In Hawaii, a new bill allows the Board of Land and Natural Resources the power to extend leases of public lands by 40 years over the opposition of Native Hawaiians. The full House and Senate will vote on the proposal Tuesday.
House Bill 499 comes on top of 65-year maximum leases. The bill has faced opposition from the Native Hawaiian community. Native Hawaiians have had concerns that extending the public land leases an extra four decades strips them of their land rights. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation have also opposed the proposal.
“Public concern over this bill is understandable because you have to look at the fact of the bill, and that is, it alienates these public lands out of the public land trust,” Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation’s Director of Litigation David Kauila Kopper told Hawaii News Now. “Regardless of the intent, it sends a message to the public, it sends a message to Native Hawaiians that their claims to those lands, their interests and the history surrounding these lands do not matter.”
Supporters of the bill, such as Senator Lorraine Inouye, chair of the Water and Land Committe, said the economic benefit of lease extensions outweigh the concerns. “The lands that we talk about are already occupied. So these are all extensions of leases. And so, are you gonna tear down a mall? Or tear down or get rid of those industrial leases that provide the benefits to the people? The auto shops, the lumber yards?” said Sen. Inouye.
Despite an overwhelming amount of opposition, lawmakers have advanced the measure through a legislative session. The bill has passed committee conferences and is expected to be adopted.
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