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Funding state claims bill advances

HILO, Hawai‘i — The House Committee on Finance on Thursday passed an appropriations bill to cover payments for claims against the state, its officers and employees.

The vote was 13-0, with three lawmakers excused. The measure, House Bill 2340, will go to a final floor vote before possible passage over to the Senate.

It’s part of Gov. Josh Green’s legislative package and contains 29 claims for a total slightly over $13.4 million.

Three are big-ticket claims from Hawai‘i Island.

The first is for $1.25 million to settle a claim by a Hilo woman, who was raped on a Hilo beach when she was a teenager by a Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) enforcement officer.

The victim, now an adult, was 16 on New Year’s Day 2016 when Ethan Ferguson sexually assaulted her at Lalakea Beach Park in Keaukaha.

A jury on Feb. 22, 2017, took less than three hours to convict Ferguson, then 40, of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2017.

The victim sued Ferguson and the state in December 2017, accusing the DLNR of negligent hiring, retention and/or supervision of Ferguson, and negligent infliction of emotional trauma. The lawsuit was settled last year.

According to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Ferguson, who was fired by DLNR, was paroled on Oct. 17, 2023.

The Tribune-Herald doesn’t identity victims of sexual assault unless they decide to go public.

The second claim is for $360,000 for the Hawai‘i Fire Department (HFD), which requested reissuance of an outdated check that was misplaced or lost. The legislative claim was filed with the state attorney general within six years from the date on which the claim for payment matured, as required by law.

HFD Chief Kazuo Todd called the requested funds a “part of reimbursement packages, because we run various functions for the state.”

Todd said when he became chief, succeeding Darren Rosario, he brought in a new accountant for the department.

“She essentially audited our previous paperwork and noted there were some inconsistencies, and then realized that in the normal governmental processes, things just hadn’t been filed properly, and checks hadn’t been sent in for cashing,” Todd said.

Todd said by the time the check was located, it was beyond the date the bank would accept and cash it.

According to Todd, it took about 18 months to go through the process of requesting reimbursement for the money Todd said HFD already “spent on behalf of” the state.

Todd said the money will actually go to the county Department of Finance. He praised the department’s accountant, as well as former Finance Director Deanna Sako and Mayor Mitch Roth for their roles in helping him bring HFD’s finances up to date.

Todd also said the lapse in receiving the funds has had no effect on services provided to the public by HFD.

The third claim is for $125,000 for Patrick Mitchell, who was seriously injured in a collision with a pickup truck in Kailua-Kona.

According to the bill, on May 20, 2018, Mitchell was riding his bicycle north on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, approaching Honokohau Street. The pickup truck driver was making a left turn from Honokohau Street onto the highway southbound.

As Mitchell approached the intersection, the truck driver accelerated from the stop line into Mitchell’s path. Mitchell and his bicycle impacted the driver’s side rear door of the truck.

Mitchell sued the state Department of Transportation and contractor Goodfellow Bros. Inc.

The contractor was widening the intersection and was responsible for managing traffic control during construction.

Although the driver was found to be primarily at fault, and although the elimination of left turns at the intersection during construction wasn’t mandated by standards or guidelines, it was found there was a risk the state and Goodfellow Bros. would be found liable for the driver’s share of fault.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 3029, passed both the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee and a second Senate floor vote. It hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing before the Ways and Means Committee.

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Reporter John Burnett can be reached at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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