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Hawaii Wins $53.1 Million Settlement Against Online Travel Companies

The State of Hawaii has recovered $53.1 million in general excise taxes, penalties and interest from online travel companies (the “companies”) including Travelocity.Com, LLP, Expedia, Inc., Orbitz, LLC, and Priceline.Com, LLP from tax litigation that began in 2011.

Attorney General Clip

Attorney General Doug Chin said “Online travel companies derive substantial profits from the sale of hotel rooms, rental cars a nd other services in Hawaii. The importance of the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling is the precedent it establishes. People or companies who provide goods and services through the Internet that are used or consumed in Hawaii are subject to Hawaii taxation, despite being domiciled in other states.”

The Tax Appeal Court previously ruled that the companies owed general excise taxes but not the State’s transient accommodations tax that is assessed on operators of transient accommodations, like hotels. The State and the companies appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court from these rulings.

On March 17, 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the Tax Appeal Court’s ruling that the companies are subject to Hawaii’s general excise tax, but concluded that they are taxable only on their net receipts from the sale of hotel rooms in Hawaii, not their gross receipts. The Court ruled that the companies receive the benefit of an income splitting provision that applies to travel agents in chapter 237, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

The Court rejected the companies’ argument that they were not doing business in Hawaii. The Court stated in its opinion, “the [companies] are not passive sellers of services to Hawai‘i consumers. The [companies] actively solicit customers for Hawai‘i hotel rooms and actively solicit hotels to contractually provide the right to sell on their website the right of occupancy of hotel rooms.”

The Court remanded the case to the Tax Appeal Courtto re-determine the amount of general excise taxes, penalties and interest the companies owe to the State of Hawaii. On September 22, 2015, the Tax Appeal Court entered final stipulated judgments setting forth the amounts owed by the companies and the amounts that the State needed to refund from the State’s litigated claims fund.

Litigation against the companies for their other State tax obligations for their other business activities in Hawaii during the period 2000 through 2013 is continuing.

Hawaii’s Health Insurance Premiums on the Rise, Burden to Employers

Hawaii’s health insurance premiums for small businesses have risen an average of seven percent annually since 2003. That’s according to “The Challenges Facing Hawaii 40 Years After the Prepaid Health Care Act (PHCA),” a study conducted by Hawaii Health Information Corporation, the state’s premier healthcare data collector and analyzer.

Healthcare dataPassed in 1974, the State’s PHCA has contributed to one of the lowest uninsured rates as well as the lowest and slowest growing health insurance premiums in the nation. Still, the cost of health care—physician, hospital and insurance services, prescription drugs, equipment and supplies—is steadily increasing.

ACA is Impacting Rising Costs
On top of increasing health care costs, premiums are expected to rise further as a result of various Affordable Care Act-related fees. For example, HMSA’s fees in 2014 totaled $65.4 million, and as was done across the country, fees were passed directly on to consumers. Four out of nine percent of HMSA’s premium increases for small business was attributed to ACA-related fees in that same year.

The most significant ACA-related fee is the insurance provider fee, imposed on all insurers to subsidize health insurance for eligible individuals who purchase a plan on a health exchange. In implementation year 2014, $8 billion was collected nationwide. Nearly 60 percent of HMSA’s 2014 ACA-related fees—$39 million—represented the insurance provider fee. The insurance provider fee is permanent and expected to increase two to three percent per year to cover the subsidies for health care premiums. The fee is projected to reach $14.3 billion in 2018.

The second fee helps finance the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Initially set at $1 per insured person during FY 2013, the fee increased to $2 per insured person on all plans during FY 2014. Going forward, the fee will be adjusted based on the U.S. average rate of health care inflation, which was nearly three percent per year from 2010 to 2013.

Since the ACA prohibits denying individuals health insurance based on pre-existing conditions, the third fee involves subsidizing high-risk enrollees through the transitional reinsurance and risk-adjustment programs. Scheduled to last only three years, the transitional reinsurance program collected and distributed $10 billion in 2014 (translates to a $63 fee per covered life); $6 billion is anticipated in 2015 and $4 billion in 2016. The risk adjustment program is permanent; insurers with lower-risk enrollees will pay insurers with higher risk enrollees within the same state.

The final fee is a sustainability fee to finance health insurance exchanges since federal funds have been exhausted. By the end of 2014, Hawaii imposed a two percent sustainability fee on premiums purchased that year on the then state-run exchange. Since Hawaii no longer has a state-based exchange, sustainability fees collected will go to funding the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov.

The employee-employer cost share structure laid out in the PHCA, rising health care costs and in recent years, these ACA-related fees, has led to employers in Hawaii paying an increase of more than 3,000 percent to cover their portion of employer-based healthcare coverage since 1974.

“The Affordable Care Act, while a real advance for the rest of the country, is placing a special burden upon Hawaii, which has already achieved much of what the ACA has set as health goals for the nation,” said Peter Sybinsky, CEO of HHIC. “These burdens—payment reductions, high insurance taxes, additional health benefits—all make it more difficult to maintain the historical commitment to universal coverage that has made Hawaii a leader in health reform.  As a community, we need to work together to respond appropriately to this major challenge.”

