Archive for February 2010

All laws should have a sunset

February 23, 2010

Every year, Hawaii Legislators propose new bills and amendments. In 2009, 250 measures passed in the Hawaii Legislature. This doesn’t even include all the proposed bills, vetoed measures, supporting documentation, and testimony (Hawaii State Legislature, 2010).

That’s a lot of legislation, and very little of it is going away.

In 2009 the Legislature proposed SB 1103, which would establish a commission to identify obsolete, redundant, conflicting, or ineffective laws. It wasn’t one of the 250 measures that passed, but I hope that it will.

Meanwhile, I propose a new legislative requirement: all new bills should have a sunset provision or expiration date.

A “sunset provision” designates a specific date when the law will automatically expire, unless the law is reauthorized or extended before the expiration date.

This allows lawmakers to make quick decisions, without committing to permanent legislation. We could “test-drive” legislation, knowing that if it’s not efficient, it will automatically come to an end.

If the law is effective, if it solves the problem and is affordable, then legislators should be willing to extend it. But if the law doesn’t work, legislators don’t have to do anything about it.

Winston Churchill said, “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”

Wouldn’t it be great if our legislators spent time improving existing laws, instead of passing duplicate laws to try to solve the same problems?

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Less books, more socializing at public libraries

February 16, 2010

Hawaii has 51 public libraries, which cost $35.4 million each year to operate by the Department of Education [FY 2009 Budget in Brief Supplemental Operating Budget].

What if we could cut down the costs of operating each library and actually earn money?

Step #1: Promote the online reservation system. You can already reserve a book and have it delivered to your nearest library, with email or postal mail notifications.

Step #2: Reduce the number of books at each library. Keep newly released books, children’s books, reference books, and Hawaii-related books at each library. Store older books at centralized warehouse libraries.

Step #3: Rent a portion of each library to state/local agencies, like a Satellite City Hall or DMV; to a related retail business, like a coffee or snack shop; and to small local businesses.

  • If we rent a 400 square-foot space to a coffee or snack shop, at $4 per square foot in 15 public libraries: we could generate $1,600 per month for each library and a total of $288,000 per year in new revenue.
  • If we rent a 400 square-foot space to a Satellite City Hall or DMV, at $2 per square foot in 15 public libraries: we could generate $800 per month for each library and a total of $144,000 per year in new revenue, while the City saves on rent.
  • If we rent a 400 square-foot space to start-up businesses in an “Entrepreneurs” program, at $1 per square foot in 15 libraries: we could generate $400 per month for each library and a total of $72,000 per year in new revenue.

In addition to generating revenue from renting space, public libraries could save money by sharing the costs of utilities (electricity, water, Internet access) and maintenance (building repairs, landscaping, parking). We could encourage more people to go to the library. And we could help local businesses.

Would you be willing to browse for your books online and pick them up later? Would you spend more time at the library if you could relax with hot coffee or a fresh pastry?

One legislature, nonpartisan

February 9, 2010

The Hawaii Legislature has 25 senators and 51 representatives. For our small state, do we really need 76 legislators? Are two legislatures more effective than one? And can we afford the doubled costs?

Nebraska’s population is 1,796,619, compared to Hawaii’s population of 1,295,178 (U.S. Census Bureau, 7/1/09). But the Nebraska Legislature has just 49 members.

How does Nebraska do it?

Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, with a single nonpartisan primary election. The top two candidates compete in the general election. Each senator has a 4-year term, with half the seats up for election every two years. It’s worked for over 70 years.

If Hawaii had a nonpartisan legislature, we would see more emphasis on issues, not party affiliation; and more independent candidates might be willing to step forward.

If Hawaii had a unicameral legislature, we would have smaller legislative staffs and budgets, less duplication of proposed bills, and more time for debate.

You’re probably wondering: Will our legislators really vote themselves out of a job? Will Hawaii vote?

Okay, I’m skeptical too. If the legislators won’t do it, we would need to vote for a Constitutional Convention. And a majority of voters opposed it in the last election.

But that’s not the end. If someone is brave enough to call for Constitutional Convention in the next election, and enough people actually vote, we would have the chance to discuss it, debate it, and vote on it.

I think a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature would help Hawaii politics. A two-party system just isn’t working. What do you think?

“Honolulu Then and Now” by Sheila Sarhangi

February 6, 2010

Honolulu Then & Now

“Honolulu Then and Now” (2007) is a fascinating look at how Honolulu and its architecture have changed over the years. The book juxtaposes history with progress, and makes the past interesting and relevant. If more textbooks were like this, students would pay more attention to history!

Freelance writer and photographer Sheila Sarhangi places historical black-and-white photos side-by-side with contemporary photos, and includes short background information.

Remembering the way things were:

Merchant Street was a dirt-paved road in 1880; today, it is a busy commercial district.

At Punchbowl Lookout you could see trees, the old domed Civic Auditorium, and Diamond Head in the 1930s; today, the view is dominated by high-rises.

Manoa Valley was farmland in the 1980s; today, there are homes and the University of Hawaii.

Lost grandeur (places I never knew existed):

Keōua Hale was a majestic Victorian palace built by Princess Ruth on Queen Emma Street in 1878; today, it is the site of the sprawling Central Middle School.

Helumoa was a royal residence in Waikiki, surrounded by a coconut grove in 1878; today, it is the site of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, called the “Pink Palace of the Pacific.”

Kainalu House was a grand mansion with Tiffany stained-glass windows, waterfront lanais, and a salt-water pool in 1899; today, it is the uninspiring Honolulu Elks lodge.

Minimum school days to maximize learning

February 2, 2010

Learning takes time. Students need time in the classroom, with their teachers and with other students.

Right now, Hawaii has the shortest school year in the nation: 161 instruction days. Contract re-negotiations have fallen through time and time again.

The Department of Education (DOE) has lost the chance to show that they are proactive. The Legislature has already proposed a minimum of 180 instruction days per year (“GOP seeks to mandate 180 school days a year,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin 1/22/10).

How can the DOE prove that they are putting students first?

They need to examine the curriculum in public schools; study how much instruction time is needed (not just a random number); and support a minimum number of instruction days per school year, and a minimum number of instruction hours per day.

The only exceptions to instruction days would be for natural disasters (storms and hurricanes), power-outages, and unsafe conditions. The only exceptions to instruction hours would be for special assemblies and events.

Would this help the DOE to win back some of your trust?