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Hawaii Attorney General Opinion Supports Governors Appointment of New PUC Commisioner

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin opined today that the Hawaii Constitution authorized Governor David Ige to appoint Tom Gorak on an interim basis to the Public Utilities Commission after Commissioner Mike Champley’s term expired on June 30, 2016. Commissioner Gorak’s appointment lasts only until the full Senate considers it when the Legislature is back in session.

Tom Gormack

Tom Gorack

The opinion was prompted by a letter last week from Senate President Ronald Kouchi asking the attorney general to answer several questions regarding the Governor’s interim appointments authority, how it interacts with applicable state statutes, and whether previous attorney general opinions on related but distinct issues were still valid.

Senator Kouchi’s questions expanded on advice that was previously provided by the attorney general to Governor Ige on June 27, 2016 and to Senator Rosalyn Baker on June 30, 2016.

As noted in the opinion, the governor may fill vacancies in certain public offices under the interim appointments provision in article V, section 6 of the Hawaii Constitution. That provision provides that “when the senate is not in session and a vacancy occurs in any office, appointment to which requires the confirmation of the senate, the governor may fill the office by granting a commission which shall expire, unless such appointment is confirmed, at the end of the next session of the senate.”

Today’s opinion only addresses interim appointments, not the Senate’s “advice and consent” role for appointments when the Senate is in session. Previous attorney general opinions in 1973 and 1980 addressed different issues from those raised regarding the PUC commissioner. Both of these have been superseded, at least in part, by intervening changes in the law.

By statute the attorney general provides opinions upon questions of law submitted by the governor, the state legislature or its members, or a state agency head.

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