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State briefs for March 9

Council OKs legal fees for embattled Honolulu prosecutor

HONOLULU — The Honolulu City Council approved hiring a law firm to represent the city’s prosecutor against an impeachment effort launched when he became a target in a federal corruption investigation.

The council voted 5-2 Friday to pay up to $75,000 to represent Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro.

Kaneshiro is on paid leave after the state attorney general called for him to step down because he received a letter from the Justice Department informing him he’s an investigation target. He earns about $171,000 annually.

The investigation has resulted in indictments against former Kaneshiro deputy Katherine Kealoha, her husband and ex-Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and current and former officers.

The target letter prompted a businessman to file the impeachment petition against Kaneshiro. A court hearing on the petition is scheduled for Monday.

State auditor ends contract for audit of rail change orders

HONOLULU — The state auditor canceled a $700,000 contract with an outside accounting firm to examine change orders and other cost items of the 20-mile rail line under construction on Oahu.

The office terminated the contract with BKD LLP because it was not happy with the work, said state Auditor Les Kondo.

Kondo said he does not know if his office will rebid the contract, or if the state will try to recoup about $450,000 already spent on the contract. The office is consulting the state attorney general’s office about the matter, he said.

The auditor’s decision comes as state lawmakers are considering measures that would reduce the auditor’s oversight of the $9.2 billion rail project. The state House voted Tuesday to stop requiring the auditor to produce an annual review of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation documents.

Lawmakers previously instructed the auditor to provide annual reviews as part of a $2.4 billion state bailout of the project in 2017. They now are considering giving the responsibility to the state attorney general.

Report: Weather likely contributed to helicopter crash

HONOLULU — Wind, rain and darkness likely contributed to the helicopter crash that killed two people on Molokai, according to a report by federal investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its investigative report this week on the November 2016 crash that killed Honolulu attorney Gary Galiher, an experienced pilot who was flying the Hughes 396D that crashed, and real estate agent Keiko Kuroki.

Before Galliher left Honolulu, a mechanic advised him not to fly because of weather conditions, according to the report. Galiher insisted on flying.

Investigators found no evidence of a mechanical anomaly or malfunction that would have affected the helicopter’s flight.

Lawmakers pass automatic recount, voter registration

HONOLULU — State lawmakers passed several bills to make it easier to vote and boost confidence in elections.

In the state House, the measures include requiring automatic recounts when victory margins are exceptionally narrow, voting by mail throughout the state and automatic voter registration.

Another bill would use ranked-choice voting for special elections and partisan primary contests. The bills crossed over to the state Senate for consideration.

The state Senate also passed a voting by mail bill and an automatic recount measure. They crossed over to the House for consideration.

Lawmakers want to make it easier for everyone to vote, said Rep. Chris Lee, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Kailua, Oahu, Democrat said this is especially true in Hawaii, where voters have a low turnout rate. In November’s general election, 52.7 percent of Hawaii registered voters cast ballots.

Both the House and Senate automatic recount measures would require a mandatory recount of votes for a candidate or ballot measure when the margin of victory is equal to or less than 100 votes or 0.5 percent of the votes cast, whichever is greater.

Under the ranked choice voting system, voters rank candidates from best to worst. The candidate garnering a majority of first-place votes is the winner. If there’s no majority winner, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the losing candidate’s second-place votes are reallocated for another voting round.

The computerized tallies are repeated in a game of political survivor until someone captures a majority.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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