State briefs for March 26

Measure funding prison oversight group advances

HONOLULU — The state House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs on Tuesday advanced a bill that would grant additional funds for an all-volunteer corrections oversight commission that was granted powers in 2019 but has not had enough money to hire staff.

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The oversight committee was formed two years ago to oversee the state Department of Public Safety. The committee has met monthly, but has no staff to conduct much of the work approved, including monitoring correctional facilities, investigating complaints and implementing reforms to the correctional system.

Gov. David Ige declined last year to fund the committee with an additional $330,000. This year, he did not include funding in the budget he submitted to the Legislature.

Ige said last month that he withheld the funds because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and that creating new programs “doesn’t really make a lot of sense right now, considering the state of the economy.”

A nationwide economic upturn and the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has allayed some concerns from state officials about the scope of the budget.

Honolulu to audit police overtime pay after violations

HONOLULU — The Honolulu City Council announced a plan to audit the city police department’s overtime costs after recent violations and a report that indicated substantial increases in overtime pay.

A recent Police Commission report found the department’s overtime costs almost doubled throughout a four-year period ending in 2019. The commission estimated that the department spent $38 million in overtime pay during the four-year time frame.

And late last year, 59 officers on the coronavirus enforcement team were flagged in an audit for overtime violations. At least 10 officers logged 200 or more hours of overtime throughout a five-week period. Records show two officers recorded more than 300 hours of overtime during that same time period.

Officers are supposed to be limited to 20 hours of overtime per week.

The report could take several months to finalize.

House passes budget bill

HONOLULU — The state House of Representatives passed a two-year budget for the state that avoids deep cuts to programs such as sex assault treatment and tuberculosis control.

The House on Wednesday approved the budget with yes votes from all 50 members present. The bill now goes to the Senate.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, lawmakers were looking at the possibility that an enormous budget deficit would necessitate dramatic spending cuts or tax increases. Since then, the economy has improved modestly and the federal government has supplied states with large pots of relief money.

The House budget doesn’t rely on funds from tax increases. It does include $1.6 billion from the Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief bill.

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The budget cut costs by eliminating vacant positions and merging or restructuring some government offices.

It also reduced the amount appropriated to the Department of Public Safety for a contract to house prisoners at a private prison in Arizona to encourage the department to keep more inmates in Hawaii.

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