Charter amendment passes, constitutional amendments close

They’re tucked at the bottom and probably the least understood of everything on the ballot, but one change to the county charter passed and two changes to the state constitution were teetering on the edge Tuesday night.

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They’re tucked at the bottom and probably the least understood of everything on the ballot, but one change to the county charter passed and two changes to the state constitution were teetering on the edge Tuesday night.

The county charter amendment states the economic, environmental, and socio-cultural well-being and health of the people of the county must be taken into account when formulating the General Plan, the long-range planning document that sets what can be developed where. It passed 42,290-15,522, or 73.2 percent to 26.8 percent, with all 43 precincts reporting.

Supporters, including sponsor Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, say the language gives greater focus to how development is approved, by taking into account additional factors. It also gives greater voice to community development districts, which already take these factors into account.

Some opponents, including Planning Director Duane Kanuha, say the amendment won’t really do anything because the county already takes those factors into account. Others say the amendment is a move toward home rule, giving counties authority traditionally held by the state.

One proposed constitutional amendment would raise the value in dispute in a civil lawsuit in order to get a jury trial from $5,000 to $10,000. Proponents say it will lessen the burden on circuit courts for matters not involving large sums of money. It will also improve access to justice because bench trials at district courts cost less and dispose of matters more quickly.

Opponents say the measure robs state residents of their constitutional right to a trial before a jury of their peers and tells people that their rights are worth less because the amount in controversy is less. Only a handful of states limit jury trials, and only two states have higher threshold amounts than Hawaii.

The measure was in a virtual deadlock at 177,191-161,018 or 46.3 percent to 42.1 percent, with 242 of 247 precincts reporting. There must be at least 50 percent yes votes for the measure to pass, making this measure unlikely to pass.

The second change to the state constitution would allow two new uses for budget surpluses: prepayment of bond debt and prepayment of employee pensions and post-retirement benefits. It was leading 192,580-136,681, or 50.4 percent to 35.7 percent, with 242 of 247 precincts reporting.

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Supporters say the change will allow the state to pay down debt, creating long-term savings for taxpayers. The state Legislature ultimately decides where the money will be spent. Opponents worry there will be less money going into the state’s rainy day fund, and taxpayers would be less likely to get money back when there’s a budget surplus.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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