Preparing for Consensus on ConCon (Jean Aoki)
Evening with Bill Schneider
At the Legislature (Jean Aoki)
Vol. XLIII No. 4
LWV of Hawaii - Proposed Budget - June 1, 2008 - May 31, 2009
Honolulu Report (Piilani Kaopuiki)
Hawaii Report (Leilani Bronson-Crelly & Sue Dursin)
Kauai Report (Carol Bain)
Maui Report (Sue Irvine)
LWV-HI Council 2008
Calendar of Events
At the Legislature
Because of personal reasons, JoAnn Maruoka and I started our legislative work after the session started so we were playing catch-up for quite a while. To juggle our time between legislation and our work on our ConCon study, we decided to prioritize the issues we would work on and just do our best.
While things didn't look good in the beginning, they are looking up as far as campaign finance and sunshine bills are concerned. When the session begins, you address bills that contain one item each (e.g. increasing the amount candidates can give from their surplus campaign funds to charities and community groups), and so you write many separate testimonies. Later, items you support and those you don't may be thrown together in a larger bill forcing you to support it while pleading for the deleting of objectionable items or rejecting a bill completely because the bad outweighs the good.
Campaign Finance Reform
Early on, HB 2602 which would have increased the threshold amount for a non-candidate committee (independent committee set up to oppose or support candidates or ballot issues) organizational report, and also would have increased the amount candidates can donate from surplus campaign funds to charities and community groups, (both issues we opposed) was passed by the Judiciary Committee, but killed on the House floor when the motion to return it to committee was unanimously approved. Both issues did crop up in other bills, however.
The bill that got the most publicity was HB 2455 which would have reinstated what corporations could give to candidates: $2000 to candidates with 2-year terms, $4000 to those with 4-year terms, and $6000 for those running for statewide positions. For several years, a corporation has been limited to giving $1000 to its company's PAC. In other words, there is a ban on direct corporate contributions. Twenty two states ban corporate contributions and the trend is in that direction.
The House Judiciary passed HB 2455, but on its third reading on the House floor, a motion to send it back to committee finally won and the bill is dead. On the day for House floor action, a group of Honolulu League board members, led by President Piilani Kaopuiki, and all with League buttons on their lapels, filed in just in time to watch with disapproval efforts to save the bill - from leaders consulting each other to a retreat by the Democrats to their caucus room before emerging for the floor vote.
SB2204, SD1 was a biggie incorporating many of the provisions of individual bills including items in HB 2602 above, electronic filing, the increase of donation amount subject to identifying donor's occupation and employer from $100 to $250, allowing more liberal use of surplus campaign funds for expenses incurred in meeting incumbents' duties as elected officials, and allowing unlimited contributions by corporations to their corporate or company non-candidate committee. The last item together with SB 2455 was the subject of the “Stop the Tsunami” campaign by coalition members. The measure was deferred by the House Judiciary and is presumably dead.
HB 661, HD1, SD1, would set up a program for public funding of election campaigns for candidates to the Hawaii County Council. It had passed the House in the 2007 session with some differences, but was never heard by the Senate committees to which it was referred so it was carried over to this session. Both committees have passed the bill and it is now ready for 3rd reading by the Senate. Both Houses will have to determine whether there is general agreement on the amendments made by each of the houses. If there is no agreement, it will need to go to conference.
Monday, March 31st, the House Finance Committee heard SB 2579 SD2, HD1 which sets up penalties for failing to file and for filing substantially defective or incomplete campaign spending reports. It transfers the depositing of fines and fees from the Election Campaign Fund to the general fund, and increases from $2 to $3 the check off amount that taxpayers may designate for the Election Campaign Fund on their State income tax returns.
While decrying the decision to transfer fees and penalties to the general fund, in the interest of enforcing compliance with the campaign finance laws on timely, complete, and honest reporting of campaign expenditures and donations, we will support this bill if the increase of the check-off amount is increased from $2 to $3, preferably $5.
