Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Who cares about the public anyway: House hides its floor amendments from view

Last year's legislative session ended with a first: the House locked the Senate out on closing day, an unthinkable and unprecedented event. But the House doesn't think twice about locking the public out--yes, the very people who elected them to office. And this needs to be fixed.
Hawaii once had a reputation as a progressive state in terms of open government, but "people are rolling back on that commitment now. I am in some ways very pessimistic. But I hope I'm wrong. ... Openness is a hassle for government, but it's a small price to pay for having a democratic form of government. Some people here don't get it."--UH Professor Gerald Kato

Look at what happened today, for example. The House blindsided the public on the floor amendments it will consider today, while the Senate made them available for public scrutiny in advance. What a difference! If you wanted to have some last words with your Senator before they went in to debate a measure, you had all the information you needed. If you wanted to communicate with your Representative, you were given nothing. Nothing. Forget about it.

Here's how it played out on both sides today.

Each morning, both houses publish the Order of the Day, setting out what will be done in the floor session. Today's Senate Order of the day is here, and the House Order of the day is here. These are pretty dull reading unless you have been following some bills and want to be informed of what's going to happen to them. Especially important are floor amendments. These are amendments that will be proposed on the floor, and they're important because they can fix a problem or cause a problem (depending on which side of an issue you're on).

The Senate made its floor amendments available ahead of time. You could have reached one or more senators before the session started at about 10 a.m. I'll show you how that works in a moment.

The House did not make their amendments public. They remained secret. If you are concerned about a particular bill, I'm sure you'll appreciate what this means to you. You were left out of the legislative process for that bill. Your Representatives just did their own thing on it.

Ok, here's the proof. Not only that it can be done (the House can't claim "technical difficulties") but also that where there is a will to include the public it's easy to do so.

My proof is very simple: Here are the links to each of today's floor amendments on the Senate side. You needn't click, these are just by way of illustration. The point is that you can click. HB928, HB1836, HB1152, HB1909, HB1345, HB367, HB1018, HB1757, HB1608, and HB1848

Here are the floor amendments for the House. And of course, you can't click, these amendments are not available to me or to you. SB1803, SB12, SB1412, SB1792, SB1882, and SB148.

To end on a lighter note, in fact, I was curious what will happen today to the bill proposing to drug-test elected officials (HB1909). I was interested to learn the Senate's solution: would they allow themselves to be tested? The answer is "yes", but don't hold your breath. The floor amendment reads as follows:
"SECTION 6. This Act shall take effect on July 1, 3211."


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