Sunday, April 20, 2008

Legislators ordered audit of Superferry

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By Derrick DePledge and Treena Shapiro

Tomorrow is the 54th day of the 60-day session.

The state auditor has released a report that said the state may have compromised its environmental policy under pressure from Hawaii Superferry executives concerned about financing for the interisland ferry project.

The auditor, in a report released Thursday, found that an internal deadline by Superferry for financing for ship construction "drove the process" and led the state Department of Transportation to bypass an environmental review.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that the state was wrong to exempt the project from an environmental review, which led to public protests and legal challenges that halted ferry service.

State lawmakers approved a bill in special session last year allowing ferry service to resume while the state conducts an environmental impact statement. Lawmakers ordered the audit, however, to review the Lingle administration’s decision-making on the project.

The auditor urged lawmakers to improve the state’s environmental review law through better enforcement and five-year updates of permissible exemptions.

A second phase of the audit is expected to be released later this year.

  • Judicial retirement age: State House and Senate leaders have abandoned a proposed constitutional amendment to extend the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 80 years old.

    Voters in 2006 rejected lifting the mandatory retirement age entirely, but lawmakers wanted to consider alternatives. Gov. Linda Lingle called it an attempt to limit her ability to replace state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon, who reaches mandatory retirement age in 2010.

    The House Judiciary Committee had amended the proposal to make it apply to judges appointed after November as a compromise. But lawmakers said interest in the issue had waned.

  • Former Aloha Airlines workers: Lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would provide temporary healthcare coverage to the children of Aloha Airlines workers who lost their jobs and benefits when the interisland carrier closed its passenger service.

    The children would be eligible for basic healthcare through the end of the year from a new pilot program by the state Department of Human Services and the Hawaii Medical Service Association. The program is meant to serve so-called gap children who do not qualify for Quest, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, and who do not have private insurance.

    The proposal could also help Aloha workers who are purchasing insurance through COBRA, the federal healthcare extension program, by allowing them to to save money by removing their children from COBRA coverage.


    "Fundamentally, we do not believe it is appropriate or fair to the employee to remove his or her right to a secret ballot in determining their representation by a labor organization."

    — Vicky Cayetano, president and chief executive officer of United Laundry Services Inc., and wife of former Gov. Ben Cayetano, in a letter supporting Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto of a bill that would recognize union representation if a majority of workers at a company sign union cards.

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