Chair McKelvey, Vice Chair Choy, members of ERB Committee,
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii opposes the use of the non-binding referendum on gambling.
For one, there is no provision in our state constitution for advisory referendums or optional referendums, except for compulsory referendums for the ratification of proposed amendments to the constitution or on the question of whether to have a constitutional convention or not. Initiative and the related referendum and recall were introduced in all three of the constitutional conventions held in Hawaii according to Ann Feder Lee in her book, The Hawaii State Constitution, A Reference Guide. However, none made it to the ballot, and except for the referendum required for the ratification of proposed amendments to the Constitution, there is no provision for the use of any referenda.
In some states, according to a 1977 report by League's Committee on Initiative & Referendum, the legislature may refer legislation to the people for judgement. The voluntary use of the referendum by the legislature is quite controversial. Some state constitutions specifically give their legislature this option. However, it has been used in New York and Illinois whose constitutions did not provide for it, and this use has been successfully challenged in the courts. Based on these decisions, the Attorney General of Hawaii has given the opinion that our state legislature may not use the optional referendum.”
What is referred to as non-binding referendum in this bill can be referred to as an adisory referendum. It is only meant to measure public opinion on any issue, so it may be a bit different from the optional referendum which might be binding. However, the fact remains that it is not a process expressly allowed in our constitution.
For any kind of attempt to measure public opinion, it is incumbent on the legislature to provide the means for broad public education on the issue. There will be the usual misinformation, and sound bites constantly coming over our electronic media to confuse the public. There will be money coming from gambling interests which organizations like ours cannot afford to combat. Will the legislature be able to afford the kind of public information campaign to insure that our voters go to the polls well-informed?
As long as Initiative and Referendum are not allowed in our constitution giving certain powers to the public, it is up to the Legislature to use the processes provided to make the decisions on the issue of legalizing gambling in our fair state and all other issues. The public has access to legislators, and the committee hearings to voice its opinion on issues. We elect our leaders to make the decisions, no matter how difficult.
We urge you to hold HB 1533 in committee.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify against HB 1533.