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Senate WAM Committee delves into priorities during recent site visit to Maui and Molokaʻi

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Members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means visited multiple venues on Maui and Molokaʻi over a three day period from July 26 to 28, 2023.

During the visit, they were met by state officials and community members who delivered presentations on their plans for a range of both Governor’s and Senate priorities, including economic and workforce development, investments in infrastructure, and the coalescing of a food innovation network. The group also discussed the future of Kahoʻolawe and Kalaupapa.

Ways and Means Committee Members, and representatives from the Department of Health, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and the National Park Service visit numerous sites at Kalaupapa to help inform a Kalaupapa Transition Plan. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

“The Ways and Means Committee takes seriously our commitment to ensuring that funds appropriated each session are being spent expeditiously and producing the intended results for the people of Hawaiʻi,” said Ways and Means Chair Senator Donovan Dela Cruz (District 17, portion of Mililani, Mililani Mauka, portion of Waipiʻo Acres, Laulani Valley, Wahiawā, Whitmore Village).  “On these site visits, we take the opportunity to learn, inquire, discuss, and determine how best to push forward vital initiatives that will need our legislative support and State resources.”

The schedule featured vigorous discussions that gave Senators an opportunity to convene Cabinet members and private sector leaders to learn more about the status of critical and urgent statewide and regional initiatives, according to a Hawaiʻi State Senate recap.

Senator Lynn DeCoite discussing the challenges of addressing the axis deer crisis in Maui County. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate

Senator Lynn DeCoite (District 7, Hāna, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Molokini) shared her thoughts on the importance of participating in the Ways and Means site visits saying, “I am grateful to Chair Dela Cruz and Members of the Hawaiʻi Senate Ways and Means Committee for taking the time to come to Maui, topside Moloka’i, and Kalaupapa peninsula to look and learn about State programs and projects.”

“Getting to see the projects in person and having active conversations help us better understand the needs of our communities, especially those on the neighbor islands and in rural areas.  I am especially thankful for the members who came to Moloka’i, experiencing our only airline transportation option firsthand, while also seeing the beauty and culture of the friendly isle,” said Sen. DeCoite.

A National Park Service Officer explains to Senator DeCoite and Senator Dela Cruz the difficulty of maintaining the over two hundred structures in Kalaupapa. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

Creating an Ecosystem for Food Innovation


Representatives from Maui Nui Venison, the Department of Education, the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Food Innovation Center, and the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism provided the Committee with insights and plans for how each of their programs, businesses and agencies are attempting to cultivate components of a new statewide food and product innovation network led by the Agribusiness Development Corporation.

Samplings of value-added products created through the UH Maui College Food Innovation Program. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

“With resources and support from the Legislature, various stakeholders will contribute to the build-out of a food and value-added product ecosystem to increase Made-in-Hawaiʻi exports and food security, while decreasing food imports by providing the infrastructure, facilities, and support services to process and consume locally grown agricultural goods,” according to a Senate WAM Committee recap.

Senators say these efforts compliment the vision of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands  Chair, Kali Watson, who plans to provide subsistence agricultural homestead lots.

“The Senate wants to ensure that an ecosystem approach is being implemented by the executive departments so that the benefit of collective efforts can be realized and will move the State closer to achieving its goal of doubling food production,” according to a Senate news release.

Future needs identified by stakeholders to grow the value-added product industry include a metabolic lab for nutrition testing, establishing career pathways for food science, and aggregating produce from local farmers to generate economies of scale.

A visit to Maui Nui Venison to see its value-add production and workforce housing facilities. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate

Workforce housing and preschools being developed


Preschool expansion and housing plans were shared by Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke, representatives from the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation , the Department of Accounting and General Services, and the Transit-Oriented Development  Council.

Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke and Legislators celebrating with keiki on the opening of a Pre-K classroom at Wailuku Elementary School. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

Ways and Means members and department heads discussed timelines, deliverables, and the urgency in which to execute proposed plans for the Kahului Civic Center Mixed-Use Complex as well as the purchase of the Haggai Institute property by the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation. 

“The members expressed great concern that the Kahului Civic Center Plan timeline is moving slower than anticipated and that hurdles around historic preservation were not being addressed in a timely fashion,” according to a Senate WAM recap.

This past session, the Legislature appropriated $45 million to the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation, which intends to purchase and lease the Haggai Institute to Maui County to provide early learning classrooms and workforce housing. 

“A discussion on the intended use of the facility became a point of contention as Ways and Means members questioned the proposed program and service uses that were not legislatively approved,” according to the Senate news release.   

Hawaiʻi Housing Finance Development Corporation meets with Ways and Mean members to discuss the impending purchase of the Haggai Institute for workforce housing and early learning classrooms. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

The Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation will meet with County officials to revisit the Session Law and statutory mandates to update the plan accordingly.  The Committee reinforced the need for Maui County to articulate a plan to execute the proposed programs and services prior to  the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation’s acquisition of the facility.

The Committee also urged stakeholders to utilize the Governor’s July 17, 2023, Emergency Proclamation Relating to Housing and to work with the Governor to amend the Proclamation to help overcome hurdles in both housing projects.

