This past Thursday’s much anticipated House action in support of increasing the minimum wage and blocking the tax on unemployment did not happen.
To find out why, call your Representative. They will tell you “There weren’t enough votes.” Of course, we will never know if the votes are there or not if there is never an actual vote.
A huge disappointment, but it’s not over.
This is for a righteous and just cause – SB676 and SB614 offer much-needed and tangible help to the unemployed and low-wage workers. Many of these people are literally standing in line for food and are months behind on their rent.
For Democrats increasing the minimum wage is a top priority of the Party. This week, 18 different labor organizations formally and publicly asked the House to allow a vote and pass these bills. Every progressive advocacy group in Hawaii is pressing for a vote. Well over 500,000 workers in Hawaii will be positively impacted if these bills pass.
* There are 51 total Representatives.
* 47 are Democrats.
* There are 14 in the House Progressive Caucus.
Yet, we can’t even get a hearing, let alone a vote.
House Speaker Scott Saiki doesn’t want a vote, and so there will not be one.
Such is the power of House Leadership.
Each Representative knows that if they vote against the Speaker’s wishes or in any way seek to diminish his power, he can and will punish them. He and his team have the power to kill their bills, block funding for their district, remove them from their committee, and even rearrange their seating placement, parking spot, office location, and staff. In addition, they risk having the Speaker and his team align themselves with an opponent in the next election.
The fear is real.
This is not hyperbole. This is not some fake news description of how things work in the House. Decision-making in the House and to a somewhat lesser extent in the Senate is fundamentally fear-based.
Representatives are now caught in a squeeze play. On one side you have Speaker Saiki and his team, and on the other, you have an influential coalition of 18 different labor unions, numerous progressive advocacy groups, and at least 500,000 unemployed and low-wage workers.
Consequently, many Representatives just choose to keep their heads down and hope they are not forced to vote publicly. Some are fearful that meaningful legislation they have championed, will be killed should they vote against the Speaker. Others are thinking of the important funding for a road, a school cafeteria, a bridge, or a beach park that they have fought so hard for – will be struck from the budget if they cross leadership. Still others are thinking, “Why fall on a sword if other members aren’t going to back me up?”
For a majority, the response when asked as to how they would vote is obfuscation. They will speak desperately from both sides of their mouth. They want workers and union members to know that deep down they support them, but even deeper down they absolutely do not want to vote and risk the wrath of leadership.
That word of course is a misnomer. True leadership would not put members in this position – it’s bad politics in support of bad policy.
Think about this for a second, House Speaker Scott Saiki is asking members to choose loyalty to him, over what is fundamentally solid value-based public policy. And he is asking them to choose him over the wishes of the Democratic Party, organized labor, numerous progressive organizations, and hundreds of thousands of workers and the community.
As much as fear-based decision-making seems to be playing a starring role in this play, me thinks that doing the right thing AND garnering the support of labor, progressives, and working people across the archipelago would be a much better script to run on (both literally and figuratively speaking).
A quick update on the script and a primer:
1) The person that first stands to make the initial motion, must either be fearless, have nothing to lose, or be totally dedicated to the cause. This person must have someone also to “second the motion.”
2) After this first motion and a second, 17 votes are needed to successfully pull the bills from the committee to the floor. The substance and possible passage of the bills cannot be discussed or acted upon until this motion passes.
3) To ensure that all votes are public and on the record, a motion for a “roll call vote” is also needed which requires 11 votes.
4) After the first motion is passed with at least 17 votes and once the bills are “on the floor,” there is debate and a vote on the bills themselves – 26 votes are needed to pass the bills.
As to the question now burning on everyone’s mind – yes there is still time. Sine die and the last day of the session is April 29th. There is time for House Leadership to acknowledge that perhaps they should in fact support the Senate’s position and rethink their opposition. And there is still time for individual members of the House, to decide that regardless, they are obligated to stand up and speak truth to power on behalf of the unemployed and low-wage workers.
House leadership will no doubt continue the refrain, “Let’s wait until next year, and then we will do something for working people.” That of course is shibai.
Hawaii’s unemployed and low-wage workers deserve support and respect, and they deserve to benefit from the passage of SB614 and SB676.
Each Representative must ultimately decide for themselves as to what is the right choice and live with those outcomes. The fear is justified. Their districts may indeed suffer and their other policy goals may also be denied or delayed. But the satisfaction of standing up for the people and helping to pass these two bills would be a memory never forgotten.
Until the majority stands up to say enough is enough, the mis-leadership will only continue.
Please hang in there with me to keep pushing forward on this. It is essential that House Leadership and all Representatives know that this issue and our efforts are not going away.
So, if you could please contact your district Representative Find Your Legislator @ https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/fyl/ and ask them this question:
When a motion and a second is made to pull SB614 and SB676 to the floor, will they stand and vote in support of that motion?
Please ask them the question, let them know you are a constituent that lives in the district and request a response – polite and professional as always. A response by this Wednesday, April 14 would be very helpful.
Some will be hesitant to say publicly before the vote as to where they stand, and there is no need to make the names public – unless of course they say yes now and vote no later.
If the Find Your Legislator link is not working, a complete list of all Representatives can be found here. https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H
Note: I have no doubt we have at least 26 friends who support these issues and are willing to vote in support, but some of course are concerned about alienating the Speaker. Please be respectful but please also let them know that it is important to you, as a constituent – that you know where they stand on these important issues.