“Same Canoe Local Food Challenge” Launches Next Week

Nutritious, flavorful Hawai‘i-grown food is in the spotlight during the “Same Canoe Local Food Challenge,” an ongoing project of One Island, a Big Island 501c3 nonprofit. The Same Canoe campaign launches at two Local Food Celebrations this month: Sept. 13 at South Kona Green Market, and Sept. 19 at Hawi Farmers’ Market. Bringing together island food products and food-lovers with nutrition experts to share the practical wisdom of supporting sustainable agriculture, these interactive and flavorful food events will be fun and educational for all ages.

Photo courtesy One Island

Photo courtesy One Island

The Same Canoe local food initiative encourages Hawai‘i residents to “Double It” by purchasing, growing and requesting local-grown foods when dining out. The name “Same Canoe” pays tribute to Hawai‘i’s original canoe crops, plants brought to the islands by Polynesian voyagers, and holds the lesson of the empowerment achieved when paddling together cooperatively. All in the ‘same canoe’ is also a potent reminder of our mutual interdependence as an island community and as members of the global community.

EBT/SNAP Benefits

With a commitment to build sustainable communities, Same Canoe is hosting innovative community action projects with film night, workshops and farm tour events. Current efforts include a pilot project that also provides matching local food coupons to 600 EBT/SNAP households in specific rural communities through sponsorship from the USDA.

For each $30 in grocery receipts showing EBT purchases of fresh produce, pre-enrolled households can receive a one-to-one match in local food coupons that will be redeemable at approved local food vendors, culinary and gardening classes, and farm tours for up to $120 in value. Signups are available for a limited time at the farmers’ market in Hawi, South Kona Green Market in Captain Cook and North Kona’s Sunset Market.

Local Food Coupon Book

Same Canoe is also producing a new Local Food Coupon Book offering dining, gardening and wellness discounts for any island resident or visitor. A rewarding new way to buy more local and save on food, health and gardening costs this fall, the Coupon Book is a fundraiser for local school gardens and food, ag and wellness organizations. Savings include local grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, gift stores, wellness practitioners, farm/garden centers and farm tour discounts. The book will be available at the Farmers’ Markets and through local groups (Learn more at the Local Food Celebrations.)

Many voices support local foods

The September 13 and 19 Local Food Celebration launch parties invite the public to enjoy local foods and meet the farmers who provide them, listen to great music, and learn from Hawai‘i Island’s food, wellness and agriculture leaders.

At South Kona Green Market on the 13th music will be by the Hawaiian trio Mauka Soul, and presenters include Councilwoman Maile David, Ken Love of Hawai‘i Tropical Fruit Growers, Sonia Martinez, cookbook author, Dr. Corinne de Soto, ND, and representatives from Adaptations CSA and the Ho‘opomaika’i Community Health Initiative.

In Hawi on the 19th, Councilwoman Margaret Wille, Chef Stephen Rouelle of Under the Bodhi Tree, Slow Foods, Dr. Hana Roberts, ND, Sonia Martinez cook and author, and representatives from Lokahi Garden Sanctuary are among the presenters, with music provided by David Gomes.

The Island’s Food Basket is also a participant at both events and will feature their Da Box community supported agriculture (CSA) produce subscription box being delivered island wide. The many voices of food and wellness presenters demonstrate how local foods strengthen our community, personal health, and families’ overall well-being.

“Choosing local food, I get the freshest flavors and optimal nutritional value available, with the fewest miles on it,” said Maureen Data of Adaptations farm and food hub in Kona. “I know my farmer and the farm’s methods and location, and sometimes the family being raised there. I realize that every dollar that I spend locally returns 3 times more money to our island economy.”

“Local food production is vital to the North Kohala community,” said Lokahi Garden Sanctuary owner Richard Liebmann. “North Kohala historically has been providing healthy clean food to its community for many generations. Today more than ever local food production can play a pivotal role in connecting people, and providing healthy food choices.”

“Food tastes so much better when you know the person who grew your vegetables or raised your meat or fed the chickens who laid your eggs. The food is fresher because it hasn’t been shipped here in a container and you’ll be supporting our local economy rather than huge corporations somewhere thousands of miles away.” said Clare Bobo, President of Slow Food Hawai‘i, a food advocacy group that will participate in the Local Food Celebrations.

The Local Food Celebrations Sept. 13 and 19 welcome the entire community and people of all ages to come and enjoy the music, buy farmer-direct, sit down for tasty breakfast or lunch selections, take home a locally crafted food, and learn more about the Same Canoe Local Food Challenge and the many values offered through the new Local Food Coupon Book.

For more information on the Same Canoe Local Food Challenge, see www.oneisland.org.

Hawaiian Electric Companies Propose New Electronic Vehicle Charging Rates

The Hawaiian Electric Companies have asked the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve discount electric vehicle charging rates in a new time-of-use program.

The new rates aim to promote plug-in electric vehicle use by offering simpler terms and sign-up procedures compared to the existing EV discount charging pilot and to foster more use of excess electricity generated by rooftop solar systems during the middle of the day.

Hawaiian Electric is recommending that customers enrolled in the present EV time-of-use pilot program have the option to continue at their existing rates when the current pilot expires at the end of September, 2015.

“EV numbers continue to increase and automakers are bringing more advanced plug-in electric vehicles to market. And with over 70,000 customers statewide who have or will soon have rooftop solar, we see increasing amounts of excess solar electricity available at mid-day,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for customer service.

