Wednesday, March 22, 2006

 

Capitol Crime: Murder in the Rotunda


Come with me as we explore two tales of mystery and intrigue in the halls of Hawaii's State Capitol. First, let me set the scenes.

Readers of today's Advertiser story Sunshine law may not go to task force might be surprised that there was a bill proposing such a task force. Where did it come from? They will be more surprised if they search for clues on the Capitol website. There are none. There is no such bill. Thus our first mystery unfolds.

And tomorrow there while be a huge prize fight staged at the Legislature. Thursday at 9:00 in room 312, three House committees will hear a Gas Cap bill. This should be a raucus public event, with gasoline-hungry consumers in one corner of the ring, the oil barons in the other, and a dozen or so legislators watching to see which side will come out on top. The trouble is, it won't be a fair fight. The House has rigged the match in favor of the oil barons.


Plot 1: Hide the Murder Weapon

Some of us who attended yesterday's long session hoping to testify on the original SB1061 feel we have been used. I feel like an unwilling accomplice to a murder plot. Here's why.

The bill SB1061 on the Capitol website "Prohibits a lobbyist who lobbies the legislature, principal of a lobbyist, client or agent of lobbyist, and a political action committee on which the lobbyist sits from making a contribution to a member of the legislature, the governor, and lieutenant governor while the legislature is in session." A nice bill, a good bill, one any legislator would be happy to vote for, you'd think.

Not! Shhhh... Actually, it would be convenient if this bill somehow..., well, if it somehow could die. But that wouldn't look right, would it? Especially at the hands of a legislator who received more campaign contributions from "lawyers & lobbyists" (according to followthemoney.org for 2004) than anyone else in the House.

So the plot thickens. Hey! Why not gut this bill and put in a dummy bill that will be defeated? Simple! And fiendishly clever!

So a proposed HD1 (House Draft 1, supposedly an amendment) was created which was not an amendment at all but which was a brand new bill establishing a task force to work on the Sunshine Law--a task force made up primarily of opponents to the law. And it was arranged that few people could get a copy of it until the day before the hearing, and only if you came to pick it up from the Chair's office. Anyone on a Neighbor Island who might have wanted a copy was out of luck. And why not leave the old bill on the Capitol website, not the proposed HD1, just to confuse people? How clever!

Testimony indeed went against the new HD1. It never had a chance. Trouble is, on the record, it was the original bill that was killed. The one prohibiting contributions. The new one never existed. Hey! It worked! The computer confirms this--if you look up SB1061 you'll see that the bill prohibiting contributions was deferred. It says nothing at all about the Sunshine Law. The bill prohibiting lobbyist contributions during session wasn't deferred after being heard--it was never heard at all.

The tactic neatly skewers legislation passed unanimously by the Senate and which should have been voted up or down by the House Judiciary Committee. Like murder by a knife made of ice, no evidence is left behind.

To do the right thing, Rep. Luke should hear the original bill. Her phone number is 586-8530. If you agree, please give her a call and ask that SB1061, the bill prohibiting contributions during session, be heard. Help stop corruption and the scandals around campaign money that have plagued government this past year.


Plot 2: Highway robbery and a high-speed chase

Normally, bills are introduced at the beginning of the session, go through several hearings, cross over, and are heard by the other house. Thursday's gas cap bill just came on the scene. The chase is on, and you are the driver.

First, you have to find a copy of it of course. You can only pick up a copy of the 61-page bill (yikes!) in room 314. Tough luck if you live on another island, in Waianae or the North Shore. You're not intended to participate, sorry.

If you can get one, speed-read it, type testimony at 1000 words a minute, then rush down to the Capitol to confront the oil barons who of course know exactly what is going on. You can bet they have copies. Can you win this high speed chase?

So the oil barons are prepared, the public is not. You can imagine what might result from this imbalance. May as well kiss your wallet goodbye, or just give Chevron your second mortgage and let them take care of it for you. Highway robbery indeed.

Honest, I don't know if this bill is a good one or not, I don't have a copy yet, and I can't get one unless I go over there tomorrow. I'll never be able to read it in time to prepare testimony.

The House cannot hold a "real" public hearing because the public doesn't have access to the bill that will be debated.

Back to that prize fight. Cameras focus on the floor of the ring where the victim already lies bleeding: its name is Representative Democracy, and no one in the House seems to care.


No superheros in sight

There oughta be a law. What is happening to democracy in Hawaii anyway?

The House seems to think it can hold hearings without supplying the public with the bills it is voting on. The practice is spreading like an evil force. This needs to be stopped. Neither Superman nor Batman is on the scene--we have to stop this ourselves. No one will rescue us.

Call Speaker of the House Calvin Say at 586-6100. Don't worry, he doesn't answer the phone himself. Leave him a message. Ask him to prevent House committee chairs from hearing bills that the public has not seen and can't get a copy of.

Ask him to be sure that a copy of the gas cap law is put onto the web and that sufficient time is allowed for the public to read it and prepare testimony. Might as well ask him to get SB1061 heard as well, as long as you're on the phone.

Help restore law and order and the American Way in Hawaii's House of Representatives. Call today. It all depends on you.





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