It may have been the early arrival of summer and the warm, lazy Saturday morning that came with it. It may have been the start of the high school graduation season. Whatever the reason, most of Kihei was somewhere else when state Sen. Roz Baker and state Rep. George Fontaine held their traditional "Roz and George Show" at Kihei Charter School on Lipoa Street to report on their work at the recently concluded session of the state Legislature.
With an audience of just nine interested citizens, the meeting began with Baker and Fontaine highlighting various accomplishments of the legislative session.
One of the legislative actions identified pertained to agricultural theft.
State Rep. George Fontaine and state Sen. Roz Baker presented their legislative update at Kihei Charter School on Lipoa Street on Saturday, May 19.
"People were going out at night and stealing strawberries and pineapples and then selling them later," said Fontaine.
A new law now requires proof of ownership of the produce that a vendor intends to sell in a store or a farmer's market.
Another area Fontaine discussed was his bipartisan work to strengthen Hawai'i's laws against computer crime, including cyber-fraud and cyber bullying, and ensuring prosecution across state and international boundaries.
"These are huge problems, and we were happy to be able to pass laws to deal with them," said Fontaine, a former Maui Police Department captain and previous owner of an Internet company.
Baker noted that the Legislature also addressed the problem of identity theft, passing a law that requires that vendors not sell customer identification information or keep it in a database where it could be hacked.
Age-restriction information gathered by a vendor to prove they complied with the law in a particular sale (such as alcohol or tobacco) can now be kept only for a limited time before it is eliminated from a database.
Baker reported that the Legislature has also acted on an issue that directly impacts Kihei. The lawmakers increased the amount of per-student funding for charter schools in an effort to bring their funding closer to parity with state Department of Education (DOE) schools. She said they also included money for charter school facilities.
Kihei Charter School Board Member Gene Zarro told Baker that the DOE was combining the funding in one pool, so that it still appeared the state was not providing facility money to charter schools.
Zarro said charter school facility funding is important because DOE schools are built by the state and charter schools must often rent or buy theirs, reducing the amount of money they have to spend on each student.
Baker also said that the Legislature was "mindful of jobs and how we can grow the economy," passing a $400 million package of capital improvements to maintain Hawai'i's public buildings that have fallen into disrepair as a result of years of deferred maintenance. This rehabilitation effort was expected to generate 4,000 new jobs.
Baker and Fontaine also said that Hawai'i received $75 million as its share in the settlement of the national mortgage fraud case brought against the nation's largest banks. No Hawai'i banks were involved or charged in the lawsuit.
While the $75 million has yet to be allocated, Baker said the Legislature has made revisions in the foreclosure law passed in the previous session, making reforms that, among other things, establish only one foreclosure process in Hawai'i (judicial foreclosure), require that the attorney representing a lender attests that all the documents a lender has are actually true, establish a foreclosure hot-line in the Office of Consumer Protection, set mandatory fines for violating Hawai'i's foreclosure laws and clarify the AOAO foreclosure process for condominiums.
As they wrapped up the meeting, both Fontaine and Baker heralded the settlement of the ceded lands controversy that stretched back to 1978. The settlement gave the Office of Hawaiian Affairs 25 acres of land on O'ahu with an estimated value of $200 million. While strongly supporting the settlement, Fontaine said the package also addressed the settlement process for any future claims.