“The proposed new rates will help make greater use of that solar electricity and accelerate EV adoption in Hawaii,” Alberts said.

In addition to upgraded discount charging rates, the Hawaiian Electric Companies are installing up to 25 DC fast chargers across Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii Island to alleviate EV drivers’ “range anxiety” and working with stakeholders on other endeavors as new ideas and technologies enter the market.

The proposed rates will have only two time-of-use schedules over 24 hours instead of three. Charging an EV at home using electricity from the grid will be most expensive during peak electricity demand from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. All other hours will be at the less expensive off-peak rate. EV owners may still choose to add a separate meter just for EV charging or keep a single meter for all household and charging use.

Signing up for EV rates will also be simpler. Customers need only certify ownership of a plug-in electric vehicle. As with the discount charging pilot in place for the last five years, customers on Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Oahu would be eligible to participate, upon PUC approval.

For commercial customers, the proposed new EV rates will waive “demand charges” during off-peak periods and eliminate demand charge minimums. This will make it less expensive for commercial customers who wish to provide charging for EV fleets or their customers with EVs.

The Hawaiian Electric Companies are asking the PUC to approve this proposal by the end of September when the present pilot ends. The companies suggest the new program last until June 30, 2020, when all EV rates would be re-considered for the future.

The new rate is designed to provide more off-peak hours for home EV charging with a 6.1¢ per kWh savings for a typical residential customer on Oahu. By charging off-peak, that driver is estimated to save half the cost to “fuel” an electric vehicle (compared to a mid-sized gasoline-fueled sedan) by buying no gasoline but paying a slightly higher monthly electric bill. The proposed per kWh savings for off-peak EV charging for a typical residential customer on Hawaii Island is 9.2¢; on Maui is 7.3¢; on Lanai is 7.1¢; and on Molokai is 9.4¢.

Here are comparative sample driving costs under the proposed rates based on Oahu electricity and gasoline costs:

energy costs

Hemp Harvested Legally in Hawaii for First Time

The first stalk of legal hemp in Hawaii was harvested today.
Hemp in HawaiiHawaii Representative Chris Lee tweeted, “Harvesting the very first stalk of hemp in Hawaii. Uses less water, 100% organic, tremendous economic commodity

Seven Hawaii Schools to Offer Free Meals to All Students

This school year, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) will implement a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program this school year at seven public schools, which will allow all students at those schools to receive free meal service.

Free Lunch

The program, called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), allows a school district, a group of schools or a single school to serve free meals to everyone even if they do not qualify for the free or reduced lunch reimbursement.

The CEP program has been adopted by jurisdictions around the country. “One major factor in the future of the program is the high cost of a meal in Hawaii compared with the much lower rates around the country,” stated Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “We’re grateful for this opportunity to participate in this pilot to benefit families in need.”

The schools participating in the pilot program are:

To qualify for CEP, a district, grouping or school must have a minimum of 40 percent or more of its students eligible for free or reduced meals through the National School Lunch Program.

Currently HIDOE pays an average of $5.50 a meal (including food costs, labor, utilities, etc.). The USDA reimburses the state $3.85 for students who qualify for a free meal and $0.40 for those paying for a meal. HIDOE charges $2.50 for elementary school lunch for a total of $2.90 in recouped cost for the state.​

Under the program, all students in a CEP school would qualify for the higher $3.85 reimbursement. While the seven pilot schools will no longer be collecting meal monies and ensuring accounts have sufficient funds, families will be required to provide information for data collection.

“The schools were chosen so that the Department can analyze how families and students in a single island community such as Molokai, respond to the program while also giving officials the chance to study the impact of individual schools in separate and distinct districts on Oahu and Hawaii Island,” Office of School Facilities and Support Services Assistant Superintendent Dann Carlson said.

For more information about CEP visit: http://bit.ly/HawaiiCEP


Innovative Wave Power Device Starts Producing Clean Power in Hawaii

With support from the Energy Department and the U.S. Navy, a prototype wave energy device has advanced successfully from initial concept to grid-connected, open-sea pilot testing.

The device, called Azura, was recently launched and installed in a 30-meter test berth at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Azura, was recently launched and installed in a 30-meter test berth at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Azura, was recently launched and installed in a 30-meter test berth at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

This pilot testing is now giving U.S. researchers the opportunity to monitor and evaluate the long-term performance of the nation’s first grid-connected wave energy converter (WEC) device to be independently tested by a third party—the University of Hawaii—in the open ocean.

The project supports the Energy Department’s mission to research, test, and develop innovative technologies capable of generating renewable, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective electricity from clean energy resources, including water. Marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies, which generate power from waves, tides, or currents, are at an early but promising stage of development. Many coastal areas in the United States have strong wave and tidal resources, and more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline, making transmission from these resources more economical.

With further progress towards commercialization, MHK technologies could make substantial contributions to our nation’s electricity needs. To accelerate commercialization of wave energy devices, the Energy Department funds research and development—from laboratory and field-testing of individual components, up to demonstration and deployment of complete utility-scale systems.

