The 2019 legislative session officially opens on January 16th, and concludes 60 “session days” later on May 2, “sine die” (traditional term used to adjourn the legislature – Latin for “proceedings that have been adjourned”).
“Session days” are those days set aside for formal business when “floor votes” are held and official business is conducted by the entire legislative body. The State Constitution designates the business of the legislature must start and stop on specific days, and that there be 60 “session days” in which the official business is to be conducted. Interspersed with “session days” are “recess days”. Historically “recess days” were utilized by legislators to “go back to the district” and consult with constituents on the issues that are on their agenda. However, today’s practice is for legislative hearings and other business to continue at the capitol, with most observers not even being aware the day was officially designated as a “recess day”.
The typical day of a legislator, whether a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, revolves around the consideration of “Bills”. A Bill is a proposed law, either a new law or the proposed amendment to an existing one. Senators or Representative will each introduce various Bills, some of which are requested by constituents (impacting local schools, parks, or local issues) and others that are deemed by the legislator important to their particular subject matter interest (agriculture, environment, health, transportation, etc).
The entire legislative body consists of 25 Senators and 51 Representatives, and if the 2019 session follows past trends over 3,000 Bills will be introduced. A great many of these Bills will be duplicate in nature, as many legislators are concerned about similar issues. For example there may be 4 or 5 or more Bills introduced dealing with increasing the minimum wage. Other Bills will be introduced “by request” which means the legislator is introducing the measure as a favor to a constituent or special interest. Still other Bills will be introduced by a legislator “for show” knowing full well the measure will have no hope of passing into law.
At the end on the session, upon sine die, the legislature will have passed between 250 and 300 Bills forward for signing into law, or veto by the governor. Most of the “new laws” will actually be more along the lines of “housekeeping” or minor tweaks to existing law with only a handful breaking new ground and thus making the headlines. Some of the possible “hot button issues” that will no doubt be high on the legislative agenda during 2019 include increasing the state’s minimum wage to $17 per hour phased in over time, legalizing cannabis for responsible adult use, increasing funding for education, bail reform, the establishment of a new “carbon tax” and more.
As in every legislative body, the task that consumes a majority of the time and energy is passage of the budget. Each and every one of the 76 legislators will be pushing and fighting for “their piece of the pie” and trying to increase funding for roads, schools, parks and other facilities located in their particular district.
Now, approximately 30 days away from the start of the session, is the time for constituents to reach out directly to their Senator and Representative to lobby for both policy and budget support. Though many are slipping into vacation mode, it is still a good time to have your thoughts heard, prior to the start of the session. Once January 16th arrives, the pace of work launches quickly into overdrive and the competition for legislator time and bandwidth becomes a challenge.
The #1 tool for anyone serious about influencing the legislative process can be found at https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov On this website is all the information anyone will need to identify the proposed Bills, track their process, and submit testimony. Also available here is the contact information and committee assignments of each and every legislator. Another invaluable public and free resource is the Public Access Room, located at Room #401 on the 4th floor of the capitol http://lrbhawaii.org/par/ . Here you can access computers, printers and obtain current information on Bills, timelines and the legislative process.
In future columns I will be providing legislative updates on those issues that appear most interesting, and will likely have the most tangible impact on people and the environment. I strongly encourage all, to reach out directly and communicate with your legislator about issues that are important to you. At the minimum, ask them “When are you going to do something about the traffic?” 😉
First published in The Garden Island newspaper, Hooser – Policy & Politics 12/12/18