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Over $1B was appropriated for Native Hawaiians last year. Now it needs to be used

Lynn DeCoite.jpg
Sen. Lynn DeCoite
Sen. Lynn DeCoite speaking about Senate Bill 3338, relating to the appropriation of $5 million for Kalaupapa Memorial on Molokaʻi, on June 20, 2022.

Last year’s legislative session shaped up to be a big year for Native Hawaiian issues at the capitol, with more than $1 billion appropriated to Native Hawaiian projects and initiatives.

This year, members of the Native Hawaiian Legislative Caucus are focused on making it easier for the recipients of that money to spend it.

Legislators were told last week the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands would need more time to spend a portion of the $600 million it received from lawmakers last year, and that the department may even deviate from the original plan put forth by the prior administration.

Lawmakers appeared frustrated by the news, including Majority Floor Leader Sen. Lynn DeCoite of Maui.

"What I’m saying is that you guys get the $600 million. You have sufficient funds to address that now because you’re asking for an extension of those funds," she said when referring to the caucus. "You guys should have been able to burn those funds down really fast based on the priorities set by beneficiary consultation. So why haven’t you guys done that?"

Rep. Daniel Holt, Co-Chair of the Native Hawaiian Affairs Caucus, said caucus members have approved several legislative fixes to help DHHL streamline development.

"One of the bills has a bunch of different components in it — including exempting them from the general excise tax and the school impact fee requirements," Holt said. "You know whatever we can do to make these developments more affordable for our homesteaders."

Other proposals from Holt's group include more funding for the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, as well as the creation of an Office of Native Hawaiian Health within the state Department of Health.

There are also about a dozen or so proposals coming from the Senate Native Hawaiian Caucus seeking to address everything from protecting Hawaiian burials from coastal erosion to having the state Department of Land and Natural Resources help with restocking Hawaiian fishponds.

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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