The State Capitol is always busy during the Legislative Session. State legislators and their staff work long hours in the fast-paced session, facing nearly weekly filing deadlines in committees – deadlines that are necessary to meet in order to ensure legislation continues to move forward in the legislative process. OHA continues to play its strong role as an advocate at the Capitol, and we have been closely monitoring a wide-range of bills as well as being a champion for our package measures and other issues of importance to our lāhui.
One such measure we have been both watching and advocating in support of is House Bill 402, and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 1363. As drafted, these bills would increase the pro rata share of the public land trust due to the Native Hawaiian people to $35 million, as well as establishing an amount for underpayments dating back to July 2012. This bill enables the Hawaiian community to receive overdue justice in receiving a fair pro rata share that is constitutionally due to them.
While OHA sponsored a similar measure in a previous legislative package, it is very important to give credit to the Legislature’s Hawaiian Caucus as the champion of this initiative this session. Representative Daniel Holt in the House and Senator Jarrett Keohokalole in the Senate, the primary introducer of each bill, have both been outstanding leaders in the preparation and advancement of these bills, which have already received hearings in their first committee referrals in their respective houses.
That said, the success of each of these bills and their ability to advance in the legislature also relies upon the leadership of committees. It is worth nothing that the entire membership of the House Committee on Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs, is non-Hawaiian. I have much gratitude for Chair Ryan Yamane, Vice Chair Chris Todd, and committee members Representatives Sharon Har, Nicole Lowen, David Tarnas, Tina Wildberger, and Cynthia Thielen, for their affirmative votes on this passing this bill out of their committee. Similarly, this bill’s advancement in the Senate is due to Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs Chair Maile Shimabukuro, also non-Hawaiian. Each bill carries a second referral.
Successfully working with all elected officials to move Hawaiian issues forward is successful advocacy and is powerful. For too long, Hawaiian legislators have carried this kuleana alone. Advancing the betterment of the Hawaiian people is the responsibility of all leaders, especially elected officials, in this pae ‘āina.
This issue has seen great support from the community. A review of the legislative record reveals overwhelming supportive testimony, including testimony from across the civic club community, such as the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, as well as its Oʻahu Council and Hawaiʻi Council and several individual Hawaiian civic clubs. Supportive testimony was also received from the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi’s Hawaiian Affairs Caucus as well as from the Kamehameha Schools, and individual community members.
Because of the nature of the legislature’s quick filing deadlines, by the time this column goes to print, several deadlines will have passed that will dictate the long-term success of these bills this session. Between now and then, I am hopeful that legislators continue to see the importance of this measure and that the subsequent committee chairs will schedule the necessary hearings to ensure these bills survive to crossover, and eventually hopefully to passage and Governor Ige’s desk. The continued supportive testimony from community will be crucial, and while I mahalo those who have voiced their support, I urge you to continue to make your voices heard with the legislative process.