3 new ways to run the Hawaii Legislature

The Hawaii Legislature has just finished its 2011 session, which ran from January 19 through May 5. Each legislative term lasts for two years, starting in odd years, and regular sessions are limited to 60 working days each year.

This year alone, 1,664 bills were introduced in the House and 1,559 bills were introduced in the Senate. Some of the bills are cross-over bills introduced in both the House and the Senate, but that’s still an average of 30-60 bills introduced by each legislator. In just 60 days, legislators have to read bills, discuss bills, re-write bills, and get public input. I don’t advocate a longer session (as it is, I think that sessions are about 50 days too long), but we can improve the way we run the Legislature.

In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to streamline the Hawaii State Legislature. For example, we could create a nonpartisan unicameral legislature (it would save us money). We could limit the number of new and amended laws proposed each year (lawmakers would have to learn to prioritize). We could create a bi-annual legislative session, held every two years (it would save us money and reduce the number of new laws­).

I’d like to suggest three new innovative ways to run the Hawaii Legislature.

1. In odd years, discuss new laws and programs. In even years, discuss existing laws that need to be revised or repealed. 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. It would help reduce the number of outdated or poorly-written laws and regulations. It would force beneficiaries of laws to justify their exemptions or funding. It would force legislators to prioritize, and give them more time to consider their proposed bills.

2. The House votes only on revenue measures (taxes and fees); the Senate votes only on spending measures. This would put more checks and balances in our government. The House could raise taxes, but the Senate could choose not to spend the “additional” revenue, leaving it in the General Fund or using it to pay our debt. The Senate could vote for a new spending program, but the House could refuse to fund it, effectively voting it down. This intriguing idea came from “Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth, and Treasure” (2010) by Glenn Beck.

3. Allow City Councilmembers to vote on the issues. Each City Council (Hawaii,Honolulu,Kauai, andMaui) would get one vote on bills if there is a supermajority (at least 7 out of 9 members in agreement). This would give City Councils more accountability and allow them to have more influence on issues. And it would give legislators a city/county perspective, not just a neighborhood perspective. Maybe adding more “legislators” won’t make a difference, but our Councilmembers need more than nonbinding resolutions to back up their convictions.

I don’t think these ideas have been tried before, and they would probably require changing the Hawaii Constitution. But I’m not satisfied with the way the Hawaii Legislature is run today. Our government is growing, taking on new responsibilities and requiring more “revenue” (taxpayer money) to function. We need to think of ways that we can make government run more effectively. What do you think?

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