“The opportunity to leverage the Haggai Institute is a big win for Maui. This acquisition increases our ability to provide essential and affordable workforce housing to the region while assisting the State to meet our goal of increasing pre-k classrooms. There is a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to close out this purchase and we’re depending on our County partners to help us get this done,” said Senator Angus McKelvey, (District 6, West Maui, Mā‘alaea, Waikapū, South Maui).

Creating a Foundation for Hawaiian Self-Determination

Hawaiian community priorities were also identified as a focus of the Maui County site visits, taking the members from Maui to Molokaʻi and ending in Kalaupapa. 

Chair Watson provided a progress report on the historic $600 million appropriation in 2022, with the encumbrance of the $200 million in Fiscal Year 2023 and the remaining $400 million expected by the end of Fiscal Year 2024 for homestead and infrastructure development statewide.

Chair Kali Watson breaks down the various DHHL projects and housing product mix being deployed statewide. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

Chair Watson accompanied the members to Kalaupapa, where in-depth discussions regarding the future transition of Kalaupapa were had between the Ways and Means Committee, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Department of Health, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the US National Park Service.

A National Park Service Ranger explains to Senator Moriwaki and Senator Shimabukuro the various conservation efforts at Kalaupapa. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

The Kalaupapa Transition Interagency Working Group will convene on Aug. 11 to discuss issues identified, including the preservation and maintenance of the over 200 structures, and the current and future governance for the County of Kalawao.

Senator Michelle Kidani, Director of Health Dr. Kenneth Fink, Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Kali Watson, and Deputy Director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Laura Ka’akua discussing the site selection for a Kalaupapa Memorial. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

While on Maui, Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs provided an update on the working group responsible for determining the Public Land Trust Inventory and the current  focus of the office.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Hulu Lindsey shares her thoughts about OHA’s role in the Kaho’olawe Island transfer. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

Michael Nahoʻopiʻi, Executive Director for the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, provided a comprehensive overview and request for funding for a proposed Kahoʻolawe education and operations center. He also presented a sovereignty transfer action plan for the island of Kahoʻolawe upon the federal recognition as a Hawaiian sovereign entity. 

Michael Naho’opi’i sharing about the various Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission programs and a vision for a new visitor and operations center. PC: Hawaiʻi State Senate.

Committee members shared with Office of Hawaiian Affairs leaders their thoughts “on the gravity and sense of urgency” for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to lead efforts in addressing self-determination and negotiating not just the current 20% Public Land Trust proceeds, but to also include any future claims against the state as well.

“This is an exciting and important time for the Hawaiian community as the State engages with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on determining the return and compensation of highly valued and sacred lands, waters, and other cultural and natural resource assets. These resource negotiations, transition discussions, and planning efforts are setting the path for a prosperous and thriving future for a Hawaiian nation when one becomes formalized,” said Senator Dela Cruz.

“The State’s Energy Future Must Have a Firm Plan of Action”

Mark Glick, Chief Energy Officer of the Hawaiʻi State Office of Energy, and Leo Asuncion, Chair of the Public Utilities Commission, presented a plan to meet the State’s 2045 100% Renewable Portfolio Standards mandate.

South Maui Renewables Resources, Construction racking. PC: Hawaiian Electric Company, Maui

The plan faced scrutiny by the Committee, as it was primarily derived by Hawaiian Electric rather than driven by the State Energy Office. 

At the request of the Ways and Means Committee, there will be a follow up presentation and discussion at the Ways and Means Hawaiʻi Island site visit at the end of August to allow more time for the  State Energy Office to craft a plan inclusive of State priorities, such as the diversification of our energy portfolio and commitment to firm energy to ensure energy resilience, and developing a clean energy workforce to help reverse the out-migration of Hawaiʻi’s residents.

“Unclogging Hawai’i’s Brain Drain”

A major underpinning for many of the site visits was the increased need for Hawaiʻi P-20, the  State Department of Education, and the University of Hawaiʻi Community College’s to work more closely with the state executive departments to address the “continuously growing brain drain” from Hawaiʻi, according to the Senate release.

With more than $63 million in state general funds earmarked for career and technical education, Ways and Means committee members called for a more urgent and focused effort to develop and implement “comprehensive and aligned” career technical education pathway programs, certification and licensure training, upskilling and internships for essential industries in Hawaiʻi.

This includes pathways in law enforcement, healthcare, transportation, education, construction, agriculture and the food service industry.

These discussions to address the state’s workforce needs will continue during the Committee’s site visit to Hawaiʻi Island.

“It is always a good thing for our O‘ahu and neighbor island colleagues to see in person how state funding is being used on our county’s islands – Maui, Moloka‘i, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe – including how projects like our CNA and LPN programs at UH Maui College can really make a difference for our health providers and workforce, not just locally, but statewide,” said Ways and Means Vice-Chair Senator Gil Keith-Agaran (District 5, Wailuku, Kahului, Waiheʻe, Waikapu, Mauka, Waiʻehu).

“Senator DeCoite, Senator McKelvey, and I will need their support as we advocate to expand some of these projects, so showing the success of how our state workers are collaborating with local businesses and communities, and the potential for even broader improvements in people’s lives, is key,” said Sen. Keith-Agaran.

Site visits across Oʻahu were conducted throughout the legislative interim. The Committee will visit Hawai‘i island in August and Kaua‘i in September in preparation for the 2024 legislative session.


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