Haste Makes Waste

Rusty KnifeAs legislative deadlines loom, marijuana advocates shuttle unfinished bills into hearings in order to keep bills alive. Amidst the flurry, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee betrays public trust by invoking the maligned gut and replace in order to ensure that marijuana measures continue into the next phase of the legislative calendar.

Less than half a day since the previous post regarding advancing marijuana legislation, the number of bills up for consideration has since doubled. Three bills to legalize/decriminalize marijuana possession were already scheduled for a hearing on Thursday morning. With minutes left on the mandatory 48-hour notice, Senate Judiciary Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran posted notice of a second hearing to push the discussion of medical marijuana through the halfway point of Hawaii’s legislative session. Additionally, Sylvia Luke (close friend to Gil Keith-Agaran) has posted notice that she intends to hear HB321 on Friday, February 27th.

Within the next three days, Hawaii’s legislature will be addressing a total of six bills on marijuana:

Bill Date Time Committee Topic
SB666 Feb. 26 9:00AM Senate JDL Legalization of Marijuana (via decriminialization)
SB708 Feb. 26 9:00AM Senate JDL Legalization of Marijuana (via decriminialization)
SB879 Feb. 26 9:00AM Senate JDL Legalization of Marijuana (via decriminialization)
SB1291 Feb. 26 9:00AM Senate JDL Random drug testing, medical marijuana usage
SB682 Feb. 26 9:00AM Senate JDL Repeals primary care physician requirement for Med. Marijuana
HB321 Feb. 27th 3:00PM House FIN Marijuana dispensaries, marijuana production on state agriculture lands

For more discussion on SB666, SB708 and SB879 – please see a previous post: Power Play. Note that “JDL” refers to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, and “FIN” refers to the House Committee on Finance.

The second agenda added by Agaran is what legislative insiders would call “housekeeping”. When SB1302 was advanced on February 18th by a joint senate committee (health, public safety and judiciary), the only changes that were made were minor technical fixes. Only today (Feb. 24th) did the senate realize that SB1302 was so severely flawed that it warranted additional fixes. In order to do so, Sen. Keith-Agaran had to invoke the much despised and deplored “gut and replace” fix.

The practice of “gut and replace” removes the entire contents of a previous bill and replaces it with language that is completely unrelated to the original bill. The practice is widely described as a betrayal of the public trust and is criticized highly by good government groups like Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters – Hawaii. The practice of “gut and replace” became so widespread that both groups awarded the Rusty Scalpel Award to the worst breach of public trust and government transparency. To add further injury and insult, the contents of SB1291 were Christmas tree’d to advance language that was gutted from SB1291.

If you’re confused, that is exactly what liberal Democrats are counting on.

While elected officials continue to abide by the word of the very rules they established to govern themselves, they deliberately violate the very spirit that the same rules were established under: honesty and transparency in government. On the topic of the gut and replace, Senator Les Ihara was quoted by the Maui News saying:

“It’s one of the practices by the Legislature that is held in disdain by the public,” Ihara said. “My interest is in fostering trust in the legislative process, and I believe this fosters distrust.”

While it is not clear what Senate President Donna Mercado Kim feels about SB1302, she also commented to the Maui News about how the practice is a “necessary evil”:

“There’s no perfect system, there’s no perfect way of doing it,” Kim said. “If something you believe in got killed on one side of the house, and you wanted it to be kept alive, then you would be advocating for it.”

It has long been the position of this blog that these bills die for a very good reason – because they are bad. The fact that elected officials exploit the rules to revive bad ideas makes a bad problem even worse.

SB1302 reflects poorly on both the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, and the Hawaii State Senate as a whole. Like a student waiting to the last minute to submit a paper, the Senate waited until the last minute to hear and fix SB1302. Only a week after they submitted their results did they notice their poor workmanship. Had the Senate taken the time to methodically and deliberately look at SB1302, they would have noticed how fatally flawed the bill was and acted accordingly.

Instead they are saddled with a bad bill that they are trying to fix – and the public relations disaster that ensues.[1]

Blogger’s note: Analysis and draft testimony will not be available for SB1291 and SB682. While it is recommended that these measures be opposed not only for their support of marijuana, but also because they are a shining example of everything that is wrong with government and how it lacks transparency. Analysis and recommendations for HB321 will be made available in the next post. Until then I bid you “good night”.


[1] In fairness, JDL has at least recognized the sloppiness of their work and is attempting to fix it while it is still possible. Other poorly worded bills have required the Legislature to return during their long 7-month recess in order to fix it.

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