Hawaii Good Government Groups Announce 2015 “Rusty Scalpel” Winner

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause Hawaii have identified HB 15, CD 1 (Act 173, Session Laws of Hawaii 2015) “Relating to Elections” as their 2015 “Rusty Scalpel” winner.  The “Rusty Scalpel” recognizes enactment of a bill whose subject has been substantially amended without opportunity for public input and legislative review as required by the Hawaii Constitution.

Click to view bill

Click to view bill

The Hawaii Constitution sets procedures for enactment of new laws.  The purpose of these procedures is to facilitate public participation and to discourage “fraud” and “logrolling”.  Article III, Section 14 provides “Each law shall embrace but one subject which shall be expressed in its title.”

In plain English, our Legislature is NOT supposed to pass a bill which addresses 2 or more unrelated subjects.  Article III, Section 15 provides that “No bill shall become law unless it shall pass three readings in each house on separate days.”  In plain English, our Legislature is NOT supposed to pass a bill whose subject has not had three separate readings in the State House and three separate readings in the State Senate.

During the 2015 session, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Hawaii identified more than 20 bills which did not comply with Article III, Section 14 and/or Article III, Section 15.  The 2015 Legislature actually passed seven bills whose subjects did not receive 3 readings in both the House and Senate. (These are Acts 104, 118, 126, 142, 173, 186 and HB 540, CD 1 which was vetoed.) From these seven “candidates”, the League and Common Cause Hawaii have selected Act 173, Session Laws of Hawaii 2015, for our 2015 “Rusty Scalpel” award because:

  1. Act 173 addresses three unrelated subjects (absentee ballot procedures, terms of Election Commission Chair, evaluation of Chief Elections Officer).
  2. One subject of Act 173 (terms of Election Commission) did not have either 3 readings or      a public hearing in the House.
  3. Another subject of Act 173 (evaluation of Chief Elections Officer) did not have 3 readings or a public hearing in either the House or the Senate.

Last year the League and Common Cause chose Act 81, SLH 2014, for our 2014 “Rusty Scalpel” award.  The subject of Act 81 (which authorized the Hawaii Tourism Authority to acquire a conservation easement at Turtle Bay using revenue bonds amortized with hotel tax revenues) did not have 3 readings or a public hearing in either the House or the Senate.  This year the League and Common Cause are pleased to report that the Legislature followed appropriate procedures, and held numerous public hearings, before passing legislation to clarify, replace, and “fix” Act 81.

2014 “Rusty Scalpel” Winner Announced

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause Hawaii have a 2014 “Rusty Scalpel” winner, HB2434, CD1, Relating to the Transient Accommodations Tax! The two organizations offer a “Rusty Scalpel” award for the most altered bill whose original content is no longer recognizable because of “surgical techniques” that changed the original purpose of the bill.

hb2434During a Conference Committee near the end of the 2014 legislative session, without meaningful opportunity for public or agency comment, HB 2434 SD 2 was drastically amended. When introduced the measure was a bill to allocate $3 million of hotel tax revenues to a multi-purpose conservation fund. After the Conference Committee discarded the SD2, the bill morphed to a measure to refinance the Convention Center debt. Proceeds of the refinancing will be used to acquire the conservation easement at Turtle Bay, Oahu. Regardless of the final proposal’s merits, there was no compelling reason not to extend the session and hold public hearings on this important amended bill.

HB2434_SD2 Pdf File
HB2434_SD1 Pdf File
HB2434_HD2 Pdf File
HB2434_HD1 Pdf File
HB2434_CD1 Pdf File
HB2434 Pdf File

It disrespects Hawaii’s Constitution when a legislative committee adopts bill amendments with no rational connection to the subject of the bill referred to that committee. Article III, Section 14 of our Constitution specifically requires that each bill have a single subject expressed in the bill’s title and prohibits changing any bill’s title. Article III, Section 15 requires that each bill have three separate readings in each house of the Legislature. The unambiguous intent is to encourage informed public comment on all proposed legislation and thorough consideration of all relevant factors by both House and Senate subject matter committees. The public obviously is not aware of and cannot comment on substantive amendments being proposed in Conference Committee.

Ann Shaver, League President, said “This makes a travesty of the democratic process. Just because there are enough votes to pass a measure doesn’t make it Constitutional. HB2434 CD1 proposed a new idea, maybe even a great idea, but it was obviously unrelated to the bill’s original purpose. The content of the CD1 stunned us; it was passed without a single public hearing when there was no emergency. “

Carmille Lim of Common Cause added, “Citizens should be able to participate in the legislative process in a fair and orderly manner. In this case, a $40 million dollar appropriation was grafted on to a major last-minute change, depriving many members of the legislature from the normal review and give and take of budget discussions. Gutting bills and replacing content with new and unrelated content that alters the bill’s original intention does a disservice to members of the public and distorts the legislative process.

“Last year the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other civic organizations petitioned both houses of the Legislature asking that they amend legislative rules to ban such practices, but the legislature chose to do nothing. Maybe a Constitutional amendment to prohibit this would make democracy work a little better.

In the 2014 session the League and Common Cause identified dozens of bills which were subjected to these techniques. For example, HB 193 concerned developer compliance with conditions for land use district boundary amendments while HB 193, SD 1 concerned use of State property for transit-oriented development. Or for example, SB 2535 concerned State acquisition of real property for agricultural production while SB 2535, proposed HD 1 concerned labeling of genetically modified food.

In general, when the subject of a bill was totally changed after cross-over, only one public hearing was held on the amended subject (with the Senate totally disregarding public testimony to the House, and the House totally disregarding public testimony to the Senate). However, HB2434, CD1 was our “winner” because not only was it a “gut and replace” no hearing was held on the CD1 version of the bill.

Common Cause Hawaii is a state chapter of the national Common Cause organization. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to protecting and improving Hawaii’s political process and holding government accountable to the public interest. For more information, www.commoncause.org/states/hawaii/

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information visit http://www.lwv-hawaii.com/index.htm