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President's Message (Maile Bay)
Openness in the Courts (Jackie Parnell)
Our Comprehensive (Full) Public Funding Bill 2004 (Grace Furukawa)
Public Funding of Presidential Primary and General Election
Where Has Our Democracy Gone? (Grace Furukawa)
Ray of Sunshine (Jean Aoki)
Local League News - Honolulu
Local League News - Hawaii (Lois Cecil)
Local League News - Kauai (Carol Bain)
What is the Act 190 Task Force and Who Cares? (Jaurene Judy)
NBC to Televise Democratic Presidential Primary Debate... LWVUS

A Ray of Sunshine

A ray of sunshine peeked through an open door of the State Capitol in October when a Senate committee charged with studying Senate Rules related to decisionmaking by standing committees, and conference committee procedures related to decision-making, held hearings on the resolution. In my memory, this is an unprecedented event. The public has never been invited to comment on internal rules of the Senate or House, or on conference committee procedures.

It began with the passage of Senate Resolution 147 which set up the committee made up of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee (JHA) members and two members of the senate leadership, with the chair of JHA, Senator Hanabusa, as chair to do the study. This was in answer to public complaints about the decision-making process at standing committee meetings, and conference committee meetings, and concerns voiced by quite a few senators.

There was no provision for any public hearing in the resolution, so we had wondered from time to time what, if anything, was happening. When the public hearing was announced for October 20, it was "drop everything else and prepare for the hearing" time.

Much to everyone's surprised approval, at the end of the hearing, the chair scheduled a November 24th hearing on the committee's draft report, to be followed by an open meeting for decision-making on the final report on December 15.

Those who had provided testimony at the first hearing were each sent a copy of the draft report about a week before the next hearing.

This draft report began with the purpose of the committee's study, the opinion of the Attorney General on the constitutionality of various current and alternate practices, a thorough discussion of the concerns and criticisms heard at the first hearing and throughout several sessions of the Legislature, followed by suggestions of possible alternate practices. Whether the committee will decide to make firm recommendations on each issue, as many of the testifiers urged, or merely suggest alternate practices and procedures for discussion by the entire Senate remains to be seen.

The Issues

Space allows discussion of but few of the issues raised and addressed by the committee.

1. Conference Committee chairs' veto powers. This was the issue that received the most media attention in the past few sessions. Conference committees for each house consist of managers and chairs. To pass, the proposed conference draft of a bill must receive the approval of a majority of the managers for each house and a majority of the chairs for each house. If the Senate committee has one chair and five managers, the conference draft fails to win approval if that one chair opposes the draft, even if the five managers vote to report it out of committee, and the House committee has unanimously voted for it. If the Senate committee has two chairs, the one no vote prevents it from meeting the majority vote requirement. That committee would need three chairs for two chairs to overrule the one opposing chair.

The committee provided three alternatives for discussion. We emphasized our preference for the alternative where, regardless of whether you are a chair or a manager, when it comes to voting on any bill, everyone's vote carries the same weight The vote requirement should be the majority of committee members voting on the bill. Of course, the quorum requirement remains. The Attorney General provided the opinion that the current practice is legal. We framed this as a fairness issue. We argued that just because a practice is legal does not necessarily make it fair.

2. Bill Referral. Stung by the repeated defeat of the HI-CLEAN COALITION's public funding bill through the efforts of the chair of the Committee on Transportation, Military Affairs and Government/ Operations (TMG), the coalition's president, Grace Furukawa and coalition executive director, Laure Dillon emphasized the need to refer any bill to the committee(s) with proper jurisdiction over the bill. And we all contend that the public funding bill should not fall under the jurisdiction of TMG, but belongs solely to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee and the Ways and Means.

The suggested alternative language for Rule 46 (3) includes the following, "Each bill shall be referred... to one or more appropriate Leadership or Standing Committees for consideration based upon the relation of the subject matter of the bill to the purview of the appropriate standing committee as described in Rule 17; provided that all bills containing any appropriation or having any fiscal impact shall be referred to the Committee on Ways and Means as the committee of last referral."

3. Scope of Amendments. To the disappointment of good government groups, we ended the 2003 Legislative session urging the defeat of the ethics bill and the campaign finance reform bill. These two bills contained the contents of numerous bills passed by both houses, and amendments not heard nor passed and we had urged rejection of both bills even before they reached conference. At the conference committee meetings, there was hardly any open discussion, and proposed amendments in writing were exchanged by chairs but not discussed nor made available to the audience. We had no idea what was happening, The Ethics Commission's Executive Director Dan Mollway's letter writing campaign drawing attention to the flawed provisions in the ethics bill helped kill that bill. Some of our partners for good government legislation got together to write a last minute appeal to all legislators to kill the campaign finance reform bill.

The draft report of the Senate special committee recognizes the problem, and part of its discussion of the problem states, "..Public perception is negative about the secrecy and arbitrariness of conference proceedings. Your Committee reminds conference chairs that the manner in which proposed amendments are considered could alter the public's perception of the merits of the conference draft. You Committee urges conference chairs to openly discuss all proposed conference amendments and whether those amendments pass the test of this provision, including proposed conference drafts that are exchanged between chairs...."

The present conference committee rule limits the authority of these committees to resolving differences between the Senate and House drafts of a bill or resolution. It expressly forbids the inserting of unrelated or new subject matter. To that, the Committee suggests the addition of "or any provision contained in another bill that has not been heard; provided that any insertions may be made in aid of the bill's intent, purpose, effectuation, or clarification. "

4. Decision to Defer. The Committee's report on this issue was the one disagreement I had with it. One plausible argument for its use was that a measure that is deferred can be restored to the agenda at any time because it has not been held (killed). However, time constraints imposed by internal and external deadlines precludes that restoration unless done in a matter of a few days which is very unlikely. I did ask that, at the very least, the chair should explain the reason for the deferral.

There were several other issues reviewed. When the final report that goes to the whole Senate is available, and when the Senate takes action to amend or not amend the present rules, it will be time to comment on all of them. In the meantime, we salute the initial efforts.

IF ONLY Congress would seriously look at their rules on decision-making in standing committees and conference committees, and understand the public's frustration and disgust...

Jean Aoki

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