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HOOSER: What a novel idea: Lawmakers following the law

Will your state legislator be truthful with you when answering the three questions below? Will they seek proactive and positive solutions or will they deny there’s a problem and look the other way? Ask them, please!

1) Do some legislators solicit campaign contributions during the legislative session from individuals/entities that have issues/bills pending on which that legislator will be voting?

2) Do some committee chairs and their members meet in private for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to that committee?

3) Do some legislators, committee chairs, and/or members of legislative leadership kill bills based on personal and/or political reasons, not based on the content of the proposal?

If they answer yes, then ask them if they are prepared to support the following proposed solutions or do they have other alternative solutions to offer? If they answer no, they are lying to you.

In my experience gained through serving in the state Senate for eight years, on the County Council for eight years, and as a legislative policy advocate on the outside for another eight years I believe that the manner in which the people’s work is being conducted today at the State Capitol is too often both unethical and illegal.

Perhaps it has always been bad, but it’s worse today than I have ever seen it. Or it may be that it has taken me years to open my eyes to the political corruption, unethical and illegal actions. In any case, things are bad.

Here are three actions that could be taken by the Legislature to stop this unethical and illegal activity.

1. Ban the solicitation and acceptance of campaign funds during the legislative session. Many other states ban this practice. It’s not about banning events, it’s about banning asking for or accepting money during the legislative session;

2. Require the Legislature to follow the State Constitution, Article III, Section 12. This is the 60,000-pound gorilla in the room: Too many decisions are made in the dark, away from sunshine and public oversight — and it’s against the law. The Hawai‘i State Constitution, Article III, Section 12 states: “Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.” It’s common practice now for committee members, certainly the chairs, to meet in private “for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee.” They meet in private, negotiate in private and agree on the outcomes in private, emerging from the closed, private meetings to announce the outcome, then formally vote at the public meeting. This clearly violates the State Constitution and fosters a climate of secret deals being made in secret places. The public’s business should be done in public;

3. End the unilateral power of a committee chair by requiring publicly recorded votes by committee members on decisions to hear, kill or pass a bill.

Some chairs will kill a bill simply because a friend, colleague or member of leadership asked them to do so. We know also that some do it for cash stuffed into envelopes, trips to casinos and fancy dinners.

Chairs will kill bills by just not scheduling them for a hearing, or if a measure is scheduled, they will kill it by simply stating that the bill will be “deferred.” In both cases, no public votes are cast by the committee affirming the chair’s decision.

If a publicly recorded vote of individual committee members was required to kill a bill, then the unilateral power of the chair would be greatly diminished, the democratic process greatly enhanced, and the attractiveness of bribery greatly reduced.

Yes, a majority of the members who sit on a committee can request and require a vote or a hearing. However, a legislator making such a request risks retaliation from the chair. Making public votes to hear, kill or pass bills mandatory removes the very real threat of retaliation.

The above proposals are not overly complicated or difficult to implement. Item #1 is easy. Item #2 and #3 require the adoption of a legislative budget and schedule to allow for the extra time and the additional staffing that may be needed.

Item #2 requires that lawmakers follow the law and comply with the State Constitution, Article III, Section 12.

What a novel idea: Lawmakers following the law.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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