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2022 could be a big year for Native Hawaiian issues at the Capitol. Here are the measures to know

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi

With just four weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, 2022 is potentially shaping up to be a big year for Native Hawaiian issues at the Capitol. Hawaiʻi lawmakers have advanced measures aimed at fixing long-standing issues from the mismanagement of Maunakea to adequate funding of Native Hawaiian-serving state agencies.

Legislators kicked off this session with a pledge to provide $600 million to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. House Bill 2511, which passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee Friday, would help develop nearly 3,000 new homestead lots statewide.

“It’s clearly a significant gesture on behalf of the state to address the waiting list, but the total waitlist list is over 28,000 Native Hawaiians. So while this is going to take a big chunk off the waiting list, there’s still a lot of work to do,” said DHHL spokesperson Cedric Duarte. “What this program needs is a consistent source of funding so that we can plan to develop those lots into the future.”

Duarte is hopeful the bill will be approved by the full Senate, and that any disagreements between the two chambers can be hashed out in conference committee.

That may also be the case for the latest version of the Maunakea authority proposal. House Bill 2024, which initially aimed to remove the University of Hawaiʻi and give Hawaiians more of a say in the management of Maunakea, was amended Friday to maintain UH’s authority over part of the mauna.

“The new authority will manage approximately 9,450 acres on the mountain, while the university will manage the astronomy research lands including the Astronomy Precinct, Hale Pohaku, and the Maunakea Access Road or approximately 550 acres," said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Both the Maunakea and DHHL measures must pass a Senate floor vote by April 14.

Senate Bill 2021, which would settle a decades-old dispute over the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ share of public land trust revenue, is the only measure that survived crossover to the House. SB 2021 increased OHA’s share of public land trust revenue from $15.1 million to $21.5 million and now awaits a floor vote in the House.

Less high-profile legislative efforts were made to revive traditional Hawaiian place names like Kaʻawaloa in South Kona on Hawaiʻi Island and Pāʻulaʻula in Waimea, Kauaʻi.

Lawmakers also approved bills to perpetuate cultural traditions like taro farming and ancient burial practices.

There’s no guarantee these proposals will survive the next four weeks in their current form, if at all. According to the Legislative Research Bureau, on average, only about 10% of the few thousand bills introduced each session make it through the Hawaiʻi State Legislature.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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