Native Hawaiian groups call passage of land lease extension bill ‘disappointing’

Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 3:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Native Hawaiian organizations say they are disappointed that a controversial land lease bill passed final readings in the state House and Senate on Tuesday.

The measure will now go to the governor’s desk.

HB499 paves the way for extensions of resorts, commercial, industrial government and mixed-use leases. It gives the Board of Land and Natural Resources authority to tack on an extra 40 years onto already existing 65-year leases, under several conditions.

[Read the original report: Despite opposition, bill that would allow 99-year leases of public lands poised for approval]

During the legislative session, Native Hawaiian groups including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Ka Lahui Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation came out in opposition of the bill. They rallied Native Hawaiians and land experts to submit testimony against the bill.

Despite the overwhelming opposition, the bill survived to the disappointment of opponents.

“The fact that they ignored the voices of the public, of the beneficiaries, of the various legal experts ... I feel that it was a pre-determined process in terms of, they already knew they wanted to pass this bill,” Healani Sonoda-Pale of Ka Lahui Hawaii said.

Lawmakers like Hawaii Island Sen. Lorraine Inouye said the bill aims to provide economic security for businesses and the community, ensuring their presence for years to come.

However, Native Hawaiians have felt cut off from their rights to ceded lands, and feel this bill further alienates them from land accessibility and ownership.

They also called on lawmakers to pay more attention to written and video testimony in light of COVID restrictions limiting in-person interaction with lawmakers.

“It’s disappointing definitely, but we are just very grateful for the Senators and the Representatives that voted the right way and made the right decision, not just for Kanaka Maoli, but for the public and for the environment,” Sonoda-Pale added.

Opponents say they will continue to challenge the bill as it now heads to Gov. Ige for consideration.

“It’s now in the governor’s hands. We have to look at what he’s going to do and we need to encourage our lahui to reach out to him to help to stop this measure,” Sonoda-Pale said.

Despite their efforts, Ka Lahui Hawaii sees a bright side to their political actions.

“We never see anything like this as a total loss, because in the process of trying to stop this measure, hopefully we have educated the lahui on how important it is to stay engaged. How important it is for our young people to step up to the plate and run for office so that they can advocate on behalf of our people,” Sonoda-Pale said.

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