Deciding Against Special Session

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 19, 2006
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You were probably wondering why there was no public outcry for a special session to override the governor’s veto package 2006.

Simple: It didn’t generate a ripple of concern.

What happened?

In a nutshell, House Speaker Calvin Say, Senate President Robert Bunda and new Democratic Party chairman Mike McCartney couldn’t come up with the votes necessary to override the governor’s veto action.

A routine letter from the public unions urged the leaders of the Legislature to convene in a special session and prove their dedication to their Democratic roots. From the public unions’ point of view, the letter was a worthy effort. It was taken into consideration by the leadership and the governor, who wisely passed on the suggestion to call a special session. Hopefully, the public unions will appreciate the wisdom of the legislative leaders.

It’s interesting to note that all of the parties that received the demands of the public unions shared the same response. Simply put, rather than calling a special session, they would all work together on crafting new legislation in the next session. A worthy compromise with a tough primary election right around the corner.

What is probably more significant at this point in time is the Lingle Administration’s determined effort to defeat two of the five Constitutional Amendments that will be on the ballot in November.

The first amendment targeted for defeat is the appointment process for the Board of Regents at the University of Hawaii. This bill would set up a candidate advisory council to recommend names for the UH Board of Regents. The advisory council would submit between two and four names for each vacancy. If this amendment passes, a bill would be needed next year to set up the council. The composition of the advisory council would diminish the powers of the governor.

The second amendment targeted for defeat is the bill that asks the ballot question: “Shall the mandatory retirement age of 70 for all state court justices and judges be repealed?” The majority of states recognize the value of mandatory retirement. Thirty-five states have mandatory ages of between 70 and 75. Only one other state has no mandatory age and no involvement of the electorate in selecting and keeping judges. Hawaii’s mandatory retirement age for judges was adopted at statehood in recognition that there would be some opportunity for others in the community to be appointed to the bench. The administration’s argument is that regular turnover invigorates the judiciary and brings with it greater diversity.

This lofty rationale is nice, but again this is another effort to limit the powers of the governor. It’s interesting to note that four justices and judges from the Supreme, Appellate and Circuit courts (who are appointed by the governor, with Senate approval) are eligible for mandatory retirement before December 2010, up to which point the winner of the 2006 gubernatorial election would appoint their replacements. Chief Judge James S. Burns, Intermediate Appeals Court, faces mandatory retirement in April 2007, followed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon in September 2010. Circuit Judges Michael Town and George Masuoka would be forced into retirement come October 2010.

Said another way, the proposed amendment, which applies to sitting judges and not just new judges, perpetuates an under-representation of women on the bench and not only limits a Republican governor from appointing new people to the bench, but is obviously intended to and does benefit four sitting judges.

These two constitutional amendments are going to be interesting to watch and may be more intense than who gets elected to what political offices in the general election.

The other three amendments relate to sexual crimes against minors younger than 14 years of age, the issuances of special purpose revenue bonds to assist agricultural enterprises serving important agricultural lands, and establishing a salary commission to review and recommend changes for justices and judges, and members of the state Legislature and other government officials.

Now that the smokescreen of the urgent need for a special session is over, the real battle in the general election should surface.

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