HONOLULU - A Hawaii Senate bill to establish a Public-Private Partnership Authority is making leaps through the state House.
The committees on economic development and water and land approved the bill Wednesday despite strong opposition from people who fear that the organization is a backdoor attempt to maintain the state Public Land Development Corp.
Hawaii's public land agency has been around for only two years, but both the House and the Senate have voted to repeal it in response to persistent criticism from county leaders and others.
Many see the land agency as an overreach of the state's power because the organization is exempt from county zoning and permitting rules.
But supporters of the new proposal say the Public-Private Partnership Authority would be different. They emphasize that all projects under the new agency would have to abide by existing development rules.
On Wednesday, lawmakers voted to expand the number of pilot projects that the agency can start from three to seven.
The projects include a film production facility, a project in Wahiawa, Oahu, and four county-initiated projects.
Supporters say the projects would help the state meet its fiscal demands and make use of underutilized land.
"State agencies are hamstrung by their limited missions and dwindling resources," the bill states, noting that public-private partnerships are common in other places.
But many Hawaii residents aren't convinced. Numerous individuals testified Wednesday that the bill is the current land agency under a different name.
Adding to the distrust is the fact that the bill's sponsor, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, also sponsored the legislation to create the Public Land Development Corp. two years ago.
Hawaii's Thousand Friends, an environmental nonprofit, says the new agency "is so similar to PLDC that it is scary."
Several took issue with the proposed agency's board, which would have five appointed voting members and one nonvoting member. The nonvoting member would consult members on land use that's appropriate to Native Hawaiian culture.
The state's current land agency has a five-member appointed board. Leaders on Neighbor Islands have criticized the organization for the lack of Neighbor Island representation.