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Hawaii Senate approves public land agency repeal

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hawaii House Majority Leader Scott Saiki says it is highly likely that his chamber will agree to a bill that would dissolve the state's Public Land Development Corp., bringing the widely disliked agency one step closer to its demise.

Opponents of the state land agency have been clamoring for its repeal since the first day of the legislative session in January when they protested at the state Capitol.

The state land agency was created in 2011 to raise revenue by developing unused state lands through public-private partnerships. But the agency has been widely criticized for its power to override county permitting and zoning rules.

Opponents fear that the agency's power could lead to unbridled development and ignore the wishes of local communities. They also say that it was established without enough public input.

Both the state House and Senate voted earlier this session to abolish the agency in response to the overwhelming criticism, but disagreed on the details.

The Senate originally wanted to keep the agency's three staff members by transferring them to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, but the House objected.

The Senate voted Tuesday to adopt a draft of the repeal that gets rid of the agency and conforms to the House version.

Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, says the bill is a "clean repeal" that doesn't have substantive differences with the House draft. There are some minor changes such as the addition of a section explaining why the law is necessary.

The House is expected to vote on the measure Thursday. Approval would clear for the way for it to be sent to the governor without further debate.

If the House disagrees, the bill could be sent to a committee made up of both senators and representatives for further debate.

Critics of the land agency fear that the legislation could stall while in conference committee or be substantially weakened.

Opponents also say that it was established without enough public input. They say that abolishing the organization entirely is the only way to restore public trust.