Birth Of The Public Land Development Corporation – A travesty of the legislative process

Many have asked how come none of the regular environmental and public interest watch-dog groups sounded the alarm earlier? How did such a law get passed?

Among other things, Act 55 creates the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) and gives them the power to develop public lands with projects that are “exempt from all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules of any government agency…”. This could mean the construction of a hotel, a high rise condominium, a shopping center, housing developments or just about anything, that could be built on public lands and all would be “exempt from all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules of any government agency…”. There are many very bad elements to Act 55 and the powers granted to the PLDC but to me, the exemption power is the clearest example of why this new law should be repealed.

How did this happen. How did it slip through the checks and balances of our legislative process?

A better question is how did it sneak through the process because that is what happened. IMHO

A cursory look at the legislative history show clearly there were 4 hearings held on what started out as SB1555 and ended up as Act 55 and the creation of the PLDC. On the surface it looks like there were 4 opportunities for the public to testify and engage in the democratic process. On the surface that is…but the truth is below the surface and deserves a good look. It may even deserve some sunshine.

Let’s take a look at those 4 opportunities for public input.

1) SB1555 was introduced on January 26, 2011 and a public hearing in the Senate Water/Land/Housing Committee was held on 2/8/11 (public notice given on 2/2/11). At this time SB1555 among other things did not contain any provisions for exempting projects from “all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules of any government agency…” and it also provided for an 11 member Board of Directors and required neighbor island representation. Much of the language of SB1555 focused on the Ala Wai and Keehi Harbor issues. There was minimal public testimony. A SD1 version was approved by the committee containing only minor technical amendments.

2) On 3/01/11 the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a “public decision making” (public notice given on 2/25/11). While written “comments” may be offered, no public testimony is accepted at this meeting. A SD2 version was approved by the committee containing only minor technical amendments.

3) On 3/18/11 the House Water/Land/Ocean affairs Committee held a public hearing (public notice given on 3/15/11) and at the end of the hearing passed out SB1555HD1 that was dramatically different from the prior version. The House version now included exemptions from County permitting and zoning requirements. The House version also stripped out the requirement for Neighbor-Island representation. Other significant changes were also made to this version, dramatically changing it from the prior SB1555SD2.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT UP UNTIL THE END OF THIS COMMITTEE HEARING AND THE ACTUAL PUBLISHING OF THE AMENDMENTS, THAT THE PUBLIC IS NOT AWARE OF THE NATURE OF THE CHANGES AND THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF SB1555HD1

4) On 4/07/11 the House Finance Committee held a public hearing (PUBLIC NOTICE GIVEN LESS THAN 2 HOURS PRIOR TO THE HEARING – see actual hearing notice here http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/hearingnotices/HEARO ING_FIN_04-07-11_1_.pdf ). At the end of this hearing the House Finance Committee passed out SB1555HD2 after making further changes.

The measure then went to Conference Committee where there is NO PUBLIC TESTIMONY ALLOWED and additional very significant changes were made.

Quick and dirty (very dirty) summary: THE PUBLIC HAD ONLY ONE OPPORTUNITY TO TESTIFY ON THE SUBSTANCE OF ACT 55 AS WE KNOW IT TODAY AND THAT WAS AT THE HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE WHICH PROVIDED LESS THAN 2 HOURS PUBLIC NOTICE. Unless you were in the building and checking your smart phone during the 2 hour period preceding this hearing…you had no way of knowing it was even on the agenda. The original version did not exempt any projects from zoning or permitting. This was first added in the House and then dramatically expanded in Conference Committee. There are many other changes that happened during this process and explains why many/most environmental watchdog groups did not engage this issue early.

Disgusting is too kind a word to use to describe the process used to give birth to Act 55 and the Public Land Development Corporation.

Please don’t take my word for it. It’s all here in the legislative history that is available at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/Archives/measure_indiv_Archives.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=1555&year=2011

To be clear, I offer these comments purely from a personal and individual perspective and not in any official capacity whatsoever.

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About garyhooser

I currently serve as an elected member of the Kauai County Council. In a past life I was a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. How lucky? Watch "The Hooser Story" http://www.garyhooser.com/ and read my blog at http://www.garyhooser.wordpress.com/ “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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9 Responses to Birth Of The Public Land Development Corporation – A travesty of the legislative process

  1. Karen Chun says:

    Posted this along with your testimony here: http://maui-tomorrow.org/?p=3573

  2. nani2311 says:

    Reblogged this on Nani2311's Blog and commented:
    Many thanks and much aloha for further demystifying the development of Act 55. I will be out on the line in Kona.

  3. Gary Hooser will be on HPR2’s The Conversation with Beth-Ann Kozlovich tomorrow, October 9. The live show airs 8-9 AM.

  4. Brian says:

    am I missing something? isn’t there a vote by the full House and Senate anymore, before it goes to conference?

  5. keokiskorner says:

    Reblogged this on Wryen Keoki Cipriano Kiwaha.

  6. stevelaudig says:

    None of this happened of its own accord. All actions were taken by individuals who can be, and should be, identified. That is lacking here as far as I can tell.

    • garyhooser says:

      “All actions were taken by individuals who can and should be, identified.” Good point Steve and I have given this much thought as to where does it start and where does it end? The Chair of the Committee Marcus Oshiro, the Speaker of the House Calvin Say…or is it every member of the House Finance Committee who let this happen…or the entire House of Representatives who by a majority vote sanction the House leadership actions? Perhaps the Senate also shares responsibility in not speaking out and instead giving this action their stamp of approval also. My hope and plan is to write another piece on this topic or “Who is responsible and why did no one in the House or on the House Finance Committee, step forward to object?” In any case…thank you for the comment which has jogged my brain into action. gh

  7. Lonnie Sykos says:

    Why did Kauai’s legislators vote for this bill? Why do Kauai’s legislators routinely vote against the wishes of the mayor and County Council? Case in point is last years legislative change in low income housing credits. Our legislators say “trust us”, but they demonstrate they can not be trusted to vote for anything except their personal political interests. Perhaps the Council can keep a public running record of the votes by our legislators versus the wishes of the mayor and council. Mahalo for your insights and foresight in this matter, and in general for providing insight and oversight.

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