2016 Hawaii elections: proposed amendments, part 1

Hawaii Votes 2016

I’m not sure whether to be pleased or dismayed by the number of the proposed amendments that will be decided by voters this year. In addition to selecting the best candidates for elected office, Hawaii voters have many decisions to make that will have a big impact on County charters and our future.

There are two proposed constitutional amendments on the 2016 general election ballot this year, and an assorted number of proposed charter amendments: one in Hawaii County, five in Maui County, seven in Kauai County, and twenty in Honolulu County.

This week, I’m taking a quick look at the constitutional amendments and proposed amendments Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai counties. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll add some thoughts and questions to think about (my comments in italics). Next week, I’ll tackle proposed amendments in Honolulu County.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

1: Relating to Jury Trials in Civil Cases. Shall the threshold value in controversy requirement for jury trials in civil cases at common law be increased from $5,000 to $10,000?
Do we need it? Yes. Jury trials are expensive, both in terms of money and jurors’ time. We shouldn’t waste it on low-monetary value cases. Can we afford it? Yes, there should be no cost to make this change.

2: Relating to the Disposition of Excess Revenues. Shall the legislature be provided, when the state general fund balance at the close of each of two successive fiscal years exceeds five per cent of the general fund revenues for each of the two fiscal years, the additional alternatives of appropriating general funds for the pre-payment of either or both of the following: (1) Debt service for general obligation bonds issued by the State; or (2) Pension or other post-employment benefit liabilities accrued for state employees?
Do we need it? Reluctantly, yes. Though I believe that taxes in Hawaii are high, and ideally “excess” taxes should be returned to taxpayers, we also have obligations to debts and pensions. Can we afford it? It depends. A small refund could make a big difference to people who live paycheck-to-paycheck. But those small refunds also add up to a larger amount that could help Hawaii pay its debts or meet its obligations to employees.

Proposed Hawaii County Amendment

1: Expanding Scope of the County of Hawaii General Plan. Shall the County Charter be amended to change the scope of the County of Hawaii General Plan, which currently sets forth policy for “the long-range comprehensive physical development of the county”, to include long-range policy for matters related to the economic, environmental, and socio-cultural wellbeing of the County; and, additionally, expand those matters which the General Plan promotes to include the health of the people of the County?
Do we need it? Uncertain. I’m not familiar with existing plans for economic, environmental, socio-cultural, and physical wellbeing. However, it sounds like the County would take on more oversight or control over policies and budgets.

Proposed Maui County Amendments

1: Withdrawal of Signature from Supplemental Petition. Shall Sections 11-4 and 11-5 of the Charter be amended to correct clerical errors and to provide consistency within the Charter by allowing an individual to withdraw their signature from a supplemental petition?
Do we need it? Yes, if there are errors or mistakes. Yes, if it allows people to change their minds if they have been misinformed. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.

2: Review of Supplemental Petition. Shall Section 11-5 of the Charter be amended to allow the County Clerk twenty (20) days to review a supplemental petition, instead of ten (10) days?
Do we need it? I don’t see any problem with allowing the County Clerk extra time to review a petition. It may save money if a review is rushed and then challenged in court. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.

3: Emergency Management Agency. Shall the Charter be amended to change the name of the Civil Defense Agency to the Maui County Emergency Management Agency?
Do we need it? Unclear. Can we afford it? It depends on how much new signage, publications, and materials would need to be designed and reprinted.

4: Approval of and Qualifications for Various Directors. Shall the Charter be amended to require Council approval of the Mayor’s appointment of the Managing Director, Director of Finance, Director of Public Works, Director of Parks and Recreation, Planning Director, Director of Housing and Human Concerns, Director of Transportation, and Director of Environmental Management and to allow additional qualifications for department directors to be established by ordinance?
Do we need it? Uncertain. Hiring by committee could delay appointments, reduce the number of applicants, or cause confusion with arbitrary qualifications. Can we afford it? Rather, what discussions or decisions could be delayed if the Council had to approve hiring decisions? Could an antagonistic Council hold up appointments and leave departments without effective leaders?

