2016 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Observations

2016 Hawaii Legislature

The 2016 Hawaii Legislative Session will end on May 5 in just a few short weeks. The “First Crossover” (the last day to approve the third reading of a bill) and the “Budget Crossover” deadlines have passed. Of the proposed bills with action taken in 2016, 483 House bills have crossed over to the Senate and 363 Senate Bills have crossed over to the House.

After weeks spent browsing through the bill summaries, I look forward to finding out how our legislators voted – and which bills have passed. I’ll conclude with three quick observations about this year’s Hawaii Legislature.

First, there is no way that legislators could write or co-write every bill with their name on it. Legislators must rely on a small army of people and organizations to write bills. Who are the real writers of these bills? How can we find out who the authors of a bill are – and how much they have contributed in campaign donations?

Second, there are a lot of duplicate bills in the House and Senate. The duplicate bills address the same issues, but with slightly different timelines, fees, penalties, or other details (for example, a different effective date or a different percentage increase/decrease). Why do we need to introduce and carry-over so many bills that have the same intent? This seems to be a case of paperwork that never dies, ever.

Third, the number of proposed bills is overwhelming – but the bill reports are underwhelming. Currently, bill reports show the Bill number, Title, Subtitle, Appropriation, Bill Summary, Current Status, Introducer(s), and Current Referral. Here are 5 more things we need to know about proposed bills:

  1. What’s new. Add a category to sort bills by New (introducing a new act), Amended (changing, adding to, or removing a section of an existing act), and Housekeeping (fixing errors or omissions).
  2. Will the real author stand up. In addition to acknowledging the bill introducer(s), we should also identify who actually wrote each bill – whether it was the legislator’s staff members, Hawaii state department staff members, in-house lawyers, or third-party organizations.
  3. Show us the money. Instead of merely showing us that money is being requested for a bill, tell us the actual dollar amounts – whether it’s a one-time appropriation or an annual appropriation over a number of years.
  4. This reminds me of… Reference all other bills during the legislative session, in both the House and the Senate, that are substantially similar – not just “companion” bills. These bills may have different effective dates or different tax rates, but the wording and intent are essentially the same.
  5. What’s alive and what’s dead. Acknowledge bills that are “dead” for this legislative session – that aren’t scheduled for a hearing and have no chance of passing a hearing.

Which issues are you paying attention to during this legislative session? Have you reached out to your state representative or senator; and just as important, have you received a response?

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