It is not an exaggeration to say that political careers will rise and fall on the actions or inactions taken by legislators with regards to the success or failure of HB1326 HD2 (referred to by opponents as the water theft bill).
While I have written about this issue previously, suffice it to say that the “sticky wicket” I referred to then, has become downright mucilaginous (will save you a trip to Webster “oozing with mucus”).
Originally referred to the Senate Water Land Committee, whose Chair is Big Island Senator Kai Kahele, HB1326 HD2 was re-referred by the Senate President Ron Kouchi to what is now a joint committee that includes Water Land and Ways and Means – that will essentially act as a single very large committee.
Students of the legislative process will understand the nuance, or lack thereof of this particular konane move.
So now there appear to be plots within plots.
House Leadership has its agenda which is to protect its members from further political exposure, but at the same time ensure HB1326 HD2 passes into law. Any changes made in the Senate will force the bill to conference committee and quite likely back to the House floor for still yet another ugly floor vote.
Senate Leadership of course has a similar dilemma, how to protect the members from political fallout but yet pass the bill.
A classic conundrum.
And why, and for who and for what purpose?
Who exactly initiated this measure?
You can be sure that it was not the Ka’u cattle ranchers or other small farmers who have been repeatedly thrown up as human shields against those who have opposed it.
This leaves only the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), Grove Farm Land Company, Mahi Pono and Alexander and Baldwin (A&B), as potential initiators of the original HB1326.
All arrows however point to A&B who seems clearly to have the most to gain and the most to lose, on the rise and fall of HB1326.
In the sales agreement between A&B and Mahi Pono in which A&B is selling 41,000 acres of their land on Maui, there is a provision that requires A&B to “rebate” $62,000,000 to Mahi Pono, should A&B fail to provide sufficient water as stipulated in the purchase agreement.
An informative news article and a link to the actual purchase agreement is HERE. https://mauitime.com/news/business/mahi-pono-purchase-agreement-lots-of-legalese-with-a-few-tasty-nuggets/
Further, according to various lawyers familiar with the legal background, killing HB1326 does not prevent the ranchers or KIUC from continuing to utilize the water as they always have.
Only A&B was impacted by the court decision which triggered the legislative action providing their first 3 year extension, set to expire soon. HB1326 HD2, would grant them 7 additional years to comply.
All users ultimately need long term leases/permits but all users are not dependent on HB1326, except apparently A&B.
My guess is that whomever originally initiated this measure, did not tell most legislators the full story.
Some on the inside of course were likely made aware of the $62,000,000 benefit for A&B. And similarly some were likely aware that the ranchers and hydroelectric entities were not really the primary beneficiaries of HB1326.
The vast majority of rank and file legislators who were ultimately convinced to vote in support of HB1326 probably knew nothing about these significant pieces of information.
How the bill originally came to be remains a mystery for now, subject to speculation and the inevitable castle intrigue.
What we do know is the public record, found at capitol.hawaii.gov – Here, one can see who originally sponsored the bill, who in the House voted yes or no, read the prior drafts, read all the testimony from prior hearings in the House, track the current status and see the track record of “referrals”.
HB1326 HD2 reeks of a smell that can only be found under the rocks on the floor of the reflecting pool at the Hawaii State Capitol. No amendment nor collection of amendments is capable of masking this particular kind of odor. #killthebill
First published in The Garden Island newspaper on March 20, 2019