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PLDC repeal clears last hurdle in Hawaii House

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- The Hawaii House voted unanimously Monday to get rid of the highly disliked Public Land Development Corp., ending legislative debate on the agency that sparked a groundswell of public protest because of its broad power to develop state land.

The House approval of the Senate version of the bill is the final step needed to push the proposal out of the Legislature.

The measure now goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who can decide whether to sign, ignore or veto it. Abercrombie has previously said he is willing to consider repealing the agency, although he initially advocated amending the organization rather than abolishing it.

The PLDC was created in 2011 with the goal of raising state revenue by developing state land through private-public partnerships. But it became a symbol of government overreach and an object of protest as local community organizations became aware of the implications of its broad power, setting off a firestorm of criticism.

County leaders and environmentalists denounced the bill for its ability to override county zoning and permitting laws.

Donna Wong, executive director of Hawaii's Thousand Friends, an organization focused on water and land use, said the breadth of the agency's potential impact helped lead to widespread community outrage. The agency affected everyone from hunters to real estate brokers to the Native Hawaiian community, she said.

"It's a big win," she said of Monday's vote. "And it does go a long way to restoring faith that those elected by the people are listening to the people."

Lawmakers said on the floor Monday that they hoped the vote will help restore public trust in the legislative system. Critics of the land agency say it was created through a process that lacked adequate public input and transparency and exposed the flaws in the political system.

Rep. Cindy Evans, a Democrat and chairwoman of the House Water and Land Committee, said the vote shows lawmakers' commitment to ethical management of Hawaii's natural resources.

The agency created in 2011 was a well-intentioned effort to raise revenue, but its exemptions went too far, she said.

Rep. Gene Ward, a Republican, cautioned that the "DNA of the PLDC lives on" in other bills. He has been critical of proposals he says are similar to the PLDC, including one to allow public-private partnerships to develop of public school lands.