Archive for October 2010

Four-part probation program

October 26, 2010

I believe that if you commit a crime, especially a violent crime, you must be punished. And prison is the most humane punishment available. If a criminal is locked up in prison, they lose their freedom, they may deter other would-be criminals, and our lives and property are a little safer. We feel that we have achieved justice.

But prison costs a lot of money. According to the National Institute of Corrections, Hawaii spent $21,637 per inmate in 2008. We house more than 4,422 convicted criminals and supervise 19,097 probationers.

Not only do we pay the costs of incarceration (housing, security, food, clothing, health care, and therapy), we have to pay for parole and unemployment benefits too, because they probably can’t find a job right away. We lose the taxes the convicted person would have paid if they still had a job. And their spouses and children lose their financial and emotional support.

Prison is an effective deterrent for people who are basically law-abiding. Because of that, I think we should avoid mandatory prison sentencing for non-violent crimes.

The first part of the probation program for non-violent crimes is new, and may be controversial:

1. Shame. Especially in small communities, shame is a powerful deterrent. Every week, we could print a notice in the local paper about recently convicted criminals (adults and juveniles), with their name, photo, conviction, and sentence. Families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers would all know whether someone they know committed a crime. Since all of this information is public record, there should be no privacy issues.

2. House arrest. It’s not quite a curfew, but there should be no overnight or out-of-state trips unless required by their employer or physician, or in the case of a family emergency. However, I’m not sure how we could enforce this, without running into privacy issues.

The rest of the probation program uses existing penalties, but with specific changes:

3. Big, targeted fines. Let’s keep people employed and require that a percent of their income be put towards restitution. Judges should not simply impose a fine that goes into a general fund; they should designate a specific person, family, business, program, or charity. For example, someone convicted of drunk driving could pay for an anti-drinking campaign or a medical fund. If they don’t pay the fine, it has a direct consequence on someone else.

4. Community service. All community service sentences should involve interacting with the community, not just cleaning up parks or beaches. They should be seen and appreciated by the community, and they can see the effects have on others. For example, someone convicted of drug possession could speak to high school students or volunteer at a hospital. Another option should be to enlist in the National Guard.

Mandatory prison time isn’t the answer for all crimes. Sometimes it creates a cycle of crime, instead. And it doesn’t solve the problem that got them to prison in the first place (that’s another issue). What do you think?

Keeping Hawaii graduates in Hawaii

October 19, 2010

Hawaii is a beautiful, unique place to live, but let’s face it: it’s expensive to live here. It’s remote and there aren’t a lot of high-paying jobs. That’s why we’re so concerned about the “brain drain” when some of our most talented and motivated graduates leave Hawaii.

There are a lot of abstract solutions – like diversifying our economy, creating more jobs, lowering corporate taxes, and encouraging small business growth. Those are all important goals, and we shouldn’t lose sight of them.

But let’s think about some specific tactics we can use to keep our talented and motivated graduates in Hawaii. Here are three ideas:

* Guarantee affordable housing units for up to three years after graduation. In partnership with the University of Hawaii, Hawaii businesses, and hotel operators, we could build residential buildings or designate affordable housing units for recent graduates. Who would qualify? 1) Hawaii high school graduates who attain a degree from an accredited university anywhere in the US; and 2) University of Hawaii graduates. Graduates would need to be in the top 10% of professional fields like education, emergency response, engineering, law enforcement, medicine, and science. This would encourage high school graduates to return to Hawaii to work, even if they attend an out-of-state college.

* Create a car sharing service. Hawaii could implement a car sharing service (ideally available to everyone) which would let you sign up for a driving plan (including insurance), reserve a car for a certain amount of time (in hours or days), use it, and then return the car. This would help young graduates who may occasionally need a car, but who can’t afford one. The service should pay for itself, once the initial program and cars are in place. Companies like and cities like San Francisco (, Philadelphia (, and Boulder ( are already doing it. Why not Hawaii?

* Offer a tax credit or low tax rate for recent graduates. We could create either a Hawaii tax credit or a low tax rate (perhaps even 0%) for Hawaii graduates for the first three years of employment in Hawaii. Who would qualify? 1) Hawaii high school graduates who attain a degree from an accredited university anywhere in the US; and 2) University of Hawaii graduates. Of course, Hawaii would have to be their principal residence, and they would have to file Hawaii tax returns. This would encourage graduates to find a job in Hawaii, help them in the early years while their salary is low, and make it easier for them to stay.

Hopefully, after three years, the graduates will have settled into life in Hawaii, earned a raise or two, and saved up enough money to afford to live here.

These are just a few ideas for stopping Hawaii’s “brain drain.” What else can we do to help our young residents stay in Hawaii?

Requiring honesty from elected representatives

October 12, 2010

In the science fiction novel “Haze” (2009) by L.E. Modesitt Jr., the Dubiety people set some interesting limits on their government officials. Elected representatives have no official staff, are discouraged from in-person meetings with constituents (electronic contact is preferred), and polls and surveys are prohibited.