The first phase of Azura’s development involved testing a smaller prototype in a wave tank and later deploying a prototype—at the same scale as the new deployment—in a controlled, open-sea area off the coast of Oregon in 2014. Those successful tests helped Azura’s developer, Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) of Portland, Oregon, verify the functionality of the device while collecting comprehensive performance data that could lower the cost of wave energy technologies in the future.

To further advance Azura towards commercialization, NWEI recently launched its grid-connected 20-kilowatt demonstration project at WETS. The current phase of in-water testing at the WETS’s 30-meter test berth has already proven valuable in gathering performance and reliability data from the device in deepwater, open-ocean conditions. The data will be used to further optimize Azura’s performance and refine existing wave energy computer simulations, ultimately supporting commercialization of this technology.

NWEI, with $5 million in additional funding from the Energy Department, will apply lessons learned from this current phase of development to modify the device design in order to improve its efficiency and reliability. NWEI plans to then test the improved design with a full-scale device rated between 500 kilowatts and one megawatt at WETS at even deeper test berths of 60 meters to 80 meters over the next several years, further supporting efforts to build a robust and competitive MHK industry in the United States.

The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. EERE supports innovative approaches that reduce both the risk and costs of bringing MHK technologies online. Watch our Energy 101: Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy video, and learn more about the Department’s efforts to support MHK research and development.

Hawaii Farm Bureau Launches Publication

The Hawai‘i Farm Bureau Federation (HFBF) announces the launch of a new four-color, glossy magazine, Hawai‘i Farm & Food. The print and online publication is a media partnership between the statewide Farm Bureau and Pacific Basin Communications-the renowned publisher of Hawai‘i’s largest magazine group, whose portfolio includes Hawaii Business, HONOLULU Magazine and HAWAII Magazine.

Catherine Toth Fox will serve as the editor

Catherine Toth Fox will serve as the editor

“Hawai‘i Farm & Food will delve into issues facing Hawai‘i’s agricultural industries, unique specialty crops and commodity groups”, says HFBF president Chris Manfredi of Ka’u Farm and Ranch on the Big Island. “This new magazine will bring the challenges of Hawai‘i’s farmers, ranchers and aquaculturists to the forefront to help people better understand how food is produced and brought to store shelves. Think of it as a farm tour you can hold in your hand. We’re particularly excited that the publication’s app will be available for free on iTunes – and we’re thrilled to be working with the professionals at Pacific Basin Communications,” notes Manfredi.

Hawai‘i Farm and Food will feature farmers and their stories from across the state, updates on legislative issues, chef highlights of Hawai‘i-grown products, recipes and events supporting local agriculture.

Freelance journalist and blogger Catherine Toth Fox of O‘ahu will serve as Editor. The inaugural issue will premiere with a circulation of 5,000 printed copies and unlimited digital access for the mainstream audience.

The magazine will be direct-mailed to all HFBF members, available for free pick-up at the Farm Bureau Farmers’ Markets and various other outlets, and digital download on iTunes. Visit hfbf.org for a current listing. For advertising and sponsorship opportunities please contact Sharon Spear, publisher at 808-534-7528 or sharons@pacificbasin.net.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau is comprised of nearly 2,000 member families in 11 county chapters located across the state: East O’ahu, Hamakua, Hilo, Ka‘u, Kaua’i, Kohala, Kona, Maui, Moloka‘i, South O‘ahu and West O‘ahu. HFB serves as Hawai‘i’s “Voice of Agriculture,” to protect, advocate and advance the social, economic and educational interest of the state’s diverse agricultural community. To learn more, visit www.hfbf.org or phone 808-848-2074.

Island Naturals Implements $10 Per Hour Minimum Wages

As of July 2015 Island Naturals Markets has established a $10 per hour minimum wage for all employees.

Island Naturals

While most staff are already above $10/hour, some entry level employees got an unexpected raise in their paycheck this month as the company adopted the voluntary higher minimum wage standard.

Russell Ruderman, President of Island Naturals, who was recently awarded the State of Hawaii Small Business Administration, Businessperson of the Year, believes strongly in investing in his staff for motivational and retention purposes.

“In recent months we have seen some national companies raise their minimum wage voluntarily, and we want to be in the forefront of this movement locally.  But it’s also the right thing to do. Treating employees well, and paying them well, is good business!” said Ruderman.  “Island Naturals values our staff and strives to provide a good work environment, higher wages than local standards, and treats staff with respect.”

“While $10/hour is not a true living wage in Hawaii, this is a step in the right direction, as raising our minimum also results in higher wages for mid-level staff.  Doing so approaches a living wage for more and more workers. We are happy to share our success with our staff, and we all work together to make our company successful, said Ruderman.”

Island Naturals is the leading group of naturals food stores on the Big Island with three locations in Hilo, Pahoa and Kailua-Kona.  Island Naturals has more than 200 employees.

Hawaii Cannabis Business Expo and Kou Calabash Challenge

The state of Hawaii’s first and only medical cannabis magazine – Kaulana Na Pua, is pleased to announce that the Hawaii Convention Center will serve as the site for the inaugural Hawaii Cannabis Business Expo and Kou Calabash Challenge on July 17, 18, and 19, 2015.

See more here:

Hawaiian Cannabis Expo

Click to enlarge

Visitation to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Creates $136,838,700 Economic Benefits

Report shows visitor spending supports 1,672 jobs in local economy

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 1,693,005 visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in 2014 spent $136,838,700 in communities near the park. That spending supported 1,672 jobs on island, and had a cumulative benefit to the local community of $170,878,000.

