Unfortunately, House Leadership continues to play fast and loose with the rules, the law, and the intent of the State Constitution. AND they continue to “lead” their members down a path fraught with bad policy, bad process…and worst of all for those who face re-election every two years – bad politics.
Case in point: HB1286 which removes the ability of individual County’s to establish COVID travel rules was recently “deferred” in the Senate after a triple/joint committee hearing. This normally means the measure is “dead” and a pretty strong signal that the Senate wants no part of it.
But earlier, on March 16 when no one was looking, Representative Linda Ichiyama, Chair of the House Pandemic & Disaster Preparedness Committee, “inserted the contents of HB1286 into a new Part 2 of SB266.” With no public notice, no public testimony, and no public discussion whatsoever, Representative Ichiyama thumbed her nose at both the public and the process.
To be clear, this action would not have occurred without the blessing and encouragement of House Leadership – Speaker Scott Saiki, Vice Speaker John Mizuno, Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, and Majority Floor Leader Dee Morikawa.
Watch the video, read the testimony for SB266. There was no discussion at all. The Chair merely announces she is adding HB1286 to SB266, and the vote is taken. Many of the committee members themselves were likely not informed and taken by surprise.
The audacity and arrogance of it all is appalling.
Truth be told, HB1286 was dead on arrival and should never have been introduced. No physician, hospital, or medical professional of any kind has testified in support of HB1286 – in fact, all have been opposed.
With no chance of ever getting through the Senate and a veto by the Governor virtually certain, HB1286 seemed to serve no one except Speaker Saiki and his friends in the tourism industry.
To their credit, House Leadership is perversely clever. They are sneaky, and likely unconstitutional in their maneuvering, but yes they are clever in their subterfuge. By tying HB1286 to SB266 (which is a COVID appropriations measure), they ensure that the Governor will be prevented from vetoing the bill without risking urgently needed COVID-related emergency funding.
“Leadership” in the sense of a political body such as the State House of Representatives, normally means the Speaker and his/her team will “lead” according to the will of the majority. This means supporting public policy initiatives endorsed by the majority and navigating the process in a manner that avoids unnecessary controversy and maximizes “protection of the members” – political protection to be exact.
By pushing on HB1286 (now SB266), House Leadership is actually “exposing the members” in their pursuit of an initiative that is bad policy, bad politics, bad process, and totally unnecessary.
Instead of protecting his friends in the House, the Speaker is dragging them through multiple political minefields:
1) HB1286/SB266 – This fiasco especially impacts neighbor-island Representatives who are forced into a position of voting on a very divisive issue – for naught.
2) A senseless, and politically unpopular personal vendetta against the State auditor continues to raise questions in the media as to motivation and purpose. The Speaker unilaterally launched an investigation without a vote in the House, and without the participation of the Senate, even though the position is under the auspices of both. Auditors whose job is to shine a light on political corruption and mismanagement, are universally appreciated by the public.
3) The messy public spotlight on their own hefty legislative pay raises while refusing to even hold a hearing for SB676 an extremely modest $1.90 increase in the minimum wage only adds fuel to the fire of distrust and disgust the public holds for politicians. A large majority of the State House has stated publicly their support for increasing the minimum wage, 26 other states are already acting on the issue this year, AND it’s a top priority of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. So why not just pass it?
4) Totally disrespecting unemployed workers and offering the lamest of excuses for failing to pass SB614 granting tax relief to the unemployed will be the nail in more than one incumbent’s coffin, of that you can be sure. Rather than enthusiastically supporting the unemployed, the House prefers to protect Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS), very high-income earners, and real estate speculators. They are giving zillions of dollars of relief to business and commercial interests but giving the unemployed and low-wage workers nothing.
Spoiler Alert: If legislators are concerned about the COVID federal stimulus rules disallowing tax credits or the reduction of state tax income, they should reframe the proposal to be a “grant” to unemployed workers instead of a tax credit.
During the past 12 months, over 600,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits (over 37% of the labor force). If an aspiring candidate for the House were able to garner support from the unemployed (and formerly unemployed), AND appeal also to those residents who oppose the loosening of COVID travel protections – it seems that could be the starting point for a formidable campaign(s).
Pono Hawaii Initiative ()
Some legislative truths:
When they tell you there’s no money, what they’re really saying is it’s not a priority.
If they want to they can, but they don’t so they won’t.
All that talk about it being “too late” or “sorry you missed the deadline” or “the title is wrong” is BS.
Any rule or deadline can be “waived” or changed by the House Speaker and/or the Senate President.
CONTACT YOUR DISTRICTS REPRESENTATIVE AND LET THEM KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE ISSUES – Locate your Representative and the contact information by entering your address at “find your legislator” here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/
SB266 () (which now includes HB1286): The next step is the House Finance Committee. While a hearing has not yet been scheduled, please contact committee members and give them a heads up as to how you feel about this issue.
SB614 () – eliminating the state income tax on unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Bottom line – If Finance Chair Sylvia Luke wants this to happen it will happen, so she is the one who needs the calls and emails.