The ‘08 Legislature’s Worst Bills

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 02, 2008
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One of the most exciting times of the year for those who follow local politics is in June, when the governor is required by law to give the legislative leadership 10 days’ notice of the bills she may or may not veto.

It’s a pretty sophisticated legislative maneuver. The idea of such a law is to give the Legislature ample time to decide if it will try to override any of the potential vetoes. In order to do that, the legislators must check with their cohorts, colleagues and constituents to decide if they have the support they need. It’s not an easy task. If they do decide to convene in special session, both houses of the Legislature must muster a two-thirds majority to override a gubernatorial veto.

The governor can allow a bill to become law without her signature, but even then there is a message attached. If a bill passed by the Legislature is not signed by the governor in the allocated time, it doesn’t matter - it will become law. However, there is an unwritten message in the process. Simply put, it means the bill is of little consequence one way or another; it doesn’t rise to the level of acceptance or sink to a level worthy of rejection.

When governors get really good at announcing “potential” vetoes, they know how to veto a given bill in such a way that the legislative leadership can’t see the worthiness of reconvening to tackle a veto on so-called “non-significant” bills. Of course, from a legislative point of view, every bill they pass is significant. But the record shows that this is not true in all cases.

The hands-down winner of the worst bill of this, the 24th Legislature, would have to be HB2675, HD2, SD1, Relating to Medical Marijuana. This bill would have created a medical marijuana task force within the University of Hawaii to study ways to grow and transport medical marijuana, contrary to federal prohibition against cultivation, possession and transportation of the drug.

In a close second place is HB 2704, HD2, SD1, Relating to Haiku Valley. This bill would have placed control of Haiku Valley in the hands of a special interest group from the valley that would determine who has access to the area.

Another bad bill worth mentioning, SB 1526, SD2, HD3, CD1, Relating to the Judiciary, would allow the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to increase the salaries of the administrator and deputy administrator of the courts by 6.7 percent to 30.5 percent, even if their job duties have not increased.

These three bills are just examples of strong and convincing evidence that there are bills introduced every year for the benefit of a very narrow audience. None of this is suspicious or remotely against the law. In fact, it is what makes keeping an eye on the political process interesting and sometimes almost comical from a taxpayer’s point of view. After all, they propose all of these kinds of bills in broad daylight and during the time of challenge.

It is interesting to note that Hawaii became a state in 1959, but it was not until 2001 that the Democrat-controlled Legislature was inspired to override a gubernatorial veto. It happened when Gov. Ben Cayetano vetoed a bill raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. It’s hard to imagine that with the volume of bills introduced each year - between 2,000 and 4,300 - that in all that time only one bill generated enough objection to warrant an override by the Legislature.

Since the Lingle Administration took office in 2003, the same number of bills have been introduced, yet Lingle has vetoed more than 100 bills during her tenure, including 52 vetoes this year. It’s a pretty astounding comparison, and because I’m not an expert on politics, I’m not sure what the numbers mean. It appears, however, that someone is actually doing research on the merits of introduced bills and the public interest in the past five years.

Time will tell if Lingle has perfected the art of using her veto powers judicially or not. Of course, the proof positive this time around will be if the legislative leaders do not choose to reconvene to override any of her vetoes.

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