5: Office of Council Services’ Attorneys. Shall Sections 3-6, 3-7, and 8-2.3 of the Charter be amended to allow attorneys within the Office of Council Services, in addition to the attorneys within the Department of the Corporation Counsel, to serve as legal advisors to the Council and its members, and to allow the Council to designate, by two-thirds vote of its entire membership, attorneys within the Office of Council Services as special counsel to serve as legal representatives for any special matter presenting a real necessity for such employment?
Do we need it? Uncertain. It sounds like it could create a conflict of interest, with legal representatives in a position to influence advisory opinions. Can we afford it? Uncertain. How much is currently spent on “outside” legal representatives, and would additional attorneys need to be hired?

Proposed Kauai County Amendments

1: Relating to correcting gender neutrality, grammatical, spelling and formatting errors. Shall the charter be amended throughout to ensure that its language is to the greatest extent possible gender neutral and to make changes to spelling, capitalization, punctuation, formatting, and grammar?
Do we need it? Yes, if there are errors or mistakes. Uncertain, if the corrections are only for gender neutrality. Can we afford it? It depends on how many publications and materials would need to be reprinted.

2: Relating to expanding the duties of the Fire Chief and defining authority to execute powers and duties. Shall the duties of the fire chief be clarified to include duties currently performed such as addressing hazardous materials, emergency medical services, and ocean safety, and shall the reference to the mayor’s authority to assign duties be removed?
Do we need it? Yes, if the Fire Chief already performs these duties. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost much, except perhaps a salary increase for the Fire Chief.

3: Relating to establishing a Zoning Board of Appeals to assist the Planning Commission in providing due process for appellants. Shall a zoning board of appeals be established to hear appeals from decisions of the planning director and to conduct evidentiary hearings at the request of the planning commission?
Do we need it? Unsure. While there should be a board of appeals, this will mean more hiring, more procedures, and more bureaucracy. Can we afford it? Uncertain.

4: Relating to the Civil Defense Agency. Shall the county Civil Defense Agency be renamed the Emergency Management Agency and its organization clarified consistent with state law?
Do we need it? Unclear. Can we afford it? It depends on how much new signage, publications, and materials would need to be designed and reprinted.

5: Relating to the percentage of required voters for an initiative petition, a referendum petition, or a charter amendment petition. Shall the percentage of registered voter signatures required to start the initiative or referendum process be reduced to 10 percent from 20 percent, and shall the percentage of registered voter signatures required to start the charter amendment process via voter petition be increased to 10 percent from 5 percent?
Do we need it? Yes, this makes it easier for citizens and civic groups to participate in law-making. Can we afford it? Yes, this doesn’t seem to cost anything.

6: Relating to enabling the county clerk to determine what is a valid charter amendment. Shall it be specified what constitutes a charter amendment, and shall the processing of a proposed charter amendment via voter petition be revised to enable the county clerk to determine whether the proposal is a valid charter amendment?
Do we need it? Yes and no. Charter amendments should be clearly defined, but the county clerk may not be qualified to make the determination. Can we afford it? Uncertain. I don’t know what costs are involved.

7: Relating to establishing a permanent Charter Review Commission. Shall the Charter Review Commission be an ongoing commission?
Do we need it? No. Charter amendments should be done as needed, not on a regular schedule. Can we afford it? Uncertain. It depends on the size of the Commission budget.

The Office of Elections compiled a Factsheet of Constitutional and Charter Amendment Questions. With so many decisions to make, I encourage everyone to think about these issues before voting. Discuss them with family and friends. Be one of the decision-makers who will determine our future.

Which issues affect or concern you most? How will you vote in the general election?

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2 Comments on “2016 Hawaii elections: proposed amendments, part 1”

  1. Joe Uliana Says:

    The initiative charter amendment on Kauai could make more frivolous initiatives reach the ballot, but a yes seems worth it.

    The fire chief charter amendment is obvious if the mayor has the power to hire or fire the chief because the executive branch is ultimately responsible for these operations not the fire chief.


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