically undisputed revenue streams, have exceeded the $15.1 million cap in each fiscal year since 2013.  As a result, OHA has returned approximately $8 million to the state.  These funds could be helping Hawaiians right now, but are instead held in a state trust account.  Clearly, the temporary cap no longer fairly reflects OHA’s 20% share, and at the very least should be removed until the issue can be re-evaluated by OHA and the state.

This measure represents the first major step taken in the last 10 years toward ensuring that Hawaiians receive a fair share of Public Land Trust revenues, by lifting the temporary $15.1 million cap on the state’s annual transfers to OHA.  In addition, the bill allows OHA to reclaim the approximately $8 million in overages it has returned to the state, and establishes a negotiating committee to help determine a more appropriate amount for OHA’s annual share. For more information, read the whitepaper on this bill.

Take action: Help ensure that Hawaiians receive a fair share of PLT revenues

Promoting Better Management of Mauna Kea Lands

Concerns over the appropriate use and stewardship of Mauna Kea have persisted for the past four decades. Environmental groups, cultural practitioners, and even the state Auditor’s office have repeatedly expressed discontent with the University of Hawai‘i’s stewardship of Mauna Kea’s natural and cultural resources. As one of our state’s most sacred sites, Mauna Kea should be managed in a way that respects its value and significance, and in a manner that instills public confidence.

Over the years, observatory subleases presented the University with numerous opportunities to charge sufficient rent to care for Mauna Kea.  However, even the most recently approved sublease for the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope – the only sublease to charge more than a nominal $1 rent – would provide just a portion of the funds needed for management activities. Accordingly, the University uses an unknown amount of taxpayer funds, research dollars and grant funds to supplement operations and stewardship of Mauna Kea.

While not taking a position for or against future subleases, this bill would require a “fair rate of return” for any subleases, observatory and otherwise, taking into account the costs of management and mitigation actions, through an open public process established through administrative rules. For more information, read the whitepaper on this bill.

Take action: Help ensure the proper management of Mauna Kea

Need help submitting testimony on capitol.hawaii.gov? Click here.

Improving the Environmental Review Process

Hawai‘i’s environmental review laws are intended to allow agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental and cultural impacts of their actions, such as permit and zoning approvals for developments. These laws include the preparation of Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements for certain projects, in order to identify potential impacts as well as possible mitigation measures.

For the review process to be successful, agencies and applicants should conduct broad consultation with  community members and experts as early as possible. Of particular value is the input of those who are intimately familiar with the natural resources, cultural sites, and cultural practices associated with a given project area. However, the process for gathering such input is not clearly defined, and outreach approaches may vary significantly, often resulting in people learning about projects in their communities at a very late stage.

Accordingly, this measure would require physical notice to be posted at the site of a proposed project early in the environmental review process.   This on-site notice would solicit the participation of those with particular environmental or cultural knowledge of the project area, and thereby  facilitate more fully-informed decision-making, reduce the potential for unforeseen impacts, and promote greater protection for Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices. For more information, read the whitepaper on this bill.

Take action: Help ensure that the environmental review process is done right

Need help submitting testimony on capitol.hawaii.gov? Click here.

Addressing a Loophole Used to Sell Off Public and “Ceded” Lands

Passed in 2009, Act 176 partially settled a lawsuit in which OHA and others sought to prevent the state from selling “ceded” lands, pending the resolution of Native Hawaiian claims to those lands.   Among other requirements, Act 176 requires state agencies to receive approval by the Legislature for any proposed sale of public land, including “ceded” lands.  An exception to this requirement exists for the sale of “remnants,” which are usually vacated or abandoned roads or lands that were condemned but are no longer needed, and are not economically or physically suitable for development.

However, in recent years, the BLNR has used a broad interpretation of “remnant” to classify and sell two significant parcels of public land, including a five-acre parcel of “ceded” lands containing a stream and waterfall. These sales occurred without any legislative approval as would be otherwise required under Act 176.

Accordingly, this measure would give OHA the right of first refusal for any proposed remnant sales, to ensure that public lands, including “ceded” lands, are not being inappropriately classified as remnants and sold in contravention to the purpose and intent of Act 176.  Rather than being permanently alienated, “ceded” lands inappropriately classified as “remnants” could instead be purchased and held in trust by OHA on behalf of the Native Hawaiian community. For more information, read the whitepaper on this bill.

Take action: Help ensure that public lands are not being sold

Need help submitting testimony on capitol.hawaii.gov? Click here.

 

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