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher gives the "Life on the Edge" talk to visitors along the Jaggar Museum observation deck in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher gives the “Life on the Edge” talk to visitors along the Jaggar Museum observation deck in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Janice Wei.

The park’s 2014 visitation is up 6.9 percent from 2013 (1,583,209 visitors), and reflects a steady and rising trend of visitation to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park since 2009. The park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016, shares two of earth’s most active volcanoes, the Hawaiian culture, and its native biodiversity with local residents and visitors.

“It’s heartening to again report an increase in both visitation to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the significant economic impact park visitors have by spending money and creating jobs in our local community,” said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando. “National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s clearly a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities,” Orlando said.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and National Park Service economist Lynne Koontz.  The report shows $15.7 billion of direct spending by 292.8 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 277,000 jobs nationally; 235,600 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $29.7 billion.

According to the 2014 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.6 percent) followed by food and beverages (20.3 percent), gas and oil (11.9 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent) and souvenirs and other expenses (9.9 percent).

To download the report visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm

The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

To learn more about national parks in Hawai‘i and how the National Park Service works with Hawai‘i communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to www.nps.gov/hawaii.

Grassroot Institute Investigates Questionable Procurement by Native Hawaiian Roll

A request by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for information about the expenditures of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission has led to additional questions about the Commission’s possible violation of the state procurement code.

Former Hawai`i Attorney General Michael Lilly has requested that the Directors of the Departments of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Accounting and General Services review whether the expenditure of over $800,000 on two vendors by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission without public bid violated the State’s procurement code.  Such a violation of the code is subject to possible criminal and civil penalties.

The Grassroot Institute requested from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs the check register of the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission as part of their ongoing government transparency effort. With the Commission’s response now made public, citizens and government observers have been stepping forward with more questions about the expenditures listed and the process behind them.

Click to view

Click to view

In his letters sent as a private citizen to the state department directors, Michael Lilly states:

Some $4 million was reportedly transferred by OHA to the NHRC. The attached ledger summarizes payments by the NHRC to various vendors including over $600,000 to Makauila, a multimedia company … Another some $200,000 went to “1013” which is a branding company found on your web site here as “One Zero Ten Three” … None of these payments to vendors apparently complied with the procurement code, Chapter 103D.

According to Keli’i Akina, Ph.D., President/CEO of Grassroot Institute, “Much of the money being spent by OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission could better be used to meet the real needs of Hawaiians for housing, job opportunities, education, and health-care.  And, if any of this public money is being fraudulently used, OHA and the Roll Commission must be held accountable.”

Mr. Lilly added in a statement to Grassroot Institute: “The procurement code was established to ensure transparency and openness in public bidding, to ensure everyone has an equal right to bid on public contracts and to protect public funds from being overspent on insider deals.”

The letters from Mr. Lilly referenced above as well as the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission’s check register and expenses are posted at Grassroot Institute’s Transparency website, OpenHawaii.org.

About Grassroot President:
Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.,  is a recognized scholar, educator, public policy spokesperson, and community leader in Hawaii.  Currently, he is President/CEO of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy think tank dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, free markets and limited, accountable government.  An expert in East-West Philosophy and ethics, Dr. Akina has taught at universities in China and the United States and continues as an adjunct instructor at Hawaii Pacific University.  Dr. Akina was a candidate for Trustee at Large of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in the 2014 General Election run-off.

Office of Information Practice Advising Agencies to Disclose P-Card Records to Requesters

In light of numerous inquiries about the disclosure of P-Card usage by government employees, the state Office of Information Practices (OIP) is generally advising agencies to disclose unredacted P-Card records to requesters, because all purchases made on the cards are supposed to be justified as work-related expenses.


In rare circumstances, there may be confidential information that should be redacted because of a significant privacy interest, such as medical information.

P-Card usage is distinguished from personal credit card reimbursements sought by employees for work expenses.  In the case of employees’ requests for reimbursement of work-related expenses paid for by their personal credit cards, it is proper to redact all personal or confidential information on the personal credit card invoices, such as all non-work related purchases, personal address, credit card number, interest rates, balances, payments due, and rewards points.

P-Card records to requesters, agencies are further cautioned to redact confidential P-Card account numbers and any taxpayer identification numbers for vendors.  Oftentimes, a vendor’s taxpayer ID number is a person’s social security number, which should be redacted prior to disclosure.

For the latest open government news, check for archived copies of What’s New articles that are posted here, or e-mailed upon request. To be added to OIP’s e-mail list, please e-mail oip@hawaii.gov.  Also, if you would like to receive What’s New articles or attachments in a Word format, please contact OIP at (808) 586-1400 or oip@hawaii.gov.

14th Annual Feed-A-Thon Benefits Hawaii Island Food Basket

Tommy “Kahikina” Ching, the longtime ambassador of the Feed-A-Thon, a benefit for The Food Basket, will be at the Waikoloa Village Market and five KTA grocery stores on Hawaii Island collecting food and monetary donations from 8 am – 6 pm, beginning April 8th and continuing through April 17th.

