Thursday, February 26, 2009
Clarification of how a bill may be recalled in Hawaii’s legislature
by Larry Geller
The following is from an email from Lance Collins on Maui. The papers have been talking about recalling the civil unions bill. Here is his understanding:
A group of 1/3rd of legislators of either house must wait 20 days before recalling a bill from committee (pursuant to the constitution). But, a majority of legislators of either house can take any action not otherwise prohibited by the constitution.
The 20-day rule is a grant of a right to a minority of legislators. It does not effect a limit on the majority to act in any way the want.
I will spare you the detailed discussion of the Senate Rules and Mason's Manual. In short the senate leadership, committees and chairs exist at the will of the majority. They have no power outside of representing the majority to do its work (in a specialized fashion). If a committee is at odds with the majority, the majority may dissolve the committee, recall a bill, remove the chair or any of its members, dismiss the president, etc., whatever it likes subject only to the limits imposed by the constitution.
The 1/3rd rule which has been in our constitution from the beginning, was a protection of the minority in the house or senate. The 20 day rule was to balance the right of the majority to keep the bill in a committee for a reasonable time with the right of the minority to have the bill heard. But the majority may do whatever it wants and the constitution does not assign any right against majority action to committee chairs or committees.
It may be that the Senate has a custom of all bill recalls requiring the 20 days but that is not a constitutional requirement only a requirement that the majority imposes on itself (based upon custom or courtesy), if it is claiming such a limitation.
Something doesn’t make sense in what Lance says- these two sentences contradict each other- or am I missing something?
1) A group of 1/3rd of legislators of either house must wait 20 days before recalling a bill from committee (pursuant to the constitution).
2) It may be that the Senate has a custom of all bill recalls requiring the 20 days but that is not a constitutional requirement
The constitution requires a group of 1/3rd of legislators (which is a minority) to wait 20 days before recalling a bill from committee. However, there is no constitutional limitation on a majority to have to wait 20 days. HTthe majority can impose upon itself its own customary limitation of waiting 20 days. But an unwritten custom of 20 days is not the same as a constitutional mandate. The difference being is that a unwritten custom or even a written rule adopted by a legislative body may be ignored and repealed solely for the occasion that it is ignored.
That is the whole point of my opinion. If the Senate waits until March 10 to yank the civil unions bill from the JGO committee, it is because the majority wants to wait -- not because the majority is commanded by the constitution to do so.
Lance D. Collins
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