Council Edition 2000 Home   Newsletters

Fall 2000

First Quarter Edition 2000

Proposed Constitutional Amendments
President's Message (Maile Bay)
Hawaii Elections Project (HEP) Has a New Executive Director
League's DV Studies Makes Headlines
Lighting the Candles to Peace
Millenium Anniversary to Remember (Anne Stokely)
On the Home Front (Honolulu)
On the Home Front - Big Island
On the Home Front - Kauai
Constitutional Amendment to Eliminate Unfair Provision
National Coalition Launches Campaign
Membership Directory

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Question #1: Shall the University of Hawaii have the authority and power of self-governance in matters involving only the internal structure of, management, and operation of the University?

At present, according to the provisions in Article X, section 6 of the Hawaii Constitution, the power of the Board of Regents to formulate policy and to exercise control over the University is as provided by laws enacted by the Legislature. The proposed amendment gives the Board of Regents exclusive jurisdiction over "the internal organization, management, and operation" of the University. It will remove the phrase "as provided by law," which will give the Board the ability to formulate policy and to exercise control over the University without constant legislative authorization except as to "laws of statewide concern". Examples of laws of statewide concern are: 1) the Legislature's budget, 2) the Governor's ability to restrict funds, 3) the Legislature's power to fund new initiatives concerning the University, 4) the state civil service and collective bargaining laws, and 5) laws related to Hawaiian ceded land rights.

While the present constitutional provision does not limit the ability of the Legislature to enact "laws of statewide concern", a new provision in the proposed amendment gives it the exclusive jurisdiction to identify "laws of statewide concern".

Proponents of the amendment say:

The ability to exercise control over its internal operations without the legislature first enacting legislation to authorize such action will give the University the flexibility and ability to react quickly to opportunities and problems.

Improved ability to plan and manage assets means greater stability during economic downturns and political transitions.

Less bureaucratic red tape means more University control that translate into more efficient services to students, more effective response to community needs and quicker action on partnership opportunities.

The amendment would put into the constitution the freedoms from state oversight that the legislature has granted the University in the last few years that future legislatures cannot rescind without constitutional amendment.

This amendment would take the University closer to true autonomy. A "yes" vote would send a signal from voters of their recognition that the University needs more autonomy and less control by the state.

In answer to some people's concerns, the amendment does not establish complete independence. It provides flexibility. The University must continue to comply with laws of statewide concern.

In answer to the criticism that the legislature has added to its authority to enact laws of statewide concern the exclusive authority to identify laws of statewide concern, the University administration claims that its legal review determined that nothing in the amendment precludes court review. The legal interpretation of laws is the judicial branch's responsibility under our separation of powers among the three branches.

Before the Legislature can overrule a decision of the Board of Regents on the grounds that the issue is one of statewide concern, it would need to introduce a bill that would undergo public scrutiny and public hearings before it can be adopted and sent to the governor for action.

The Conference Committee Report states "that the amendment's essential terms, i.e. internal and statewide concerns may be vague and overbroad," and that "the need to reserve the identification of laws of statewide concern to the legislature is necessary because the proposed constitutional amendment is susceptible to misinterpretation."

Opponents of the amendment say:

The most vocal opponents of this amendment had supported it until the bill was amended later in the session, adding the provision giving the legislature exclusive jurisdiction to identify laws of statewide concern. (Emphasis added.)

With this provision, the Legislature could override decisions of the Board of Regents by classifying any issue as being of statewide concern.

The UHM faculty senate voted to oppose the amendment after constitutional experts in the U.H. School of Law determined that it gives the Legislature the authority to make decisions that should belong to the judiciary to decide as to what laws are of statewide concern.

This amendment gives the Legislature more control over the University rather than less. The conference committee report was explicit in stating that this added amendment will prevent challenges in the court over the meaning of "laws of statewide concern".

In response to claims by proponents that the amendment does not preclude judicial review, opponents say that one can challenge, but the amendment gives the legislature the right to determine what laws are of statewide concern, and not even the Supreme Court can overturn it.

The amendment is vague and open to too many opposing interpretations. We do not clearly know the consequences of the amendment. It should be reworded to make its intentions clear before voters are asked to make informed decisions.

Question #2: Shall a Tax Review Commission be appointed every ten years instead of every rive years, starting in the year 2005?

Article VII, section 3, of the Hawaii State Constitution requires the appointment of a Tax Review Commission every 5 years to evaluate the State's tax structure and to recommend revenue and tax policies to the Legislature. Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The commission assesses the tax structure using such standards as equity (fairness), efficiency, simplicity, adequacy and accountability, and stability and predictability. The tax structure may change drastically some years and comparatively little some other years depending on the actions of the legislature, and periodic review is needed to see how the changes affect the total tax structure and to measure it against established standards.

The review gives taxpayers as well as government the needed information whether you agree with all of its assessments and recommendations or not.

The proposed amendment would change the appointment of the Tax Review Commission from every five years to every ten years, starting in 2005.

Proponents of the amendment say:

The allotted time and the funds allocated to the commissions have been insufficient to do thorough reviews. It would be beneficial to devote more time and resources to do a more comprehensive review every ten years.

The 1995-1997 Tax Review Commission, because of the limitation on time and budget for the review, confined the scope of its study to Hawaii's general excise tax, use tax, and net income tax, which together, account for 80% of the state government revenues.

The five years is not enough time to consider and implement the recommendations of the commission. The reports of the previous commissions have been largely ignored. The 10-year intervals would give the executive branch and the legislature more time to review the recommendations and implement them.

Opponents of the amendment say:

We were not able to detect any opposition to this amendment.

Question #3: Shall the Reapportionment Commission be assigned the duty to maintain the staggering of senate terms in a manner that is equitable for all candidates in an election?

Besides correcting the inequity which we have discussed at great length in previous issues, the new amendment changes the focus for determining the length of terms from the incumbent to the residents of the districts. If the majority of the residents of a new district had a senator who served a full four-year term, that district would be assigned a 2-year seat in that first post-reapportionment election. For those districts where a majority of the residents saw their senators terms cut short to two years, they will be assigned 4-year terms. Since district lines will change with possibly parts of two or more districts making up a new district, hard and fast rules cannot be written into the constitution to meet all contingencies. Therefore, the amendment assigns the Reapportionment Commission the duty of determining the terms for each district following certain guidelines.

Proponents of the amendment say:

The amendment is absolutely necessary to correct the inequity of unequal terms for incumbents and challengers. The benefits of incumbency are real and daunting to challengers without this added handicap. If the Reapportionment Commission is made to adhere to the guidelines and the intent of the legislature in assigning the terms to the districts, we should experience no problems related to giving them this authority. We have the next legislative session to see if any statutes are necessary to assure its compliance with the intent and the guidelines.

Opponents say:

While there was some concern with giving the Reapportionment Commission another duty added to their already complicated task of redrawing district lines, and of even giving them the authority to assign terms albeit under clear guidelines, there is no known opposition to this amendment.

The League of Women voters urges a "yes" vote on this amendment.

Council Edition 2000 Home   Newsletters First Quarter Edition 2000