Gut & Replace

Rusty KnifeThe practice of the “gut & replace” at the Legislature has received a lot of attention in the years since the inception of the infamous Public Land Development Corporation.[1]  This practice entails a particular committee removing the contents of a particular bill and replacing it with the contents of another bill that is already “dead” for the rest of the legislative session.  This sort of legislative “gamesmanship” is more than frowned upon by good government entities – whereby elected officials follow the “letter of the rules” while violating the “spirit of the rules”.  The practice raises an entirely new set of ethical questions:

  1. If the bill died, why should it get a second chance that all the other legislation does not?
  2. Why should a particular “idea” be permitted to shortcut the legislative process and required committee hearings?
  3. Why should the “dead” language be able to take the place of a viable idea in the legislative process?

The idea is so unpopular that (a) the Senate has enacted rules to greatly discourage the practice of “gutting and replacing”,[2] and (b) Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters[3] have initiated the Rusty Scalpel Award “for the most altered bill whose original content are no longer recognizable because of “gut and replace and “Frankenstein” amendments – “surgical techniques” that severely change the original purpose of a bill.”[4]

Led by Gary Hooser, anti-development groups[5] were quick to decry SB1555 as a “gut and replace” and used that mantra to wildly oppose the unpopular Public Land Development Corporation.  Today, the very same individuals, led by Gary Hooser are expected to testify in support of a similar “gut and replace”.[6]  House Agriculture Chair Jessica Wooley has gut gutted the contents of SB2435 and replaced it with language to require labeling of GMO products.  The original SB2435 was described as:

Gives preference to moneys deposited into the agricultural development and food security special fund from the environmental response, energy, and food security tax for the acquisition of real property for agricultural production or processing activity.

While Gary Hooser and “environmental groups” were quick to decry the “gut & replace” when it worked against them with the PLDC, and when Senate Agriculture Chair Clarence Nishihara used a short-form bill to revive the Right To Farm Act,[7] they stand in full support of the “gut and replace” when it serves their ends.[8]

In this instance, good government is subject to moral and ethical relativism.   As Common Cause Hawaii, the League of Women Voters, Gary Hooser and other anti-development groups have demonstrated, “good government” is not a monolithic concept of the highest standards of ethics and honesty in government supported by all, but instead is a means to an end that can be looked past when one group stands to gain.  The act itself is not a violation of good government practices, but the act of being harmed by the act makes it a violation of good government practices.

Whatever side of the GMO-labeling issue one stands on, justice demands that Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters hold parties accountable to the highest-standards of “good government”.  Otherwise, their silence will be interpreted as capitulation in part to the progressive agenda.


[1] While primary focus of this blog is state politics as a Christian, “good government” is a recurring theme.  Additionally, there have been many inquiries to me personally about how the Legislature operates – therefore, this is a good introduction for many people about how the Legislature can follow the letter of the rules, but still violate the spirit of it.

[2] Derrick Depledge, Political Radar Blog “Referrals” (Jan 21, 2014) http://politicalradar.staradvertiserblogs.com/2014/01/21/referrals/

[3] Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters are organizations that purport to support “good government” and “clean elections”.  However, the groups are selectively biased in the scenarios where they are willing to look the other way.  Both groups were silent when the Senate cut off testimony on SB1 during the 2013 special session.  Both groups were silent when a special session was called to rehear same-sex marriage to override the 1998 constitutional amendment on the same issue.

[4] Common Cause Hawaii, “Government Watchdog Organizations Announce “Rusty Scalpel Award” (Jan 13, 2014) http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=8959193

[5] Legislative insiders point out that self-proclaimed “environmental groups” use the misnomer to oppose all plans for development in the islands because these same environmental groups also oppose common sense solutions to address environmental issues.  Because this blog is based on the Christian premise of “truth and grace”, it is important to call it like it is.

[6] Civil Beat, “House Reps Revive Effort to Label GMO Food in Hawaii” (Mar 17, 2014) http://hawaii.politics.government.blogs.civilbeat.com/post/79942491378/house-reps-revive-effort-to-label-gmo-food-in-hawaii

[7] Civil Beat, “Did Hawaii Sen. Nishihara just breathe life into a dying biotech bill?” (Feb 3, 2014) http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2014/02/03/21094-did-hawaii-sen-nishihara-just-breathe-new-life-into-a-dying-biotech-bill/

[8] This post is neither a verification nor a rebuke of the GMO-labeling issue but instead is a critique of the current state of government using one of many possible examples.

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