This takes us back to the Maui court ruling of last year that corporations can make donations directly to candidates without going through corporate PACs. The Campaign Spending Commission has an appeal before the Intermediate Court of Appeals. A direct ban on all corporate contributions may be the only solution.
I lump all bills that have to do with access to government information, access to open meetings, and access to means of delivering your own or your group's messages to the public under “Access”.
Basically what is happening among the bills introduced is an attempt to relax the requirements of our open meetings law (sunshine law) to allow for freer discussions among board members outside of their official board meeting to facilitate their work.
SB 2295 and HB 2216 are almost identical with slightly different titles. Both address all boards (boards, committees, commissions, city and county councils) and would allow two or more members of a board, but less than the number required for a quorum, to discuss board business among themselves and to attend informational meetings or presentations at seminars, conventions, community meetings, etc. that involve matters relating to official board business, as long as the presentations are not organized specifically for, or directed toward, members of the board. “Members may participate in discussions conducted at the meeting or presentation, including discussions among themselves, provided that the discussions occur during, and as part of the meeting or presentation, and no commitment to vote on official board business shall be made or sought.”
SB 2295 SD1 which had passed the Senate and crossed over to the House was heard by the House Judiciary on March 28. In addition to the amendments listed above, it would allow the board to poll its members in writing, by phone, e-mail or facsimile, before the board meeting as long as the document will be public record 7 days after the polling.
“The polling shall not constitute a vote,” declares the bill.
We had missed this bill when it was heard in the Senate so I'm afraid I didn't mince words at this hearing. I said that the enactment of this bill into law would mean the emasculation of the sunshine law.
At decision-making time I thought I heard the chair recommend that the bill be deferred but couldn't trust my ears because he had passed a similar House bill. Generally, unless a bill is deferred to a date certain, the bill is dead or practically dead. I called Chair Water's office Monday morning to inquire what the Chair's intent was, and the clerk informed me that Representative Water's intent was to defer indefinitely.
HB 2216 which does not contain the polling feature was passed by the House and crossed over to the Senate and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary & Labor. It has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.
We testified on bills relaxing the open meeting laws specifically for the neighborhood boards. While we supported many of the issues like allowing items not on the agenda to be brought up during the community input part of the agenda, we did oppose board members attending other community meetings, seminars, etc. with the same stipulations as found in HB2216 and SB 2295. HB2730 HD1, SD1 is still alive having passed the Senate Judiciary & Labor Committee.
At the Senate Committee on Judiciary & Labor's hearing on SB 2801 which would allow people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day, we, as usual, strongly supported it. Because we have a new Chief Elections Officer who only recently began work, and because of the use of new voting machines this fall which will require renewed efforts on voter education, we suggested that the effective date be moved to 2010. With this amendment in place, the bill passed this committee. However, the Senate Ways and Means Committee did not hold a decision-making meeting, and the bill died.
Now, we are attempting to activate 2007's bill which had passed both houses with amendments and was in conference committee before the end of the session and was held over to this session. If the conferees are selected and allowed to continue the conference, we may yet get it adopted. If financing it is a problem, we do have a suggestion to lessen the cost.
Among the other bills we addressed was a bill to shield journalists and broadcasters from being compelled to reveal their sources of information with some exceptions. It defines who would qualify for this limited privilege and clarifies that the prohibition against fines and imprisonment applies to persons who qualify for this privilege. HB 2557 HD1 passed 3rd reading in the House. The Senate Judiciary & Labor Committee held a hearing on the bill on March 25. Decision making was deferred three times and is now scheduled for April 4. League supports this bill.
SB 2064 is an attempt to narrow the jury pool by exempting yet another group, this time psychiatrists. We believe that there should be few blanket exemptions. It is easy enough to be excused if you have valid reasons to be excused at a particular time. The right to a jury trial is one of the cherished rights in a judicial system in a democracy, and a diverse and broad jury pool is essential to making a fair system work.
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