State briefs for February 24

Committee passes automatic voter registration

HONOLULU (AP) — A bill advanced Tuesday by the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee would automatically register to vote eligible U.S. citizens who apply for a driver’s license or state identification card, unless the individual declines to be registered.


Hawaii would be the latest state to adopt automatic voter registration if the measure becomes law. The National Conference of State Legislatures said 20 other states and the District of Columbia had already enacted similar laws as of January. Oregon was the first to do so, in 2016.

The Hawaii bill says officials would not process applications for an identification card or driver’s license until an applicant fills in a section related to voter registration. Officials would automatically send an applicant’s information to election officials unless the applicant specifically indicates he or she does not want to be registered to vote.

The seven members of the committee unanimously passed the legislation, which heads to the full Senate for consideration.

The State Office of Elections submitted testimony supporting the bill, saying it would increase access to voter registration. It would also help ensure the accuracy of voter registration rolls by sharing data between the driver’s license and ID database and the statewide voter registration system, the office said.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a good government group, said the measure would make voter registration rolls more accurate and secure by keeping them updated. It would increase the number of ballots mailed to people’s current, correct addresses and well as ensure the names on people’s ballots would match the names on their identification.

Affordable housing guide could include $1M homes

HONOLULU (AP) — Affordable housing guidelines set by a Hawaii state agency could rate two-bedroom homes costing $1 million as affordable for some households eligible for government-subsidized housing.

The guidelines established by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. were aimed at helping developers produce affordable housing.

There is little likelihood developers could produce and sell $1 million homes to satisfy an affordable-housing condition under state and county requirements typically tied to projects receiving zoning changes, development bonuses and fee waivers.

“These formulas get to be so crazy that they get to be above market price,” said Kenna StormoGipson, an analyst with the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center. “Their guidelines clearly need revamping.”

Household income, family size and interest rates are primarily used to compile annual housing affordability tables.

Similar formulas are used by Honolulu and the Hawaii Community Development Authority, a state agency regulating development in Honolulu’s Kakaako neighborhood, where some of Oahu’s priciest condominium towers have been built.

“The pricing of these homes is really based on what buyers value them at with all of the restrictions that are placed on them,” said Race Randle of Howard Hughes Corp., the developer of Ward Village in Kakaako.

The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. begins with federal data for Honolulu’s median household income, which was $101,600 last year. Median income is the figure at which half of all households earn more and half earn less.

State first to receive new warships

HONOLULU (AP) — A new class of U.S. Navy vessel is expected to be deployed for the first time in Hawaii as part of a sweeping force redesign.

The Light Amphibious Warship can pull onto beaches and costs between $100 million and $130 million.

The ships with lengths between 200 and 400 feet are part of a new U.S. Marine Corps Littoral Regiment, which will include troops with ship-killing missiles operating in small units from the islands dotting the Western Pacific.

The Light Amphibious Warships can carry 40 sailors and at least 75 Marines, with 4,000 to 8,000 square feet of cargo area and a minimum unrefueled range of 3,500 nautical miles, the Congressional Research Service said.

Littoral refers to operations around the shore, where equipment and personnel can be shifted from water to ground and back.

The Navy plans to operate 28 to 30 of the smaller amphibious ships, which are comparatively cheaper than a new destroyer costing more than $1.5 billion.

The number of the ships to be based in Hawaii and a possible site for practice landings remain unclear.

Marine Littoral Regiments may also operate in Guam and Japan as counterweights to China’s growing naval fleet.


Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said on Feb. 10 that a variety of assets including the new, smaller vessels will allow Marines to rapidly distribute what amounts to reinforced, platoon-size elements with a big impact.

“In the past you think, ‘Well, there’s 75 Marines in location X. They’re not a threat,’” Smith said. “If I can sink one of your $1.5 billion warships with a $1.5 million missile, I am a threat.”

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