StarAdvertiser: Hawaii Supreme Court rules for state in DHHL dispute

Hawaii Supreme Court rules for state in DHHL dispute

The 4-1 majority opinion is the latest court ruling for a lawsuit filed in 2007 by six Hawaiian Home Lands trust beneficiaries who claimed that the state Legislature was not fulfilling its constitutionally mandated responsibility to adequately fund the department. The lawsuit also claimed DHHL was not fulfilling its duty by not securing the required funding from the Legislature.

The majority said in its opinion that when the 1978 delegates approved a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to make sufficient sums available for the administration and operating budget of DHHL, they estimated that the annual cost at that time was between $1.3 million and $1.6 million. They said the delegates also said the budget could then be adjusted for inflation.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Michael Wilson said the 1978 estimate is the minimum the state should be providing and that adjustments also should include collective bargaining and other factors.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said the state Legislature provided DHHL $23.9 million this year, and House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said lawmakers do not intend to reduce that amount.

“The Legislature supports DHHL and its mandate to provide housing for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries,” Saiki said.

Gov. David Ige is requesting $25.1 million for DHHL for next year because, he said, “the funding is needed to fulfill the department’s mission.”

In 2015 state Circuit Judge Jeannette Castagnetti ruled that the Legislature was constitutionally obligated to appropriate more than $28 million annually for DHHL, taking into account inflation and other factors. The department’s budget at that time was $9.6 million.

The state Attorney General’s Office said the state administration and Legislature estimated that $1.6 million in 1978 was equal to $5.8 million at the time Castagnetti made her original ruling. Castagnetti later amended her order eliminating the $28 million figure.

Friday’s Supreme Court opinion sends the case back to Castagnetti to calculate the inflation-adjusted 1978 estimates.

No one from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents the beneficiaries suing the state, responded to a request for comment.