Hawaiʻi Policy & Politics – Swearing an oath is not enough

Soon, our elected leaders will be raising their right hands to swear an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the State Constitution, and the County Charter.

We should insist our elected leaders actually follow through with that commitment and that they pay particular attention to the words “may” and “shall”.

When writing legislation or legal documents, deciding whether to use the words “may” or “shall” is a major decision. This isn’t just a minor editing choice but a legal decision with legal ramifications.

Our State Constitution Article III, Section 12 says – “Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.”

This doesn’t say that legislators may choose to meet for decision-making in private if it happens to be more convenient. And it doesn’t allow private meetings to discuss committee decisions because meeting in public would be awkward, cumbersome, or too time-consuming. It says clearly they shall only have these meetings in public.

Virtually everyone who is familiar with the current legislative process will agree that this provision of the Constitution is violated frequently and with impunity.

The various Committee Chairpersons regularly meet behind closed doors, with other Committee Members, and with lobbyists representing stakeholders “for the purpose of making a decision.” The Chair will then schedule a public committee meeting to announce the decision previously made in private. This process clearly violates the State Constitution.

The County Charters establish the structure and organization of County government. Unlike the Federal and State Constitution, the various County Charter’s utilize broad language requiring each to promote the general welfare of its residents.

The State Constitution however provides specific County mandates.

Article 11 Section 1 of the State Constitution states, “For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions shall conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources, and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the State.“

The County is a political subdivision of the State and therefore also responsible for the conservation and protection of all of our natural resources. When confronted with environmental threats, the County may not disavow responsibility and just point to the State Department of Health or the State Department of Land and Natural Resources etc..

Furthermore, Article IX Section 6 of the State Constitution says, “The State and its political subdivisions… shall plan and manage the growth of the population to protect and preserve the public health and welfare…each political subdivision, as provided by general law, may plan and manage the growth of its population in a more restrictive manner than the State.”

The County shall protect and conserve all of our natural resources and shall manage population growth to protect and preserve public health and welfare.

This doesn’t say that County officials may protect the environment or manage the population if they so choose. It says clearly they shall do it.

Those involved in the actual work of environmental protection and growth issues will tell you the County and the State are failing badly in both of these areas. Take a look at the traffic, or at the lack of sewers and related sewage treatment facilities. Of if you need further convincing check out the coastal water quality monitoring. If you think our population is being managed adequately and that the public welfare is being cared for properly, try to find an affordable house to rent.

We have the correct words in our constitution – we just need our elected leaders to follow the law they are swearing an oath to.

*emphasis in above constitutional provisions is mine

P.S.

Can you help me with something? I want to see if there is any legislator whatsoever who will say I am incorrectly interpreting the Hawaii State Constitution Article III, Section 12 that says – “Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.”

Will you take a moment and email politely and professionally as always – Speaker of the House Scott Saiki and Senate President Ronald Kouchi?

repsaiki@capitol.hawaii.gov

senkouchi@capitol.hawaii.gov

If you copy your own Districts Representative and Senator that would be totally awesome as well!

Ask them simply to tell you:

Is it true?

Does the Hawaii State Constitution really say this?

Let them know of course, “The courtesy of a reply would be greatly appreciated.”

If they say it’s true, which they must because it is – Then ask them if they believe legislators and legislative committees are following that Constitutional provision, and if not, what can be done to change things.

This is a serious question that deserves an answer.

Please take the time and send an email out today if you can. The more good folks from across all islands who participate, the more likely it is that our State Legislators will stop ignoring the State Constitution – and stop conducting the people’s business behind closed doors.

gh

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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