State briefs for February 10

Computer system causes unemployment payment delays

HONOLULU (AP) — An outdated computer system used by the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has caused delays in processing jobless benefit claims.

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Congress extended benefits in late December because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many Hawaii residents have gone more than a month without unemployment payments, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

Officials said a major reason for the delay is former-President Donald Trump’s failure to sign a benefits extension into law until after the previous programs expired, causing states to halt payments to claimants who used up their benefits.

But Hawaii labor department Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio said there are also serious challenges with the agency’s technology.

The department has had problems finding software technicians who can build an upgrade that handles the latest federal extension, Perreira-Eustaquio said

“We don’t have programmers who actually understand the computer language used to program this application,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.

The department’s information technology infrastructure is so old that rushing the work could crash the entire system, causing payment delays for more claimants, she said.

It is not clear exactly how many Hawaii residents have been affected, but the figure likely is several thousand.

Ige reduces budget cut for public schools

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that coronavirus relief aid from the U.S. government and better-than-expected tax revenues have prompted him to reduce the size of budget cuts he has proposed for public schools.

Instead of a 10% cut to the state Department of Education budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Ige instead said he would propose a 2.5% reduction.

“That represents an increase to the department of $123 million dollars that we’ve asked them to put back into the classroom,” Ige said.

Hawaii tax revenues have declined sharply as the flow of tourists to the islands plummeted during the pandemic.

The coronavirus relief package Congress passed in December helped the state with its inclusion of about $200 million for Hawaii schools.

Tourism revenue also increased modestly after the state allowed travelers to skip quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 before they get on a plane for Hawaii. This caused the Council on Revenues, which predicts tax income on behalf of the state, to revise its revenue forecasts higher in January.

Still, Ige said general fund tax revenues for the first seven months of the current fiscal year were down 9.4%.

Erosion bills would regulate property defenses

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii lawmakers are considering bills that could force oceanfront property owners to remove sandbags and heavy tarps that can significantly contribute to coastal erosion.

Dozens of owners along Hawaii beaches have used loopholes in environmental laws to leave emergency measures in place for extended periods to protect homes, hotels and condominiums. Under proposed legislation in the current session, owners would face strict deadlines for removing protections and increased penalties for installing them without permission.

House and Senate bills set a hard deadline of three years for removing current and newly authorized emergency protections.

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A bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Chris Lee increases fines for homeowners and contractors who install structures without state permission.

Owners and builders could both be fined up to $25,000 for each day that an illegal structure remains on the public shoreline, up from the current maximum fine of $15,000.

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