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HOOSER: What law would you change or create?

Let’s talk law-making for a moment.

If you could pass any new law at the county level, what would that be?

Seriously: All four Hawai‘i counties have in its harter, a citizen’s right to initiative and referendum.

This means citizens can gather signatures and propose new laws or charter amendments. These proposals would then be placed on the ballot and voted on by residents of the county.

If a majority vote yes, then voila! The new law is passed (whether the mayor or the council like it or not).

The requirements (required number of signatures from registered voters, etc) for citizen legislators can be found within the county charter itself, a copy of which can be found on the county’s official website or go to and see page 42.

There are limits as to the scope and nature of proposed ordinances or charter amendments. State and federally regulated areas of law are of course off limits.

In general proposed county initiatives may not impact the county’s budget, taxes, salaries, or collective bargaining contracts. In addition the courts have basically ruled existing private property rights may not be taken away. New up-zoning conditions may be proposed and passed, but properties may not be downzoned and existing rights to build utilizing existing zoning may not be taken away.

My hope is to get the “hive mind” fully engaged in this discussion and develop some truly innovative, systemic, change-maker ideas. Please let me know your thoughts (short and succinct please) at and I’ll share them here in a future column.

To get the creative juices flowing below are four ideas for discussion. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, please remember these are only rough ideas intended to generate more ideas and ultimately a thorough legal vetting of a proposal (or proposals).

Neither the county council nor any board or commission, nor related staff charged with making recommendations, may make any decision, determination or formal recommendation on any matter before them unless and until each attests in writing to reading and reviewing all public testimony submitted prior to the stated official deadline. No member may vote on any matter upon which they have not read and reviewed the public testimony.

The processing of all county permits necessary for the construction of affordable housing (insert definition) shall take precedence over all others except those needed to protect the public’s health and safety.

No herbicide, fungicide, algicide or pesticide, that has been determined in a court of law to cause or significantly contribute to causing cancer or any life threatening illness may not be used on any county owned property.

No new resort or new commercial zoning shall be granted except to those that also provide in their proposals a sufficient amount of permanently affordable housing (insert definition) necessary for the amount of employees the resort or commercial enterprise will need to operate.

At the end of the day, the devil is in the details and to be successful a proposal must first resonate with enough people to gather the sufficient signatures, and then gain 50 percent plus one votes on election day.

While each county has slightly different requirements, for Kaua‘i County to put a new ordinance change on the ballot requires about 10,000 signatures, and to propose a charter amendment approximately 3,000 is the magic number.

Important: The potential to create systemic change using this tool is huge, but the work needed to make it happen is also significant. Anyone serious about utilizing the initiative and referendum process will need to put together a team, pay close attention to the rules and requirements, and seek legal advice.

Now, go for it!


Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at
Source: The Garden Island

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