Hawaii House votes to repeal public land agency


By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER

Associated Press

HONOLULU — Members of the state House of Representatives unanimously voted Thursday to repeal Hawaii’s heavily criticized state land development agency.

“This really is a victory for the people of Hawaii,” said Rep. Cynthia Thielen, one of several lawmakers who spoke in support of abolishing the agency.

The organization was established two years ago to develop state land through public-private partnerships.

But it has remained a contentious subject since. Calls to get rid of the agency have dogged lawmakers since the opening day of the legislative session, when protesters waved anti-PLDC signs just outside the House and Senate chambers.

Some of the loudest opposition has come from county leaders and environmental groups. Many say they are angry about the organization’s overriding power to disregard county zoning and permitting laws.

House Speaker Joseph Souki told reporters after Thursday’s session that in retrospect, the bill creating the land agency two years ago should never have passed.

“We all make mistakes,” Souki said. “And it was a mistake.”

The bill to repeal the agency now goes to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria says he doesn’t know whether the Senate is likely to back a full repeal.

“It’s still early in the game,” he told The Associated Press. “We’re not even close to being done with legislating for this session.”

He says he hopes that a compromise can be reached that doesn’t lose sight of the agency’s original purpose — to generate revenue for the state.

“If you look back at the intent, then you can get past the hysteria,” he said.

But Cindy Evans, chairwoman of the House Committee on Water and Land, said it became clear at the public hearing last Saturday that the community won’t be satisfied with anything less than a full repeal.

“Overwhelmingly people said, ‘You can try as hard as you want to fix it, but the reality is we don’t trust what’s going on. You just have to wipe it out,’” Evans told lawmakers during Thursday’s session.

She said she supports the original idea of the land agency, but the erosion of public trust needs to be addressed.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposal to reform, rather than abolish the agency, failed in the House earlier this week.

County leaders have been calling for a repeal of the agency since last fall. They say the corporation impedes on their right to home rule.

 

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