State breifs 3/16


Hawaii committee OKs hospital privatization bill

HONOLULU — Members of the Hawaii Senate Health Committee have approved a bill that would explore whether some of the state’s public hospitals should become private.

Mounting costs and limited finances are straining hospital resources on Maui and the Big Island but unions are worried privatizing hospitals will mean lost jobs.

The Senate passed a separate bill last week that would give state hospitals a pathway to become private. The bill considered Friday was the House’s version of the proposal, a more cautious approach that assigns a task force to study the issue.

Senators voted to expand the task force and chose not to align the measure with the Senate’s more ambitious version. Health Committee Chairman Josh Green says there are still many unanswered questions that the task force could help answer.

Flash flood watch issued for the Big Island

KAILUA-KONA — The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for the Big Island.

The watch will remain in effect until 6 a.m. Saturday.

Forecasters say a front is moving through the island chain and bringing heavy showers with it. It is expected to stall near the Big Island by late Saturday. Forecasters say the Kailua-Kona area will be particularly susceptible to flooding.

Forecasters say flash floods can be very dangerous, and they say it does not have to be raining hard for one to occur. They are encouraging residents to monitor the latest forecasts and be prepared to take immediate action if the flash flood watch is upgraded to a warning.

State not considering banning floating parties

WAIKIKI, Hawaii — The Department of Land and Natural Resources is backing away from considering a ban on Waikiki’s offshore parties, also known as floatopias or flotillas.

The parties involve hundreds of people who paddle from Oahu’s shoreline on a wide array of items and tie up together to have fun. The state agency discussed outlawing them after last summer’s Fourth of July flotilla off Kuhio Beach attracted hundreds of people. Some of them had to be assisted to shore when the surf kicked up.

DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward told KITV-TV (http://is.gd/1oDQf0) in an email that the agency would consider all available options to bring some level of control to future waterborne parties. But, she said, the state does not have to step in at this time.

“As long as the party-goers are not disturbing others or putting themselves at risk, and are operating their vessels in a safe manner, there’s no need for the state to get involved,” Ward said in the email.

However, she said conservation officers would keep a close watch over the parties, making sure boat operators are not drunk, or driving in a reckless manner.

Aaron Rosenblatt has taken part in the festivities the past five years.

“It usually starts off with a couple of boats getting together, and then rafts,” Rosenblatt said.

Last summer at Kuhio Beach, city lifeguards estimated 175 to 200 party-goers were brought to the beach on water craft when the surf kicked up. Many were intoxicated, and the incident prompted a meeting a few days later with various stakeholders, including the Honolulu Police Department, the city’s Ocean Safety Division and DLNR.

Pennsylvania man suspected of robbing bank

WAILEA, Maui — Police have identified a man suspected of robbing a bank on Maui.

Police say 33-year-old Michael Flocco of Pennsylvania, who is homeless, was arrested Thursday and taken to the Wailuku Police Station for processing.

Flocco was arrested two hours after a bank branch of First Hawaiian Bank in Wailea was robbed Thursday morning. Police say the bank robber demanded that money be placed in a paper bag and fled with an undisclosed amount of cash. He left on a silver moped that was later spotted by police near the Polo Beach Club.

Maui police say a search warrant was being obtained to look for the bank’s money in the moped and among Flocco’s belongings.