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State briefs for November 26

Ethics fines issued to state DOE officials

HONOLULU — Three supervisors in the state Department of Education’s facilities maintenance branch were fined by the state Ethics Commission for misusing state employees for private construction projects.

The commission issued a fine of $11,000 against Scot Sueoka, the department’s general maintenance and services supervisor. Engineer William Gebhardt was fined $3,500 and administrator Francis Cheung was fined $750.

Sueoka hired department maintenance branch staff for construction work on his homes in Kailua and Pauoa on Oahu between 2013 and 2018.

Sueoka argued the work was done on weekends and not during the employees’ state work hours. He paid the market rate of about $300 dollars per day to the workers, who are all his friends, Sueoka said.

Sueoka thought the arrangement did not violate state ethics law but agreed to settle after the commission told him he faced fines of up to $143,000, he said.

One of his subordinates worked 20 days on each of those homes at no cost to Sueoka, the commission said.

An education department spokeswoman declined to comment.

UH seeks mental health, scholarship funds

HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii seeks additional funds for student mental health services, scholarships and other items in a new supplementary budget request.

The UH Board of Regents approved the fiscal year 2020-21 supplemental operating budget of about $28 million Thursday.

The request will be submitted to the state Legislature and Gov. David Ige.

The university requested $2.6 million to hire 19 psychologists for the 10-campus system.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has eight psychologists, UH-Hilo has three and the West Oahu campus has 1.75 positions, while each community college has one position, said Allyson Tanouye, who coordinates mental health throughout the university system.

“The national standard is one mental health professional per 1,000 to 1,500 students,” Tanouye said. “If we add the 19 positions we will be up to one per 1,500. That’s how low we are.”

The mental health funding would also expand programs to prevent suicide, reduce mental health stigma, provide peer education, and alert new students and parents to college transition challenges, officials said.

The largest item in the supplemental budget is $17.7 million to expand the Hawaii Promise Program scholarship to four-year state institutions. The university proposed a flat amount to cover tuition and fees of Hawaii residents qualifying for need-based federal Pell grants.

The request also covered staffing increases, including positions for operations and maintenance, security, educational and cultural programming, and student mentors.

Christmas trees dosed with gas to kill pests

HAGATNA, Guam — Christmas trees arriving by ship to Guam are getting decked out with a special decoration.

Guam’s Customs and Quarantine’s BioSecurity Task Force is filling containers of imported Christmas trees with odorless and colorless methyl bromide gas to kill potentially invasive species.

Customs agents treated six containers of more than 2,500 imported trees, wreaths and garlands and expected to treat another seven containers in coming weeks, officials said.

The Guam Invasive Species Council approved the Department of Agriculture’s fumigation policy in 2016 to prevent unwanted pests from impacting the island’s agriculture, natural resources or the homes of Christmas celebrants.

Each container will be released after a customs inspection to ensure the treatment works.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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