Tommy “Kahikina” Ching collecting food at the 2014 Annual Feed-A-Thon

Tommy “Kahikina” Ching collecting food at the 2014 Annual Feed-A-Thon

Hawaii Island’s Food Bank, The Food Basket, serves 1 in 5 residents island-wide through a network of 80 partner agencies. The goal for the 14th Annual Feed-A-Thon is to bring in enough food and money to provide 100,000 meals to feed the county’s most vulnerable residents.

With 1 in 4 children on the island eligible for free and reduced school meals, this annual event provides delivery of emergency food to needy families throughout the challenging summer months when school is not in session.

En Young, Executive Director of The Food Basket said, “Tommy has been a friend of The Food Basket for a long time. We are very fortunate to have a partner like him who understands how our food and cash fluctuate within the year.

Although we’re very busy during the holidays with donations, most of our work is supporting the many organizations who want to give only during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tommy doing a drive in the middle of the year helps us so much to prepare for The Food Basket’s most critical need period; when children are getting out of school and do not receive their lunch.”

Donations of food and money will be accepted from 8 am – 6 pm at the following “Feed-A-Thon” locations, and dates:

  • KTA Kailua-Kona, April 8 – 9
  • Waikoloa Village Market, April 10 – 11
  • KTA Waimea, April 12 – 13
  • KTA Puainako, April 14 – 15
  • KTA Keauhou, April 16 – 17

For more information on ways to help feed the hungry on Hawai`i Island, please contact The Food Basket at (808) 933-6030, or visit www.hawaiifoodbasket.org.

Virgin Launches Flight Service from West Coast to Hawaii – $199 Flight Deals

Virgin America, the airline known for reinventing domestic travel, today announces it will start flying from San Francisco to Honolulu, Oahu from November 2, 2015, and Kahului, Maui from December 3, 2015, with fares on sale as of today from $199 one way* (with taxes and restrictions applying).

Virgin Airlines

As the only California-based airline, Virgin America will offer Bay Area travelers a fresh and upscale new travel option to the Aloha state, the ‘most wanted’ destination by members of its Elevate loyalty program.  Hawaii continues to be the number one tourism destination from the West Coast, with over 3.2 million visitors in 2014. Virgin America’s service is uniquely tailored to the modern traveler and to the longer-haul Hawai‘i flight experience.

With new aircraft that offer three custom-designed classes of service, touch-screen personal entertainment and an award-winning on-demand food and cocktail menu on every flight – travelers departing from the stylish and convenient new Terminal Two at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) can kick-off their Hawai‘i vacation as soon as they step onboard.  Virgin America has been named the “Best Domestic Airline” in both Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards and in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards for the past seven consecutive years.

In honor of the new route, Virgin America is celebrating with a nationwide ‘Now Serving Paradise’ fare sale and a complimentary ‘mai tai’ toast for travelers at its home airport of SFO today.

The new Hawai‘i flights are on sale now and can be purchased at virginamerica.com or 1-877-FLY-VIRGIN**.  As of tomorrow, Elevate members can redeem reward flights to Hawai‘i – with no black-out dates, for as few as 8559 points. Members can earn more points by signing up for the Virgin America Visa Signature Credit Card.

“As one of the most popular leisure destinations among Bay Area travelers, we are pleased to announce our new nonstop service to Hawai‘i,” said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer, David Cush. “This marks the next phase of growth for our airline, as we take delivery of new Airbus aircraft and expand our Elevate program with more world-class rewards destinations.  With a loyal following of Bay Area-based business travelers who have long requested our expansion to the islands, we couldn’t be more pleased to offer our ‘work-hard/play-hard’ frequent flyers the opportunity to fly in style to the ultimate getaway.  We look forward to bringing a new kind of flight service to the market and to building lasting community ties with the state of Hawai‘i.”

In a private call last month, Cush received permission from Hawai‘i Governor David Ige to bring Virgin America’s new flight service to the state.

“On behalf of the state, I would like to welcome Virgin America to Hawai‘i and congratulate the company on its new service to the Hawaiian Islands,” said Governor David Ige. “We are excited about the business and leisure travel opportunities the service will provide. We look forward to Virgin America’s success in serving both visitors to and residents of Hawai‘i.”

“We are pleased that Virgin America will launch inaugural service to Honolulu and Kahului this fall. These flights will boost air seat capacity to Hawai‘i from our core U.S. West market and attract new visitors through Virgin America’s vast flight network across the United States,” said David Uchiyama, Vice President, Brand Management of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the state’s tourism agency. “San Francisco is one of our top visitor markets and we look forward to welcoming Virgin America and its guests to the Hawaiian Islands. These flights will generate an estimated $138.6 million in annual visitor spending and $14.8 million in state tax revenue.”

Beginning November 2, 2015, Virgin America’s Honolulu service is as follows:

Beginning December 3, 2015, Virgin America’s Kahului-Maui service is as follows:

The daily, nonstop flights will be operated with new Airbus A320 aircraft that Virgin America will take delivery of this year, which will be equipped with fuel-saving, ‘sharklet’ wingtip devices, allowing the airline to operate flights more efficiently, especially over longer haul routes.  Virgin America is working with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) and Airbus to ensure that the airline’s new Airbus A320 aircraft are certified for Extended Operation (ETOPS).  ETOPS is the standard certification process carriers obtain for longer range over water flights.

