Sunday, February 11, 2007


Another House committee hides its actions from the public

Thanks to another helpful tipoff (see below for info on how you can contribute to the reform effort by sending in your own tips), I learned that another House committee has made an amendment available only by pickup at its offices.

First, let me set the scene. It's Sunday night. I've just come back from Kapiolani Park where we walked around and ate lots of Vietnamese food. Now play time is over, I have to face writing testimony for hearings tomorrow and Tuesday.

Looking at tomorrow's schedule for the House Committee on Human Services & Housing, Rep. Maile S. L. Shimabukuro, Chair (this is the one sent to me by my tipster), I see the brief description of HB1001. In part: "Exempts any eligible rental project that is dedicated to 100% affordable in perpetuity from the requirements of land use and environmental impact statement laws, and all county land use, charter, ordinance, and rule provisions." This is sure to be controversial. Should any developer be granted all these exemptions?

But wait--there is an amendment. Trouble is, it's one of those "you can pick it up in my office" amendments. On the weekend, I can't do that of course. It's not in the Legislature's computer, and even if it weren't the weekend, how would someone who lives far away get a copy, especially if they didn't have equipment like a fax machine or home computer? The hearing is scheduled for 8:32 a.m. (sic), not much time to get the amendment, study it, and submit testimony of my own.

Here's what that part of the meeting notice looks like:

Since I don't know what's in that amendment, any testimony I prepare is pretty useless, they've already amended the bill, and I haven't a clue what that amendment says.

Quite likely, at the end of the hearing, the chair will recommend to the committee members that they pass the bill as amended. It happens all the time. If so, the chair will be asking for a vote on an amendment that has not been available to the public.

My guess is that due to the high-profile nature of this bill, some talks have taken place behind the scenes, and as a result, there's an amendment proposed. My contention is that for this bill especially, every caution should be taken to make sure that the process is fully open to the public. Dear Chair: this is not the way.

One more thing needs to be said at this point. I need to tell you that there's nothing technical preventing the House from posting these stealth amendments. The Senate does it. Here's an example of an amendment posted by the Senate in advance of a hearing:

What the Senate does, the House can do too, right? If not, why not?

Last week it was the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection, Rep. Hermina M. Morita, Chair. I wrote about a hearing that was held on Thursday, February 8. Here's what the info for HB50 included:

After I was tipped off about this hearing notice, I emailed the Chair and copied all Representatives about the need to make amendments available to the public at least 48 hours before a hearing.

Amending bills in this way not only keeps the public in the dark, but it negates their testimony if the chair is prepared to advance the amendment by recommending its passage to the committee. Now, you know that some people have seen the amendment. In fact, some people probably helped write it. This leaves you and me, members of the public, at a disadvantage.

It's time to increase accountability in Hawaii's House of Representatives. It's time to bring Sunshine inside some dark crannies. The Senate has done it, the House can too.

Won't some open-government minded legislators check with the House Clerk about how their amendments can be posted on the website along with bill texts and other documents?

Please keep your hot tips coming. If anyone is aware of any other amendments that are not made available to the public before a hearing, or if you attend a hearing at which the chair pulls a secret amendment "out of a hat" and asks the committee to pass it, please send the info to


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