But one of the most provocative changes has to do with political speech. In Dubiety, if a public figure uses accurate facts or figures to misrepresent, it can be a criminal offense, depending on the relevant information withheld or omitted. Lawyers are eager to play watchdog.

I don’t want to penalize someone who makes an honest mistake, such as saying the wrong date or amount, or getting a name wrong, or filing a form late. Harmless mistakes.

But I think that elected representatives and upper-level government officials should be held to a higher standard of truth, and the fines should be substantial.

Here are a couple of examples:

* Questionable expenses – In March 2010, a Honolulu councilmember was reimbursed for $12,000 of expenses that were unrelated to council business, and was fined $2,000. In the private sector, this would be considered fraud or theft, and the employee might be charged with a criminal offense. At the least, how about a fine equal to 100% of the amount of disputed expenses?

* Misleading claims – In August 2010, a candidate for governor of Hawaii claimed that he had left Honolulu in better financial shape than he found it. Regardless of who is at fault, with a large sewer bill and a multi-billion dollar rail project, I don’t know how anyone can make that assertion. How about a $100 fine for every misleading or unsupported statement that goes uncorrected?

* Irresponsible resignations – In August 2010, a Honolulu councilmember accepted another job, but delayed his resignation, forcing us to pay for a special election. During a recession. His extra two months in office could cost at least $170,000, reported KHON2. That’s three times a council member’s annual salary. Why not bill the councilmember for at least 50% of the cost of the special election?

Do you see the haze of dishonesty and greed in politics? How can we clear the air?

The Hawaii State Ombudsman “independently and impartially investigates complaints against state and county agencies and employees.” Maybe they could add a Fact-Check Division, which would investigate statements based on accuracy (is it factual?), context (are facts presented in context?), and omissions (was relevant information withheld?). The department could gain funding from unrepentant government representatives.

What do you think? Should we expect a higher level of honesty and integrity from our elected officials? If fewer candidates run for office because of the higher standards, would that be such a bad thing?

October 8: Hawaii’s Constitution Day

October 8, 2010

The United States celebrates Constitution Day: September 17, the day that the U.S. Constitution was signed into law in 1787.

Today, let’s honor Hawaii’s Constitution Day: October 8, the day that the first Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii was signed by Kamehameha III in 1840. Ke Kumukānāwai a me nā Kānāwai o ko Hawai‘i Pae ‘Āina established a constitutional monarchy and a representative democracy based on Christian values.

Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III (1813-1854) ruled Hawaii from 1824-1854. He created a formal legislature and government, introduced the Great Mahele of 1848, and wrote the state motto, Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono — “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

The Hawaiian Electronic Library offers Hawaii’s 1840 Constitution in Hawaiian and English (PDF format).

Have a great Hawaii Constitution Day!

Creating a pedestrian walkway in Waikiki

October 5, 2010

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking about how we can improve Waikiki, starting with traffic flow. Kalakaua Avenue runs along a beautiful stretch of beach that is dominated by large hotels, a lot of cars, and eager swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers. The numerous events and parades make the area even more congested. I don’t have all the details yet, but I have a radical idea to restore one of the most recognized beaches in the world. Maybe you can help with the details.

Here’s my radical idea for Waikiki: turn Kalakaua Avenue into a pedestrian walkway, from Kaiulani Avenue (at the Hyatt Regency) to Kapahulu Avenue (at the Honolulu Zoo). Only the far left lane would be open to buses, trolleys, bicycles, and emergency vehicles.

In fact, I would close more of Kalakaua Avenue, perhaps from Royal Hawaiian Avenue or even Kuamoo Street (at the King Kalakaua Statue in Waikiki Gateway Park), but I can’t figure out how visitors would get to their hotels.

With a Waikiki Pedestrian Walkway, we could have a safer, cleaner, and more attractive beachfront walkway. Visitors could enjoy the sunsets, landscaping, and entertainment at the Kuhio Beach Stage without blocking the sidewalks. Drivers could avoid the frustration of traffic and inattentive pedestrians. Events and parades would be easier to coordinate, because a third of Kalakaua Avenue would already be closed to motorists.

How would visitors and residents get around Waikiki?

* Waikiki Trolley: There is already a Waikiki Trolley that runs between Ala Moana Center and Waikiki, so that visitors and residents don’t have to drive in the area.

* Waikiki Bike-Share: Working with a private company, we could offer a Waikiki Bike-Share service with multiple stations. People could rent a bicycle, use it anywhere within Waikiki, and return the bike to any station to receive their deposit

What do you think about changing Waikiki traffic? Would a Pedestrian Walkway make Waikiki safer and more beautiful? How can we make sure that people and delivery trucks can get to Waikiki hotels? Do you have other concerns?