Legislative Session 2021

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A Summary of Outcomes for Bills Impacting Native Hawaiians

By Sharde Freitas, Nina Ki and Letani Peltier, OHA Public Policy Advocates

The surreality of life during a pandemic was amplified by Hawaiʻi’s first fully virtual Legislative Session.

Normally bustling with lobbyists, legislators, staff, and members of the public, the State Capitol remained closed to the general public, and only virtual testimony with a stricty enforced time limit was allowed. Advocacy took on a whole new meaning and required ingenuity and cohesiveness more than ever before.

Here is a summary of some of the key bills that have raised, or sought to address, issues of great concern to the Native Hawaiian community. All of the following measures were supported by OHA unless otherwise indicated.

Passed (Awaiting the Governor’s Signature)

HB204, OHA Budget (OHA Package measure): Continues a long and successful partnership between the State of Hawaiʻi and OHA to meet the needs of our shared constituents. In addition to appropriating funds for FY21-23, this bill also provides a mechanism to release prior funds appropriated for FY20-21. If signed, OHA will continue leveraging state general funds with OHA trust funds for the betterment of the lāhui and all of Hawaiʻi.

HB499, 40-Year Lease Extensions for Public Lands (Opposed by OHA): Authorizes the Board of Land and Natural Resources to extend certain leases of public lands for commercial, industrial, resort, mixed-use, or government use upon approval of a proposed development agreement to make substantial improvements. This measure was opposed by OHA and Native Hawaiian organizations because, among other things, it would foreclose Native Hawaiian claims to “ceded” lands, currently subject to leases of up to 65 years, for at least another 40 years.

HB753, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) School Impact Fee Exemption: Provides an exemption from school impact fees for housing developed by DHHL for use by its beneficiaries. This exemption, typically awarded to other developers who provide affordable housing, will allow DHHL to allocate more of its funds to developing homesteads and returning Native Hawaiians to the land, and thus will help to facilitate greater contributions to Hawaiʻi’s overall affordable housing goals.

SB664, Funding for the Hawaiʻi Correctional Oversight Commission (Comments by OHA): Seeks to ensure that the Oversight Commission is fully funded so that it may fulfill its mandate “to ensure transparency, support safe conditions for employees, inmates, and detainees, and provide positive reform towards a rehabilitative and therapeutic correctional system.” Established in 2019, the Oversight Commission has so far operated without the benefit of an oversight coordinator or necessary support staff because it has never received the funds that were originally allocated to it.

SB1384, Hawaiian-Medium Representative on the Early Learning Education Board (ELB): Furthers the state’s kuleana to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi by providing for consistent and continued representation for Hawaiian-medium early learning providers on the ELB. This seat on the ELB has historically been filled by ʻAha Pūnana Leo, however, it is limited to two consecutive two-year terms, which poses a significant challenge to consistently fill the position with a representative who can advocate for Hawaiian-medium early learning. This measure removes the term limits for this representative, helping to ensure that there is a consistent Hawaiian voice on the ELB.

HCR112/HR90, Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis: Acknowledges the role of racism as a social determinant of health and declares the legislature’s commitment to not only understanding and addressing systemic racism, but also dismantling all forms of racism at all levels with a Hawaiʻi-based, culturally driven health justice framework to combat the continuation of racism with policymaking while also promoting racial equity.

SCR5, Data Governance (OHA Package Measure): Urges certain state and county entities to (1) compile and share existing and disaggregated data on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders and (2) collaborate with OHA and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience Team to develop policies and agreements to improve data governance – i.e., data collection, processing, sharing and retention. This resolution also urges the governor to create a task force on 21st Century Data Governance to assess data governance needs and challenges across state agencies.

Not Passed

HB902/SB2, Public Lands for Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) (Opposed by OHA): These measures would have exempted from Chapter 171 any public lands, including “ceded” lands, set aside or leased to HHFDC. Chapter 171 provides important protections for “ceded” lands, which Native Hawaiians maintain unrelinquished claims to, including lease limits that prevent the issuance of 99-year leases.

SB1128, Vocational Training for At-Risk Youth and Young Adults: This measure would have facilitated a commercial enterprise vocational program for at-risk youth and young adults at the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center.