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Hawaii Supreme Court tosses out state reapportionment plan

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday, Jan. 4 ruled the reapportionment maps offered up by a state commission are ‘constitutionally invalid’ and ordered the commission to resubmit a plan that includes only permanent residents.

The ruling may result in an additional – or fourth – state Senate seat for the Big Island, as well as state House of Representative seats for the Big Island and Maui.

In its two-page ruling, the Supreme Court said the reapportionment commission disregarded its mandate by not excluding non-permanent residents — mostly military members and students.

A reapportionment commission is convened each decade and tasked with re-drawing voting districts to reflect new Census numbers.

At a public hearing in September in Kona, members of the reapportionment commission indicated the commission was working to a tight deadline and may not have adequate time to properly and fairly separate non-permanent residents from the permanent residency population.

Commissioners also previously said the commission did not have reliable data on the number of non-permanent residents.

At that meeting, Big Island attorneys Bob Kim and Mike Matsukawa said those factors did not allow the commission to skip that requirement.

Kim said the plan was ‘unconstitutional on its face’ and violated the commissions’ own standards and criteria.

Both attorneys, with Hilo attorney Stan Roehrig, said they were prepared to file a petition for judicial review, which ended up before the Supreme Court today.

Even though Gov. Neil Abercrombie was named as a respondent in the case, he previously filed a briefing that backed Kim and Roehrig’s petition. Abercrombie said voting districts need to recognize neighbor island population growth, which included a roughly 25 percent increase between 2000 and 2010 on the Big Island alone.

Roehrig appeared Wednesday morning before the Supreme Court and the order was issued later Wednesday afternoon. The order did not include a deadline for the commission to submit a new plan.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a full opinion in the case, although Wednesday’s order means the state Reapportionment Commission will have to reconvene and extract the nonresidents.

According to figures on display at the September commission hearing, that figure is approximately 120,000. It includes military personnel and university students paying out-of-state tuition.

Depending on which formula the commission uses – and which one the court accepts – the Big Island is likely to get a fourth Senate seat, with one being stripped from Oahu. The tipping number for that scenario is 20,000 people and could include only students with out-of-state home addresses and military living on base.

If the commission adopts a stronger residency test and excludes all military and dependents, plus out-of-state students, and if that number tops 107,000, the Big Island may be awarded an additional state representative. Again, that would be at Oahu’s expense.

Roehrig and Kim acted on behalf of Big Island residents Malama Solomon, Patricia Cook, Louis Hao and Steven Pavao.

The decision does not affect the county redistricting plan, which focused on County Council district boundaries. That plan was finalized Dec. 30.

The Supreme Court order was issued by Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald, Paula A. Nakayama, Simeon R. Acoba Jr., James E. Duffy Jr., and Sabrina S. McKenna.

For the complete two-page order issued Jan. 4 by the Supreme Court, click the PDF button below:

Hawaii State Supreme Court Order (PDF file)

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