By Jim Dooley | Hawaii Reporter
The Department of Land and Natural Resources violated state law by advocating passage of a constitutional amendment on the November 6 General Election ballot, Hawaii’s Acting Attorney General Russell Suzuki said.
The proposed amendment, which was narrowly rejected by voters, concerned repairs to agricultural dams and reservoirs. DLNR paid for newspaper ads that recommended a “yes” vote on the measure.
“We have advised the DLNR that while it is appropriate to expend moneys…to educate the public about dam safety, it is not appropriate to advocate that the public should vote “Yes” on Constitutional Amendment No.1,” Suzuki wrote in a letter yesterday.
The Hawaii Supreme Court established that precedent five years ago in a case that challenged a similar ballot advocacy effort by Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle during the 2004 general election.
That ruling drew a distinction between providing educational information about a ballot issue and “blatant advocacy” for or against it.
“The DLNR believed it was properly exercising its authority under (state law) to disseminate information to the public regarding dam safety,” Suzuki’s letter said.
But the effort was improper because it advocated passage of the amendment, Suzuki said.
“We are satisfied that the DLNR’s actions were the result of a mistake with no evidence…of criminal intent,” Suzuki wrote.
The proposed amendment would have allowed owners of dams and reservoirs to pay for repairs with the proceeds of special purpose revenue bonds.
The bonds would have been issued though the state, but the owners would have been liable for repaying them.
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