Reflecting on 5 Hawaii constitutional amendments

Hawaii Amendments

The 2014 Hawaii general election is just two weeks away. Let’s take some time to reflect on all of the decisions we are being asked to make. We are being asked to vote on five amendments to the Hawaii State Constitution. One of the proposed amendments, early childhood education, is getting most of the attention.

Here are the five proposed Hawaii constitutional amendments, and some points to consider. A constitutional amendment is a serious thing. I urge everyone to ask questions – and look for answers.

1. Relating to Disclosure of Judicial Nominees: “Shall the judicial selection commission, when presenting a list of nominees to the governor or the chief justice to fill a vacancy in the office of the chief justice, supreme court, intermediate appellate court, circuit courts or district courts, be required, at the same time, to disclose that list to the public?”

Can we afford it? Posting a list of names or issuing a press release adds minimal costs.

Will it solve a problem? Releasing the names of nominees offers the chance for public and peer testimony. Are there valid reasons why the nominees should not be disclosed?

2. Relating to Agricultural Enterprises: “Shall the State be authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds from the bonds to assist agricultural enterprises on any type of land, rather than only important agricultural lands?”

Can we afford it? How would this affect Hawaii’s bond rating? What are the qualifications for receiving a loan?

Will it solve a problem? Would loan money help small farmers expand their operations? Would this help with Hawaii’s food security? Would we be able to increase local food production?

3. Relating to State Justices and Judges: “Shall the mandatory retirement age for all state court justices and judges be increased from seventy to eighty years of age?”

Can we afford it? We would need to pay judges’ salaries anyway, regardless of age, but salaries may be higher for more experienced judges.

Will it solve a problem? Is there a lack of qualified state justices and judges under age 60? With a term of 10 years, how can we be assured that judges over age 70 retain their competency?

4. Relating to Early Childhood Education: “Shall the appropriation of public funds be permitted for the support or benefit of private early childhood education programs that shall not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or ancestry, as provided by law?”

Can we afford it? If every 4-year old child went to preschool, paid for by the state, it could cost Hawaii an additional $124 million each year. Even a 25% subsidy would cost an additional $31 million each year. [How I came up with this amount: According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, there are around 17,200 4-year olds in Hawaii. In 2014, private preschool costs an average of $800 each month or $7,200 per year per child. I rounded up.]

Will it solve a problem? There are three critical questions to answer: 1. Are 4-year olds ready (mentally and emotionally) for structured school? 2. Is school more beneficial to 4-year olds than spending time with parents and primary caregivers, or spending time in free play? and 3. Is it government’s responsibility to educate 4-year old children? Note: As of 2014, Kindergarten is mandatory for 5-year olds in Hawaii.

5. Relating to Dams and Reservoirs: “Shall the State be authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds from the bonds to offer loans to qualifying dam and reservoir owners to improve their facilities to protect public safety and provide significant benefits to the general public as important water sources?”

Can we afford it? How will this affect Hawaii’s bond rating? What are the dangers to the public if the dams and reservoirs are not maintained?

Will it solve a problem? Has there been a study of residents and businesses potentially in a flood zone if dams and reservoirs fail? What are the “important water sources” and how does the public benefit?

Do you feel strongly on any of these issues? How will you vote?

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