2015 Hawaii Legislative Watch: People vs. government

2015 Hawaii Legislature

The 2015 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 21. Astonishingly, there were 1,515 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,379 bills introduced in the Senate.

So far, my legislative session round-up has covered taxes and education. With over 2,800 bills being proposed and no legislation-reading minions, I’m relying on bill summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions.

Here is an overview of the significant bills being proposed that affect individual rights and government powers in the 2015 Legislative Session. I’ve divided the bills into 4 sections: 5 bills about elections and voting, 5 bills that show government on our side, 8 bills that put checks on government power, and 8 bills that reveal government overreach (I had to restrain myself from including more bills). If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

5 bills about elections and voting

  1. Voting: the carrot and the stick. HB789 would create a tax credit for voting in elections. HB1495 would establish compulsory voting and a fine of $100 imposed on registered voters who fail to vote without a valid excuse. We can reward people for voting, but we shouldn’t penalize people who choose not to vote – we have a right not to vote.
  2. More ways to vote. HB124, HB294, HB1211, HB1481, SB219, SB255, SB287, and SB578 would allow voting by mail. HB1130 would allow online voting. HB1006 would allow voting by cellular phone.
  3. Closing the door on open primaries. HB338 would establish closed primary elections, in which only registered political party members can vote. HB339 would require voters to declare a political party preference or nonpartisanship as a condition of voting in a primary or special primary election.
  4. Automatic voter registration. HB401, SB150, and SB439 would automatically register to vote applicants for a driver’s license, provisional license, instructional permit, or civil identification card.
  5. Lowering the voting age. HB1304 and HB1306 would lower the qualifying age of voters from 18 years to 16 years. I’m undecided about this – 18-year old voters may have more real-world experience (holding a job and paying taxes), or at least may have thought about it more.

5 bills that show government on our side

  1. Residency requirement for welfare. HB1045 and SB1249 would require an applicant or recipient of public assistance to be a resident of Hawaii for at least 4 months. Why not 6 months or even a year?
  2. Safety inspections every two years. HB1089 would require motor vehicle safety inspections every two years, rather than annually. If this passes, the safety inspection fee should stay the same, rather than double.
  3. Electronic monitoring while on probation. SB517 would require electronic monitoring as a condition of probation for repeat misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor offenders who are not sentenced to incarceration. Yes.
  4. A little hope for victims of violence. HB58 and SB471 would establish the Hawaii Hope Card Program to issue Hope Cards upon request to those holding a long-term protective order.
  5. The rights of the terminally-ill. HB92, HB882, and SB585 would allow terminally-ill patients to receive investigational drugs, biological products, and devices that have not received final FDA approval. HB1255 would allow a terminally-ill, competent adult of at least 50 years to receive a lethal dose of medication to end life.

8 bills that put checks government power

  1. Term limits for legislators. HB168, SB835, and SB927 proposes term limits of 12 consecutive years for State Representatives and Senators. Term limits may encourage more people to get involved in politics, and it may mean that ineffective legislation can be repealed more easily because its supporters have moved on.
  2. No fundraising during legislative sessions. HB327 and SB244 would prohibit legislators and employees of legislators from holding fundraisers during a regular or special legislative session.
  3. Initiative, referendum, recall, and impeachment. HB418 would provide for direct initiative, popular referendum, and recall. HB471 and SB952 would provide for Referendum. HB474 and SB951 would provide for Recall. SB241 would provide for the power of Impeachment.
  4. Constitution-check on bills. HB394 would require all introduced bills to be subject to a legal sufficiency check that determines whether the bill meets state constitutional requirements and does not conflict with the state constitution or federal constitution before first reading. Does this mean that legislators could pass a bill now that turns out to be unconstitutional?
  5. A unicameral legislature. SB931 would propose a constitutional amendment to create a unicameral legislature consisting of 51 members serving four year terms. Legislators would serve smaller districts and proposed legislation might be reduced (less overlap of bills).
  6. Resign-to-run! SB1182 would create resign-to-run laws on all state elected public officers. Public campaigning and fundraising is practically a full-time job. However, HB1048 would establish reemployment rights for public employees who resign in order to seek elective office.
  7. Legislator residency requirements. HB1263 would require candidates for the state legislature to be residents of their legislative districts for at least one year prior to the general election.
  8. Bill, be true to thyself. SB245 would require that bills can only become law if, after amendments, it reflects its original purpose. This makes so much sense, no one thought it needed to be a law.

8 bills that reveal government overreach

  1. Driving rights for illegal immigrants. HB688 would allow illegal immigrants (“regardless of immigration status”) to gain limited purpose driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits. HB1007 would allow illegal immigrants (who “do not present proof of authorized presence in the United States”) to gain limited purpose driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits. SB365 and SB683 would create limited purchase driver’s licenses, provisional driver’s licenses, and instruction permits with “satisfactory proof of identity and Hawaii residency.” Driving is a privilege, not a right.
  2. Red lights, camera, action! HB1324 and SB1160 would establish a three-year pilot program for a photo red light imaging detector system program.
  3. No more fruit punch or orange juice on kids menus. HB1437 and SB1179 would prohibit restaurant children’s menus from offering any beverage other than bottled water and milk, but allows children to order any nonalcoholic drink from a restaurant’s regular menu. Let restaurants, parents, and children make this decision. This would give children fewer choices, not help them make better choices.
  4. What’s in your snorkel? HB1460 would require people to use snorkels equipped with a safety valve. How would they enforce this?
  5. Crowdfunding is okay, but only when we say it’s okay. HB1482 would establish a crowdfunding program for limited intrastate investments between Hawaii residents and Hawaii businesses, limited to no more than $1 million raised over a 12-month period, not to exceed $5,000 per investor. Why is the government getting involved in private crowdfunding?
  6. A 1-meter bubble around bicycles. SB128 would prohibit a motor vehicle from being operated within 1 meter of a moving bicycle. This seems unreasonable and unenforceable. Some roads have narrow bike lanes or parked cars in the bike lane. Also, bikers must sometimes move closer to the car lane to avoid a pothole or a rock on the road.
  7. Separate electricity meters and more service fees for all. SB488 would require nonresidential and residential condominium units to install separate electricity utility metering. I think that this should be the condominium association’s decision. This seems like a way for electric companies to charge individual units with a monthly service charge.
  8. Pawnbrokers and customers, we’re watching you! SB515 would require pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers to submit daily electronic reports on items received. This is an economic hardship: dealers would need a computer, Internet access, and a digital camera; customers would have to pay a property receipt reporting fee (they need money, or they wouldn’t need a pawnbroker or dealer).

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 7. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

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