Shady Dealings

Courtesy the Hawaii House BlogLiberal and progressive Democrats have never missed an opportunity to alienate voters.  On this occasion, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Editorial Board (party-of-one) finally called it like it is:

On a bad-government note: Legislators on the House floor Tuesday approved a blank bill with no content; its only vague reference was to geothermal power and it was advanced, over some objections, to conference committee negotiations. This short-form bill maneuver — “unusual,” conceded House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke — locks out direct public input on the proposed law to be discussed, since conference committee is where language will be inserted in the blank bill but public testimony is not allowed.

Open-government advocates warn yearly about “gut and replace” tactics at this stage of the session, but it is unconscionable for legislators to forward a blank bill on the contentious issue of geothermal power with no hint of content or prior public input. This one bears particular scrutiny.

Recall that it was this very same leadership team of liberal Democrats that promised transparency in government:

The most critical important check on government is an informed and involved citizenry. At minimum, residents should vote. We will work to facilitate, rather than hamper, public involvement in government.

— followed time and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again where they betrayed the transparency and good government that they promised.

Conference committee is a dark time at the Legislature where the House and Senate hammer our their differences on pieces of legislation that have managed to pass through both chambers.  During this part of the legislative session, no public testimony is accepted.

This move is part-and-parcel of the liberal agenda – to alienate moderate and conservative voters so that louder, more liberal and progressive voices are able to monopolize government.  This is not a “red” or “blue” issue.  It is not about Democrats and Republicans — there are moderate Democrats who have also suffered at the hands of this unholy crusade.  Likewise, there are liberal Republicans who have benefitted from the alienation of moderates and conservatives.

It is about liberals and progressives against moderates and conservatives.  When elected officials remove the public from the lawmaking process, being disengaged is the worst possible option.  Now more than ever, people of faith must stay engaged and keep government accountable.

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No Specific Reason

From the Honolulu Star-AdvertiserThe latest installment of “Working Hard or Hardly Working” (WH/HW?) comes from Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.

HB2501 came at the request of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).  It would permit a “holdover” water rights while their filing before the Land Board is being reviewed.  This became necessary with the imminent closure of Hawaii Cane & Sugar (HC&S) (a) to preserve water service to more than 30,000 upcountry Maui residents, and (b) to transition the company’s land holdings from sugar cane to diversified agriculture.  The latter is what triggered a review of A&Bs water permits.

In the latest draft issued by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, A&B was specifically excluded from the bill while ten other applicants would still benefit.  When Tokuda was pressed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she offered her wisdom:

“There’s no specific reason”

A recent article offered fivethirtyeight.com (“How much should state legislators get paid?“) examined the compensation that lawmakers receive across the nation.  Compensation is not just what legislators are paid directly as salary, but includes per diem expenses.  For example, neighbor island legislators are rightly compensated a single roundtrip ticket from their districts to Oahu every week.  They are also compensated for their housing accommodations in Honolulu during the legislative session.

When all is tabulated, Hawaii legislators received the largest compensation for any part-time or hybrid legislature in the nation.  For their work from the months of January through early May, Hawaii legislators are reported by NCSL to be compensated $68,352.

Keep in mind that this is what they are paid for four months of work.  This is lumped on top of what should be their normal, full-time employment.  What is the point of a part-time legislator when their only gainful employment is being a lawmaker?

When legislators receive a full year’s salary for only four months of full-time work, “For no specific reason” is not the $68,352 response that taxpayers deserve – especially when the action jeopardizes the sustainability of our islands and water services to 30,000 constituents.

There once was a time not too long ago when lawmakers were not afraid to work hard.  The mentality of public service and judicious oversight had lawmakers holding marathon hearings from 1PM in the afternoon until 2, 3 or even 4AM the following morning.  These days it seems that they are all trying to make happy hour down at Hukilau, or the fundraiser of one of their colleagues to liquor up and enjoy being lavished with expensive food by lobbyists.

A case can be made for proper compensation of legislators.  There is a saying in the private sector that says “you get what you pay for”, and the findings by fivethirtyeight.com seem to support that.  Current legislative leaders, however, are starting to look less and less like hard-working private sector employees and more like 9-to-5 entry level employees.  If a $68,352 manager in the private sector made a decision based on “no specific reason”, they would be terminated immediately.

Is your legislator working hard?  Or hardly working?

Crying Shame

The gamesmanship and shenanigans surrounding the passage of HB321 (medical marijuana dispensaries) shed light on the inner machinations of the Hawaii Legislature.  While I will leave it to readers to infer their own conclusions, it is clear that legislative priorities are out-of-touch with reality.

In an April 20th memo distributed to all legislators, both House Speaker Joe Souki and then Senate President Donna Kim made it clear:

Decision-making Deadlines for Conference Committees have been established by the Joint House and Senate Committees on Conference Procedures (Conference Rules) which were agreed to by the Senate President and House Speaker on April 6, 2015.  There will be no exceptions.

Apparently rules do not apply when it stops you from getting what you want.  The memo itself can be viewed here.

It was shocking when both the House Speaker and the Senate President decided to grant exception for marijuana legislation to the very rules they said there would be no exception to especially since it was discovered that medical marijuana dispensaries to assist a small group of 300 individuals – the same 300 individuals who cannot grow marijuana for themselves.  Home-growers of medical marijuana do not need a dispensary.

In granting a special exception for those 300 individuals, House and Senate leaders ignored other priorities that also needed just a few more hours to pass out of conference committee.  For example, today’s (May 5th, 2015) Honolulu Star-Advertiser profiled an elderly couple who is forced to live in separate nursing homes because of arcane provisions in state law.  While the Legislature had the time to fix medical marijuana legislation, they did not have time to make a quick fix to state law so that Noboru and Elaine Kawamoto (married for 67 years) can live out the rest of their lives together.  Below this post are a few other ideas that the Legislature did not believe were a priority, and must wait another year like the Noborus.

While “justice” was found for a mom who injects her child with a marijuana extract, there is no solace or consolation for the Kawamotos who must continue to live a life apart – praying that there will be a next time.  When one is left to wonder how the priorities of legislators became so twisted and convoluted, they only need consider that kissing babies make better campaign pictures than caring for kupuna.

SB286 Establishes the Office of the State Inspector General, to be headed by the State Inspector General to investigate complaints alleging fraud, waste, abuse, or corruption by a state agency or quasi-public agency, or by the officers or employees of a state agency or quasi-public agency.
SB230 Clarifies that reimbursement to crime victims includes lost wages and mental health treatment, counseling, and therapy.
SB287 Requires the implementation of a mail-in voting system in phases. (Also HB124)
SB304 Establishes the Hawaii Maternal Mortality Review Panel within the Department of Health to conduct a comprehensive review of maternal deaths that have occurred in the State
SB1032 Expands the definition of “tobacco products” to include tobacco-free products containing nicotine that are intended for human consumption.
SB1221 Requires the Department of Education to consult with the Department of Health and the American Diabetes Association to develop and adopt rules for the training of school employees and qualified volunteers to provide care to students with diabetes
HB171 Appropriates funds for fiscal year 2015-2016 to be deposited into the hurricane reserve trust fund
HB365 Appropriates moneys as a grant-in-aid to the City and County of Honolulu to purchase body cameras for their police officers and to establish a Honolulu Police Department Body Camera Pilot Program
HB600 Authorizes the DOH to allow two individuals in a relationship with each other as a married or civil union couple to be cared for in the same community care foster family home if certain requirements are met.
HB819 Requires state and county agencies and grantees that serve youth to adopt bullying prevention policies.