We have less than 24 hours to impact the final decision. If you already know the story, skip to the bottom and please start calling and emailing Senators.
Yesterday, April 2nd the Hawaii State Senate held its first and only public hearing for HB1326 HD2 “the corporate water theft bill”.
Those who are following this issue closely know that passage of HB1326 HD2 will result in a $62,000,000 financial benefit to Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).
A&B has sold much of its land on Maui to an entity by the name of Mahi Pono. That sales contract includes a provision that requires A&B to guarantee a specific amount of water to Mahi Pono, within a specific time frame. If they fail to do so, A&B will be required to pay $62,000,000 to Mahi Pono.
One problem with this, is that A&B does not own the water, which by state constitution is a public trust resource. They have been using the water and utilizing “revocable permits”(RP’s) for a long, long time, but they do not own the water.
A&B has a problem of their own making. They promised to deliver water that they have neither ownership of, nor control over. It is not the legislatures role to fix their problem.
This dilemma for A&B has resulted in the creation of HB1326 HD2, which if passed by the legislature amends state law and grants A&B rights to continue diverting the streams. They then transfer those rights to Mahi Pono, and voila, A&B secures a $62,000,000 benefit.
The measure also grants similar rights to extend water use rights and stream diversions to Kauai Island Utility Coop (KIUC) and others including various ranchers and farmers.
The public hearing was before the Senate Water and Land Committee, Chaired by Senator Kai Kahele, and heard jointly with the Ways & Means Committee, Chaired by Senator Donovan Dela Cruz.
Ratcheting up further distrust of the process, Senator Dela Cruz proposed and scheduled a duplicate doppelgänger bill with a different number (HB1171) intending to accomplish the same ends as HB1326 HD2 (gut and replace). 72 hours after being scheduled, HB1171 was withdrawn.
Predictably the hearing was delayed, the room was too small, warm, and overflowing with people. The hallway outside was packed with testifiers awaiting their turn to enter, the door guarded by the Senate Sergeant at Arms.
As the hearing gaveled in (90 minutes after the original start time), the tension and apprehension in the room was palpable.
On one side of the issue were Native Hawaiians, small farmers, environmentalists, and progressives – representing all islands. On the other side were the high powered lobbyists representing A&B and Mahi Pono, backed up by a handful of individuals who are the “go to” faces of small agriculture who always show up on behalf of large corporate agriculture.
In the middle caught in a political vise between the two sides, was an array of state senators, who would at the end of the day, be casting the deciding votes.
Chair Kahele gaveled in the meeting and immediately launched into the direct questioning of the Attorney General, the Chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), and the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC). The Chair’s questioning of these Department heads was exemplary, hard hitting and to the point.
It became ultimately very clear from the first few questions and answers, that there was no legal basis for small farmers and ranchers to be swept up in this issue. Translated: If HB1326 HD2 was killed, small farmers and ranchers would not lose their water.
After the Department testimony the public followed. Residents who had traveled from all corners of our state came forward one at a time and shared their thoughts and feelings on the issue.
The hearing went on in this manner for the next several hours with the overwhelming sentiment of those who testified in person was to “kill the bill”. Approximately 604 residents also submitted written testimony in opposition. There were only 40 written testimonies in support and 103 offering only comments.
Every senator at this point knows that the passing of HB1326 HD2 would benefit Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) to the tune of $62,000,000. Each of them also knew that the threat of water loss to small farmers, ranchers, and hydro producers, was grossly exaggerated.
At about 5:45pm, after nearly 6 hours of testimony the Chair recommended, and the joint committee agreed, to postpone decision making on the measure until Thursday April 4, at 4pm.
This means we have 24 more hours to get our message out to the Senators.
This, I believe is a good thing. I believe that Senator Kahele and in fact a majority of Senators on these committee’s heard our message loud and clear, and want to do the right thing. Further, I believe it was painfully obvious that HB1326 HD2 is targeted special interest legislation, and if killed no harm will come to small farmers and ranchers.
It is also painfully obvious that behind the scenes, powerful interests continue to push for passage of this bill. The representatives from A&B did not even bother to present testimony during the hearing, though they were present in the room. After-all, why should they bother to speak in public and possibly incur questioning in public from Senators, when they have unfettered 24/7 private access to the key decision makers?
You can be sure, that when A&B calls, many if not most in the Senate would put their first born child on hold, to take that call. Ok…in the pursuit of a little humor…I may be exaggerating slightly.
But in all seriousness: We have less than 24 hours to have an impact on the decision due tomorrow, Thursday at 4pm.
Please contact TODAY via phone AND email, first your own district Senator (let them know you live in their district), a complete list of which you can find HERE:
Please also contact TODAY members of the two committees that will be voting on this issue tomorrow Thursday April 4th at 4pm. The Water Land Committee is HERE and the Ways and Means Committee is HERE.
Ask them to vote NO on HB1326 HD2. No amendments are acceptable. This measure is not needed and is simply a gift to large corporate water users.
As always, polite and professional messages only please.
Time is of the essence, by 4pm tomorrow the decision will have already been decided, reaching out to Senators TODAY is critically important.