State briefs for March 4

School building agency could be exempted from laws

HONOLULU (AP) — A proposal to create a new Hawaii state agency to build and renovate public schools is moving forward despite concerns the agency would be exempt from many legal safeguards.

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The School Facilities Agency would be responsible for development, planning and construction of capital improvement projects at public schools, taking over that work from the Department of Education.

The agency would be exempt from all county ordinances — except building codes — and from state laws focusing on historic preservation, environmental protection, budgeting, and civil service.

The facilities agency would also be exempt from parts of the procurement code and the Sunshine Law, which governs how state and county board conduct official business.

The agency would be allowed to make and execute contracts, acquire or condemn property, construct or reconstruct any project, hold title, sell, lease, and dispose of any project. It could also issue its own bond financing and enter into public-private partnerships.

The governor would appoint the agency’s executive director and five members of an advisory School Facilities Board, which would also include the schools superintendent and a Board of Education representative.

Proponents see the agency as a way to expedite building modern schools and redeveloping old properties without bureaucratic delay.

The bill is poised for passage by the full Senate and has broad support in the House, with 45 of 51 representatives listed as sponsors of a companion measure.

The proposal also received backing from Democratic Gov. David Ige and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Bank of Hawaii, Hui for Excellence in Education, Pacific Resource Partnership, and Aloha United Way.

The proposal came as a surprise to schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and has raised concerns from the State Procurement Office, the Budget and Finance Department, public worker unions, and watchdog organizations.

Kishimoto said neither she nor the Board of Education was included in developing the proposal.

“Anything that happens with the public education system needs to include its chief educational officer,” Kishimoto said. “Otherwise you undermine the public educational system as author of its design and its innovation, and you undermine the kids, families and communities.”

Bill would end short-term Molokai rentals

HONOLULU (AP) — Molokai could become the first island in Hawaii where new short-term vacation rentals are banned and old ones are phased out.

The Maui County Council approved a measure last month to place a zero cap on short-term rentals on Molokai, meaning none would be allowed and existing operations would be eliminated within three months, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

The bill is awaiting the signature of Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino.

Maui planners are also considering a ban on vacation rentals throughout the county.

Maui County experienced a 27.2% increased in vacation rentals in January compared to the same period last year, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The county already has caps on short-term vacation rentals in place for specific areas, ranging from five in Maui Meadows to 100 in Kihei and Makena.

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“This is something that the Molokai community has been asking for a number of years now,” said Maui County Councilwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who introduced the Molokai bill.

Short-term rental owners could apply for bed-and-breakfast licenses, but would have to live on the properties, Rawlins-Fernandez said.

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