In addition to a Main Cabin that offers custom-designed leather seating with a deeper, more comfortable pitch, Virgin America’s First Class cabin offers plush white leather ‘cradle sleeper’ seating with 55 inches of pitch, 165 degrees of recline and lumbar massagers.  The carrier’s Main Cabin Select service offers 38-inches of pitch, free food and cocktails, an all-access pass to media content, dedicated overhead bins and priority check-in/boarding.  The Red® in-flight entertainment platform offers guests their own seatback touch-screen TV, with more than 20 films, TV***, interactive Google Maps, videogames, a 3,000 song library and an on-demand menu, which allows flyers to order a cocktail or snack from their seatback any time during a flight.  With a full service First Class menu and a unique on-demand menu in the Main Cabin, Virgin America was named Travel + Leisure’s “Best Domestic Airline for Food” in 2014.

Since its 2007 launch, Virgin America has created more than 2,800 new jobs and expanded its network to include Austin, Boston, Cancun, Chicago, Dallas Love Field, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Los Cabos, Newark, New York (JFK and LGA), Orlando, Palm Springs (seasonal), Portland, Puerto Vallarta, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. (IAD and DCA), Honolulu (as of November 2, 2015) and Kahului, Maui (as of December 3, 2015).  The new Hawai‘i markets will represent the 22nd and 23rd destinations served by the California-based airline.

Big Island Senator Named State of Hawaii Small Business Person of the Year

Senator Russell E. Ruderman was named the State of Hawaii Small Business Person of the Year, 2015 by the US Small Business Administration Hawaii District Office.

Along with awardees in 8 other categories, Senator Ruderman was honored by colleagues on the Senate and House floor.

Along with awardees in 8 other categories, Senator Ruderman was honored by colleagues on the Senate and House floor.

The award was given to Senator Ruderman as President and Founder of Island Naturals, a group of natural and organic food stores on the Big Island known for its commitment to quality and creativity. Established in 1997, Island Naturals now employs 150 people at three locations in Kona, Hilo, and Pahoa.

The U.S. Small Business Administration was founded in 1953, largely as a response to the pressures of the Great Depression and World War II. It has since delivered millions of loans, loan guarantees, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of assistance to small businesses.

The Hawaii District Office, under the leadership of District Director Jane A. Sawyer, oversees the delivery of SBA’s programs throughout the State of Hawaii, the Territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric to Hold Informational Meetings Across State

NextEra Energy, Inc. and Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc. and Maui Electric Company Limited (collectively referred to as Hawaiian Electric), today announced that the companies will be hosting a series of 13 open house informational meetings across Hawaii to introduce residents to NextEra Energy and the benefits of the companies’ pending merger as well as to provide members of the public with the opportunity to provide input directly to company officials.

NextEra Logo

The open houses will take place on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai from April 7 to April 16.

“Since we announced our merger late last year, we’ve been gratified at the reception we’ve received as well as the high level of interest in this important topic for Hawaii,” said Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, LLC. “NextEra Energy shares Hawaiian Electric’s vision of increasing renewable energy, modernizing its grid, reducing Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, integrating more rooftop solar energy and, importantly, lowering customer bills. We recognize that addressing Hawaii’s energy challenges requires Hawaii-specific energy solutions, and that is why we look forward to meeting with and listening to residents across Hawaii. The meetings will provide us with the opportunity to receive valuable feedback while allowing residents to learn more about NextEra Energy and the significant near- and long-term benefits this merger will deliver to Hawaiian Electric customers and the state of Hawaii.”

“In selecting NextEra Energy as our partner, we will join a company that shares our community and environmental values, has a proven track record of lowering electric bills, is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun, and is committed to rooftop solar in Hawaii,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric’s president and chief executive officer. “We can’t imagine a better match to help us accelerate the clean energy transformation we all want for Hawaii. We hope our customers will take the opportunity to meet members of the NextEra Energy team and learn firsthand why NextEra Energy is the right partner to help us achieve a cleaner and more affordable energy future for Hawaii.”

About the Open House Meetings

Each open house meeting will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time. Senior leaders and other employees from NextEra Energy and Hawaiian Electric will be available to discuss NextEra Energy’s track record of increasing renewable energy, lowering customer bills, creating innovative solutions for modernizing the grid, and supporting local communities, as well as all the expected benefits from the proposed merger with Hawaiian Electric.

The dates and locations for the meetings are as follows:

Maui County

April 7

  • Central Maui: Maui Electric Auditorium
  • South Maui: Kihei Community Center

April 8

  • West Maui: Lahaina Civic Center
  • Lanai: Lanai Community Center

April 9

  • Molokai: Kaunakakai Elementary School Cafeteria

Hawaii Island

April 13

  • Hilo, Hawaii: Hilo High School Cafeteria
  • Puna, Hawaii: Pahoa High School Cafeteria

April 14

  • West Hawaii: Kealakehe High School Cafeteria
  • Waimea, Hawaii: HPA Village Campus Dining Hall


April 15

  • West Oahu: Kapolei High School Cafeteria
  • Leeward Oahu: Pearl City High School Cafeteria

April 16

  • Honolulu: Ward Warehouse, Kakaako Conference Room
  • Windward Oahu: Windward Community College, Hale Akoakoa


To learn more about the benefits of the transaction, please visit www.forhawaiisfuture.com.

