Switching to a biannual legislature

The Hawaii legislative session cost $38 million in 2007, and was annually budgeted at $34 million in 2008, 2009, and beyond (FY 2011 Executive Supplemental Budget, page 3). That’s a lot of money for laws that try to keep us safe, but end up adding more regulations and paperwork.

I know that we need laws and lawmakers, but do we need new laws every year? We could amend our state constitution to have a biannual legislature, one that meets every two years. Five state legislatures – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas – already do this.

Why should we have a biannual legislature?

* It would provide more time for discussion and public input. It’s not a full-time job, but legislators spend a lot of time meeting in committees and with the community, writing bills, reading proposed bills, and tracking of amendments. It’s even harder for “regular” citizens to keep up with all the legislation at the state and federal levels, so that we can offer our opinions and experiences. Why not take more time to think through proposed laws?

* It would reduce the number of new laws. Every year, we just keep adding new laws, but how many of them expire? Laws can have good intentions, but unintended consequences – and costs.

* It would save money. While we wouldn’t save $34 million every two years, we could save some money with limited staff and office expenses.

If there is an urgent need for a law or amendment, the legislature could still call for an emergency session, just as they can do now.

Of course, we would need to change the two-year term for Representatives to a four-year term, so that they can follow through with legislation.

Why should we let State Representatives and Senators have longer terms?

* It would save money on campaigns. In the 2008 election, the State House and Senate spent over $4.3 million to get elected – money that came from taxpayers, either through donations or public financing.

* It would allow legislatures to focus on law-making. With four-year terms, Representatives would not need to campaign for the next election right after getting elected.

I don’t know what effect a biannual legislature would have on Hawaii, and I’d like to hear what you think.

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