Hawaii Legislative Watch: Native Hawaiian issues

I’ve skimmed and summarized proposed bills in the 2013 Hawaii Legislative session that deal with taxes, education, citizens’ rights, spirited debate, and ideas to help Hawaii residents. I thought I’d take a moment to look at the Native Hawaiian issues that affect us all.

There are 8 Native Hawaiian issues in the 2013 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

1. Defining “Native Hawaiian”: HB252 defines a “qualified Native Hawaiian” and requires annual reports from the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission. Is a person’s identity defined by blood quantum? Should government representation, rights, privileges be based on blood quantum?

2. Promoting the Hawaiian language and culture: HB109, HB223, SB409, and SB469 designate February as ’Olelo Hawaii Month. SB236 requires the accurate spelling and punctuation of Hawaiian words and names on state and county documents. HB1089 designates October as Kalo Appreciation Month. HB1159 and SB317 re-designate the second Monday of October from Discover’s Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. HB1446 and SB1353 fund the Ka Haka ’Ula O Ke’elikolani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. HB768 and SB1004 fund the Works of Art Special Fund to support Hawaiian culture and the arts through the Transient Accommodations Tax. Why is this being funded by tourists? SB231 requires the Hawaiian Tourism Authority to develop and maintain a comprehensive Hawaiian cultural resources database. SB487 funds the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association for tourism-related programs. How much will this cost?

3. Promoting Hawaiian studies: HB1317 and SB1338 support programs to teach the Hawaiian language in pre-kindergarten. HB1329 requires the funding of Hawaiian language immersion programs. SB410 requires the DOE to develop annual assessments in Hawaiian for Hawaiian language immersion programs. Will Hawaiian language immersion students be at a disadvantage in learning and using English? HB253 and SB481 establish the Instructional Office of Hawaiian Studies in the Department of Education. Will this add more bureaucracy and more constraints on teachers? HB679 establishes the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence. Can we afford it? HB220 and SB406 require the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to establish, design, and administer a training course in “Native Hawaiian matters” for specified members of boards, councils, and commissions; and require those members to take the course within six months of their appointments. How can we balance Hawaiian studies with the need to know English in most colleges and careers?

4. Funding Hawaiian Home Lands: HB175 authorizes $10 million from the public land trust to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to develop farm and home ownership. HB1347 and SB514 fund a temporary housing pilot program on Hawaiian Homestead lands. Are we promoting home ownership or are we promoting entitlement?

5. Preserving Native Hawaiian farmlands and fishponds: HB481 permits certain traditional Hawaiian hale to be built on farm land without a building permit. HB662 establishes state lease preferences for the reconstruction, restoration, repair, or use of kanaka maoli fishponds. HB710 facilitates the restoration of Hawaiian fishponds. Will the fishponds be used for self-supporting educational purposes (they sell what they raise to fund the operation) or for commercial activities?

6. Respecting Native Hawaiian burial remains: SB234 creates a task force about Hawaiian skeletal remains. SB320 requires that discovered iwi kupuna (Native Hawaiian bones) be reinterred annually on the island of Kaho’olawe.

7. Accommodating Hawaiian canoes: SB1371 allows the mooring of Native Hawaiian canoes owned by nonprofit entities and used for educational purposes in small boat harbors. We have to balance educational access with harbor maintenance.

8. Protecting taro: HB107 and HB735 prohibit genetically engineered Hawaiian taro. HB483 identifies taro lands. HB484, HB734, SB1269, and SB1270 protect taro lands and taro-growing structures. I think we should protect agricultural lands as much as possible.

Please think about these issues and how they may affect you and everyone around you. If you feel strongly about an issue, speak out! Talk to your family and friends, let your Hawaii legislators know about it, and write letters to the local newspapers.

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