Calling for a Constitutional Convention

After celebrating Hawaii’s statehood on August 21, now is an appropriate time to think about our state constitution. The last Hawaii Constitutional Convention was held in 1978, over 30 years ago. It resulted in a required annual balanced budget, term limits for governor and lieutenant governor, and the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, among other achievements.

Yes, a Constitutional Convention is expensive. The 2008 Constitutional Convention Cost Task Force estimated that it would cost under $10 million for a 90-day constitutional convention. But let’s put it in perspective: the 2007 Legislative Session cost $38 million.

Why not forgo one legislative session to hold a Constitutional Convention? Five state legislatures – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas – hold sessions every other year. I can think of a few benefits for Hawaii – not only could we save money, we could reduce the number of new laws and provide more time for discussion and public input.

Here are six ideas for discussion:

* Elections: Give registered voters the power to call for initiatives and referendums. New legislation and the repeal of existing legislation would empower Hawaii voters and could be placed on the next State election ballot.

* Elections: Add term limits for State legislators. We already have term limits for the city council, mayor, governor, and lieutenant governor. Legislatures should be limited to three consecutive four-year terms.

* Elections: Require that an elected official pay for a special election, if one is necessary, if they resign mid-term to run for another elected office.

* The Legislature: Create a unicameral State legislature. There would be a single nonpartisan primary election, with the top two candidates competing in the general election. Each senator would have a four-year term, with half the seats up for election every two years. We would have smaller legislative staffs and budgets, less duplication of proposed bills, and more time for actual debate.

* The Legislature: Limit lobbyist activities. Prevent elected officials from registering as a lobbyist or consulting for a lobbyist or organization for at least 4 years after their term has expired.

* Taxes: Repeal the general excise tax (GET) and replace with a reasonable state sales tax. The GE taxes every level of production – it’s unfair and makes everything more expensive.

What else can we achieve with a Constitutional Convention? How else can we make our State Constitution better?

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