Big Island Legislators Secure Over $200 Million in Capital Improvement Funding for Island Projects

Big Island legislators secured over $200 million in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding for various projects across the island in the House proposed budget.


The proposed budget includes funding for various highway improvements, monies for Big Island schools, plans for a new hospital in Kona, and continued financial support to complete the Kona Judiciary Complex.

Notable CIP funding highlights for Hawaii County include:

  • $55 million in continued funding for the design and construction of a Judiciary Complex in Kona
  • $1.2 million for the plans and design of a new hospital in Kona
  • $2.35 million for the design and construction of a Kamuela post-harvest facility and vacuum cooling plant
  • $330,000 for improvements to the research campus in the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park
  • $30.212 for the construction of a new combined support maintenance shop complex for Hawaii Army National Guard at the Keaukaha military reservation
  • $1.675 million for Youth Challenge Academy renovations and improvements at Keaukaha military reservation
  • $2 million for the design of Building A phase 1 renovations at Hilo Intermediate School
  • $1 million for the construction of bleachers at Honokaa High School
  • $230,000 for the construction of drainage improvements and a raised covered walkway at Mountain View Elementary School
  • $450,000 for a new baseball batting cage at Waiakea High School
  • $1.58 million for the design of a new classroom building at Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School
  • $300,000 for parking improvements at Kealakehe Elementary School
  • $8.5 million for the land acquisition, design, construction and equipment for a multi-purpose workforce development processing facility
  • $1 million for the design and construction for Pu’u Wa’awa’a structure improvements and dam compliance
  • $400,000 for the plans and design for improvements at the North Kawaihae small boat harbor
  • $600,000 for the land acquisition and design for a community center in Waiakea Uka
  • $200,000 for building renovations and improvements at the Paauilo slaughterhouse plant
  • $3.5 million for airfield improvements at Hilo International Airport
  • $61 million for the design and construction of a new airport rescue firefighters regional training facility at the Kona International Airport at Keahole
  • $1.425 million for physical modifications to improve navigational safety and operational efficiencies at Hilo Harbor
  • $3.6 million for Kohala Mountain Road drainage improvements by mile post 10.60
  • $8 million for the rehabilitation of Ninole Bridge along Mamalahoa Highway (route 11)
  • $15 million for repair and maintenance of feeder roads and alternate routes for Highway 130
  • $660,000 for land acquisition to extend the Daniel K. Inouye Highway from the Hilo terminus to the Queen Kaahumanu Highway
  • $1.5 million for the construction of portable trailers at Hawaii Community College
  • $350,000 to renovate the tennis court at Honokaa High and Intermediate School
  • $2.46 million lump sum for renovations at Hilo High School
  • $1.23 million lump sum for renovations at Konawaena Middle School
  • $780,000 lump sum for renovations at Kohala High
  • $4.99 million for photovoltaic projects for East Hawaii HHSC region
  • $3.492 million total for renovations at Kona Community Hospital
  • $750,000 for an 80 bed intake unit at Hawaii Community Correctional Center to address overcrowding


Expanded Access to Fresh Produce for Low-Income Individuals and Families

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made funds available that enable the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide eligible farmers markets and direct marketing farmers with free electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

EBT Card

Administered through the Farmer’s Market Coalition (FMC), the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program expands access to fresh produce for SNAP beneficiaries and expands commerce options for farmers and farmers markets.

The program is available to only to SNAP-authorized farmers markets and direct marketing farmers that were authorized before November 18, 2011. If the applying farmers and famers markets receive approval, the FMC will cover the costs of purchasing or renting SNAP EBT equipment and services (set-up costs, monthly service fees, and wireless fees) for up to three years. Though transaction fees will not be covered, the selected farmers and farmers markets will get to choose their own SNAP EBT service provider from a list of participating companies.

The Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program is a first-come first-serve opportunity, and the program ends when the funds have been distributed.

If a farmers market or direct marketing farmer isn’t yet SNAP-authorized, or became SNAP-authorized on or after November 18, 2011, then they may be eligible for free equipment through MarketLink. Learn more about MarketLink’s application process at www.marketlink.org.

For more information on the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program, including frequently asked questions, an eligibility chart, background information and application instructions, visit http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/programs/freesnapebt/.

Click here for a county-by-county listing of Farmers Markets.

Paniolo Power Files Motion to Consolidate Merger, PSIP Dockets

Paniolo Power Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Parker Ranch, Inc., filed a motion today to merge two of the most important cases currently before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission into one docket—the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ (HECO)-NextEra acquisition and the HECO clean energy plan.

Paniolo Power Company

The Change of Control docket addresses NextEra Energy, Inc.’s proposed acquisition of the HECO Companies. The PSIP docket addresses HECO’s long-term clean energy strategy and transition plan.

“The issues in both the Change of Control and the PSIP dockets are inextricably linked,” said Jose Dizon, General Manager of Paniolo Power. “HECO’s lack of focus on customer value has led it to continue to use oil-fired power plants, with the associated high fuel prices that are passed on to the ratepayers.”

Understanding the destructive effects of fuel volatility, Dizon added, the PUC in April 2014 issued harsh guidance to the Hawaiian Electric Companies to accelerate power plant retirements and aggressively pursue clean energy sources.

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