October 1989 Home   Newsletters

November-December 1989

January 1990

American Voter's Bill of Rights
President's Message (Arlene Ellis)
Honolulu Convention Center II (Astrid Monson)
Planning and Zoning Committee Up-date (Astrid Monson)
Public Participation in the Legislative Process (Evelyn Bender)
General Membership Meeting
League of Women Voters Presents - Choice (Linda Chinn)
Membership and Anniversary Dates
Advertising on Buses
Available for Circulation
Mythology of Growth and Transportation
UPW Vote Count
Editorial from Pacific Business News - 11/20 (George Mason)
In Memoriam
Council Observer Corps

Public Participation in the Legislative Process

In June, the League along with AAUW, Common Cause, and the Legislative Concerns Committee of the Hawaii Council of Churches submitted a Position Paper detailing the problems the public encountered when they attempted to participate in the legislative process along with over 60 suggestions how to ease these difficulties.

Problems Encountered and Recommendations Made

The following is an attempt to give a brief summary of the problems and suggested solutions. If you wish a more detailed account, copies of the Position Paper are available at the League office for the cost of Xeroxing.

The problem areas included: (1) physical facilities ranging from the amount of public parking, signs in the Capitol, and lack of work space for the public; (2) operations of the Print Shop; (3) lack of permanent and well-trained legislative staff; (4) bill introduction deadline too late into the session; (5) late hearing notices and the committee hearing process; and (6) lack of sufficient time around major legislative deadlines for the public to obtain copies of amended bills and to contact legislators before floor action is taken on them.

In standing back and looking objectively at the Hawaii legislative process as a whole, these established non-partisan community organizations have come to appreciate the enormity and complexity of defining the necessary changes to make the system more effective and accountable to the public. The suggestions in the Paper are intended to be a beginning. Improving the system is a long-term project requiring ongoing active participation between the public and the legislature.

The Paper commended the Legislature, especially the House, for the strides it has already made in providing electronic access but emphasized that new technology is only part of the answer. Technology must enhance and complement, not simply supplant, current information systems.

The suggested recommendations in the various areas included:

Physical Facilities -- increase public parking, provide a testimony drop-off and bill pickup box, have better signs and clearly marked bulletin boards, and establish a work area for the public„

Print Shop Operations -- extend the hours, obtain more labor-saving devices, and make arrangements for contracting-out the printing when workload reaches a certain limit.

To help contain the printing costs, a printed document was suggested giving bill number, title, introducer, and a short accurate digest available in a timely fashion people could select only the bills they are interested in rather than getting copies of every bill. However, unless the digest is accurate and there is sufficient time to use it, the box-holders will not give up the security of getting copies of every bill.

Legislative Staffing Pattern -- increase permanent year-round staff so there is a continuity and a subject expertise built up, provide more training to session staff before session begins, bring legal and research staff on earlier, and increase legislative oversight of the administration and interim action in specific areas that need extra study and research.

Legislative Process -- institute a pre-session bill introduction deadline so all bills are in print to allow committee chairmen to decide in an orderly fashion what bills are to be heard and when, and post hearing notices at least 48 hours in advance.

Modify the legislative timetable by holding hearings and floor sessions only on Monday through Thursday, have a mandatory recess after bill introduction if there is no pre-session introduction deadline, inserting additional recess days near major internal and decking deadlines, and prohibiting hearings on recess days.

Improve committee hearing process, have more joint House and Senate committee hearings, and standardizing committee practices.

Increase action on Senate and House floors by having more debate, have Orders of the Day available for those in the gallery, and make House and Senate internal rules as similar as possible.

Let the public into the budget process by showing a more complete breakdown of specific programs, providing copies of budget work papers, and holding committee meetings at reasonable hours,

Reaction and Action to Date

The Paper was well received by legislative leadership, members and staff; press; and public at large. Coalition members spent hours in in-depth and productive discussions with legislative leadership, members and staff, administration, and press.

The Legislative Access Committee prepared a. Draft Action Plan dated November 3, 1989 stating that:

Both Chambers Plan to Provide (1) audio bill status services, (2) electronic access to legislative documents and other information, (3) federal information services, and (4) modification of the legislative timetable to include six additional recess days strategically placed near major legislative deadlines.

Both Chambers Have Under Consideration (1) Joint Clerk's Operation during conference committee report periods, (2) limit the number of bills a Senate and House member can introduce 2-3 days prior to the actual bill cut-off deadline, (3) improve conference committee procedures by prohibiting conference committee meetings and decision-making between midnight and 7 a.m., and (4) establishment of internal conference committee deadlines.

Both Chambers Agree to Pursue with the Department of Accounting and General Services (1) improvement of public accommodations in the Capitol, and (2) additional public parking. DAGS has already agreed to provide some additional stalls for the 1990 session.

The House will (1) prepare a print-shop plan to achieve a 24-hour turnabout for providing copies of legislative documents to the public in 1991, (2) centralize distribution of hearing notices, (3) continue Capitol Bulletin Board Service, (4) recommend the hiring of one permanent staff person for each member following the 1990 session, (5) extend Print Shop hours, (6) provide a testimony drop-off box, and (7) provide a public work area.

The Legislative Access Committee has held hearings in all counties. At the hearings, the members of the Committee have acknowledged the work of the Coalition members and have expressed their gratitude for their support saying that some of the Committee's recommendations could not have been made without that support.

At the November 15 Honolulu hearing, the League and other Coalition members commended Committee members for the progress already made or contemplated. However, Coalition members pointed out that while many of the recommendations might ease the present situation, it will not greatly improve unless there is a much earlier bill introduction deadline with a recess called after that date.

They were also concerned that even with the additional recess days around major legislative deadlines, there might still not be enough time to get copies of the amended bills and to contact legislators. They were disappointed that (1) no recommendation was made regarding the printing of a bill digest document, (2) no policy was established prohibiting the holding of hearings on recess days, and (3) no consideration was given for the holding of hearings and floor sessions only on Monday through Thursday.

If it is not possible to get a permanent staff person for each member, they emphasized that there should at least be increased permanent staff for committees so subject expertise and continuity can be developed and session staff should be brought on board earlier so they can be better trained.

After considering all the testimony, the Legislative Access Committee will issue a final report, hopefully by mid-December.

Future League Action

The League and the other Coalition members will pursue the suggestions already made and offer further recommendations for other needed changes. We will continue to cooperate with the leadership, members, and staff of the Legislature so that all the people of Hawaii, regardless of where they reside, can easily participate in an open and effective legislative product.

All members interested in joining the Lobby Corps call Evelyn at 737-2524.

Evelyn Bender
Acting President, LWV-HI

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