REPRESENTATIVE COLLEEN MEYER COMMENTS ON THE SPECIAL SESSION

 Was is a waste of time?  Was it a waste of taxpayer dollars?  Was it an exercise of political gamesmanship?  Or was it an example of the checks and balances between our legislative branch of government and the executive branch of government?    These are the questions that arose from this past week’s Special Session of the Hawaii State Legislature.     In all, Governor Lingle considered using her right of veto on 33 bills.  She passed that potential veto list to legislative leaders in late June.  When the likelihood of a Special Session to override her potential vetoes became reality, the Governor asked that Democratic leaders consider amending three of the bills, so they could become law.  Democratic leaders refused her offer to work together to make the bills workable.     On July 10, the day the Special Session was called, the Governor announced that she had vetoed 27 of the bills on her list.  That meant that the Governor had received public input that convinced her to allow six of the bills on her earlier list to become law.    Democratic and Republican leaders met in caucus with their members and decided which bills would be brought to the floor for an override vote.  After lengthy debate, the House and Senate voted to override 11 of the Governor’s 27 vetoes.     Highlights and objections of those specific bills are as follows: –HB30 RELATING TO INTERNATIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS     This bill prohibits the Hawaii Governor from approving international trade agreements without legislative approval.  The Governor’s objections to this bill noted that 48 other states vest this approval authority exclusively with their chief executive.  Additionally, the Governor noted that this cumbersome and controversial legislative approval process could put Hawaii firms at a disadvantage regarding tariffs and access to international markets.  Republicans unanimously backed the Governor’s veto.–HB310 RELATING TO TECHNOLOGY     This bill created a 15-member Broadband Task Force, but placed the staff and administrative needs for the task force in the Legislative Auditor’s office rather than DAGS.  The Governor noted that he Legislative Auditor’s office is already overworked, plus she would have signed the bill if the Legislature amended it to put the task force in DAGS—the department that has management responsibility for the state’s internet, website, and communications activities.  Democratic leaders refused to amend, and the bill was overridden.–HB718 RELATING TO KAKA’AKO     This bill set aside two specific parcels, known as the old ice chute and the fuel dock operations site for the continued use by the Kewalo Keiki Fishing Conservancy.  The Governor noted constitutional questions, plus environmental hazard concerns.  Additionally, Republican legislators argued that the legislature shouldn’t be turning over potentially-profitable pieces of land in Kaka’ako for one specific special interest group.–HB1270 RELATING TO STATE PLANNING     This bill requires the Legislative Auditor to continue to prepare the state’s 2050 sustainability plan and appropriates an additional $850,000 to the project (making the total expenditures for this project at $1.7 million).  The Governor noted that the task force failed to present a sustainability plan to the Legislature last year even though an extension was granted, and doubts have been raised as to whether the task force can complete its mission in the coming year.  Republicans voted to sustain the Governor’s veto.     –HB1503 RELATING TO EMPLOYMENT     This bill requires public disclosure to all employees by businesses going through bankruptcy or restructuring procedures.  The Governor’s veto message noted that this bill adversely impacts the very employees that it is trying to protect by jeopardizing employer’s efforts to reconstitute their business. Additionally, customers are more prone to take their business elsewhere and employees may seek other jobs, thus further negatively impacting those who remain with the business. Republicans were unanimous in their support of the Governor’s veto.–HB1605 RELATING TO TRAFFIC CONTROL     This bill appropriates $400,000 from the State Highway Fund for a traffic control center exclusively for Maui.  The Governor noted that the monies are not part of the State Transportation Improvement Plan and are not included in the Maui County budget.  The Governor said she would not release the monies unless the bill was amended in special session.  Democratic leaders refused to make amendments over Republican objections and the vetoed bill was overridden.–HB1830 RELATING TO CHILD PROTECTION     This bill creates the so-called “Baby Safe Haven” and provides immunity from prosecution for a person who abandons a newborn baby who is less than 72-hours old.  The measure, which has no safeguards to protects the rights of both parents or extended family members, drew emotional testimony on both sides and was eventually overridden. –SB932 RELATING TO A COMPREHENSIVE OFFENDER REENTRY SYSTEM     This bill requires the Department of Public Safety to return inmates from the Mainland at least one full year prior to their parole or release date to participate in inmate re-entry programs.  The Governor voted in her veto message that the bill endangers the well-being of inmates, compromises the safety of the community, exposes the state to potentially costly litigation, and provides only one year of funding for programs with multi-year impacts.  The bill also establishes unrealistic expectations that inmates will be brought home nearer their families without providing the means or an answer as to how that is going to be done.  Republicans voted unanimously to sustain the Governor’s veto.–SB1066 RELATING TO INVASIVE SPECIES     This bill imposes a new fee on marine commercial containers to protect against possible invasive species.  The Governor noted that assessing a new fee only on marine shipments, while using the fee for inspection of other modes of cargo shipment, may be subject to legal challenges.  Additionally, passage of this bill might cause the raising of fees on goods coming to Hawaii by jurisdictions outside the state.  Republicans voted unanimously to sustain the Governor’s veto.–SB1191 RELATING TO PEDESTRIAN SAFETY     This bill appropriates $3 million from the State Highway Fund for county pedestrian improvements.  The Governor asked the Legislature to amend the measure in Special Session, so that the monies would not come out of the State Highway Fund which is eligible for Federal matching funds.  Federal matching funds are available in a 4:1 ratio, meaning that $3 million could be leveraged into becoming $15 million.  The Governor noted that the legislature had raided the State Highway Fund to the tune of over $1 billion in potential federal matching funds in the last several years and should not continue this fiscally irresponsible practice.  The Governor said she would not release the funds appropriated unless the Legislature amended the bill in Special Session so the monies came out of the state’s general fund.  Democratic leaders refused to amend, over Republican opposition, and the bill was overridden.–SB1922 RELATING TO CREATIVE MEDIA     This so-called “MELE bill” requires the University of Hawaii to lease a specific property to a specific private party (PBS) at no cost under certain terms and conditions.  The Governor noted that the bill violates two sections of the state Constitution, one section dealing with the fact that a bill must embrace only one subject matter, and secondly, noting the lack of legislative control of lands.  Further, the bill violates University of autonomy by putting the will of the legislature over the proper governance of the university by the Board of Regents.  Autonomy requires that the Board or regents have “exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management, and operation of the University.”  Moreover, the specific piece of land in question is set aside explicitly for educational purposes.  The Governor requested that the bill be amended to fix the technical flaws, but Democratic leaders ignored her plea and voted to override.  Republicans unanimously supported the Governor’s veto.      So, to answer the four questions at the top of this commentary—Was it a waste of time?  Not entirely.  Was it a waste of taxpayer’s dollars?  Perhaps.  Was it an example of political gamesmanship?  Absolutely.  Was it an example of checks and balances between the legislative branch and the executive branch?  Technically, yes.     But, the bottom line is that the Democratic-controlled legislature had the opportunity to correct flawed bills and refused to do so.  That refusal by Democratic leaders can come be seen in only one light—partisan politics.   It’s sad that partisan politics ruled the day in this legislative Special Session when the best interests of the people of Hawaii were at stake.