Streamlining the state legislature

The Legislative Branch costs Hawaii taxpayers $34 million each year, according to the Hawaii FY 2011 Executive Supplemental Budget, Budget in Brief (Multi-Year Financial Summary, page 3).

That’s a lot of money for legislators whose main goal seems to be growing government. That’s a lot of money for laws that focus on spending our money, raising our taxes, and limiting our freedoms (to make us safer or healthier, of course).

So here are four suggestions for streamlining the State legislature:

1. Create a nonpartisan unicameral 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.

2. Designate days (or weeks) in each legislative session to repealing existing laws, modifying outdated laws, and simplifying taxes. For example, there is a 66 cent tax each month on wireless phones to pay for enhanced 911 services. Surely, maintenance and planned upgrades doesn’t cost as much as building the entire system from scratch. The system is in place, so why haven’t legislators lowered or discontinued the surcharge? How are they spending the extra revenue?

3. Limit the number of new and amended laws proposed each year. This would require legislators to prioritize issues, reduce redundant and frivolous bills, cut down on paperwork, and allow more time for legislative and public review. For example, each legislator could introduce up to 5 new/amended laws and up to 10 co-sponsored laws in each legislative session.

4. Create bi-annual legislative sessions. Instead of meeting every year, the legislature could meet every two years. Five state legislatures – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas – already do this. Not only would this help reduce the number of new taxes and regulations, it would save money too! Here’s another idea: legislators could propose new or modified laws on even-numbered years, and propose the elimination or repeal of existing laws on odd-numbered years.

How can anyone keep up with all of the new laws and regulations? Isn’t there a better way to balance our rights with government’s influence – and save taxpayer money too?

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