Every year, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, in its advocacy for Native Hawaiians, provides a package of legislative measures to the Hawai‘i State Legislature. OHA’s 2019 legislative package includes five measures covering a range of issue areas particularly relevant to the Native Hawaiian community.

Two of the five proposed bills in OHA’s package are familiar faces: the OHA Budget bill and a Public Land Trust (PLT) Accounting bill. This year’s budget bill requests $3.98 million in state general funds for each of the next two fiscal years, in support of social services, legal services, education and housing programs for Native Hawaiians. This measure would once again reaffirm the long partnership between the State and OHA to address the needs of Native Hawaiians.

The PLT bill seeks to codify Act 178’s PLT accounting and reporting requirements, established over a decade ago to better clarify Native Hawaiians’ twenty percent share of PLT revenues. The current, $15.1 million “interim” amount transferred annually to OHA as Native Hawaiians’ PLT share has not changed since 2006; accurate and consistent accounting pursuant to Act 178 is critical to informing a long-overdue update to this amount. Toward this end, OHA’s bill would set in statute the accounting and reporting responsibilities of state agencies; clarify the need for all state entities to report on all revenues generated from all PLT lands; and require an explanation when less than twenty percent is not transferred to OHA.

OHA’s 2019 legislative package also includes three measures exploring specific needs of the Native Hawaiian community. First, a Charter School Facilities Funding resolution seeks to follow up on a nearly four-year-old law, which requires the legislature to consider providing facilities funding to public charter schools – nearly half of which are Hawaiian-focused – and requires the Public Charter School Commission and a Facilities Funding Working Group to develop criteria for funding allocation and a recommendation for funding prioritization, respectively. Facilities funding remains one of the most pressing and longstanding issues. OHA’s resolution would ask for a report on the funding allocation criteria and prioritization recommendation required by the law, to support legislative appropriation in support of our charter schools and students.

Second, OHA’s package includes a bill to address the disparate mental health outcomes of the Native Hawaiian community. For many Native Hawaiians with mental health challenges, healing and rehabilitation may require treatment approaches rooted in cultural values and understandings. However, Hawai‘i’s mental health infrastructure often fails to offer such culturally grounded treatment opportunities. The bill would require three of the 21 members of the Hawai‘i State Mental Health Council to have demonstrated knowledge or work experience involving Native Hawaiian concepts of well-being, culturally grounded mental health methodologies, or traditional healing or health practices. These members would help the council ensure that our mental health programs and policies more consistently promote culturally grounded treatment approaches. View a video on this OHA bill entitled A Cultural Approach to Native Hawaiian Mental Health.

Finally, OHA’s Unsecured Bail bill seeks to reduce the disproportionate impacts of the criminal justice system on Native Hawaiians and poor communities, while ensuring that our detention facilities and funds can be focused on those who pose an actual flight risk or potential threat to community safety – rather than on poor individuals who simply cannot afford to post bail. The current cash bail system, which requires jailed individuals to surrender cash or property to be released in the weeks or months before trial, essentially forces those suffering economic hardship to remain in jail, at the mercy of an unknown hearing date. OHA’s Unsecured Bail bill allows judges to offer poor defendants awaiting trial to post all or part of their bail with a promissory note rather than cash. In other states, such an alternative bail option has been shown to mitigate the impacts of the cash bail system on poor individuals and their families, and provide significant relief to overcrowded jails, without compromising public safety or trial appearance rates.

Big things are definitely popping in 2019, and history has shown that when Native Hawaiians engage politically in large numbers, our amplified voices are undoubtedly heard. For information on how you can help support these measures and take collective action at the 2019 legislature, visit OHA’s legislative advocacy website at www.oha.org/legislation.