Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Senate used new rule to obscure testifiers on evil bill SB1680 and others
by Larry Geller
The role of Connected Nation and its testimony to the Legislature on SB1680 is key to understanding how this bill is being held down under the radar. It’s being moved forward without public understanding or scrutiny.
A new rule pushed by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa assisted the Senate in suppressing information on who testified for or against SB1680.
This is the bill that seeks to deregulate cable, phone and Internet services in Hawaii and put a good chunk of our economy (and our public access TV channels) under the aegis of a powerful “czar.”
Encouraging public understanding of the bill, including who has been pushing so hard for its passage, should be the cornerstone to gaining public backing of the radical reorganization and deregulation that would become law if it passes. The Legislature is doing just the opposite, however. It is forcing this fat piece of sausage through the lawmaking process without public awareness of what’s being done to them.
Committee reports show testimony by an organization called Connected Nation, but there is no written testimony on the Capitol website. The organization made a presentation to the Broadband Task Force (website is here). Did the public react to the questionable parts of their presentation? No, the public was not represented (but Senator Inouye’s staff was, more about that later).
That was on the House side. On the Senate side, checking the Ways and Means committee report, you get no information at all on who testified.
How can they get away with this? It seems that a rule from previous years was changed to permit it. Did Senate leadership have this particular bill in mind, or did they perhaps want a way to submerge other bills like this one under the public radar?
Here’s the change. It’s in Senate Rule 25. The previous version of this rule was:
Senate Rule 25 (3), Committees: Fact-finding and Content of Reports, 2007-2008
“The report shall also include the identity of persons or groups who submitted testimony on legislation for, against or comments only on the measure.”
Not a bad rule. At one glance you can see who the players are.
Here’s the new rule, pushed through by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa against objections:
Senate Rule 25 (3), Committees: Fact-finding and Content of Reports ,2009-2010
“The report shall also include a reference that testimony on the measure is available electronically on the Legislature’s website and a brief summary of the positions taken in the testimonies submitted.”
That’s all it would take to hide Connected Nation’s testimony and that of other corporations from public view.
If you want to know who testified now, you need to actually go and read the testimony yourself. How ridiculous. How anti-democratic. How favorable to big business and special interests.
If there was oral testimony only, Hanabusa’s rule allows it to go completely undocumented. Was Connected Nation there at the Ways and Means Committee hearing? We could look for the written testimony, but if there is none, we’ll never know.
There was no good-government reason to change that rule, and indeed, many Senate committees continue to follow the old rule.
Hanabusa should retract her rule and issue corrected reports. But she won’t, of course. The only reason the rule was changed was to hide the identity of testifiers from the public.
Just remember, when she runs for governor, how devoted to democracy Hanabusa is. You won’t forget, especially if deregulated phone and cable bills begin to shock you at about election time.
We’ve seen how well deregulation works. It works spectacularly well for the big guys, the bankers, the overpaid CEOs of big corporations. We don’t need to make the cable or phone companies any richer than they now are. It’s your money that they want, of course. Deregulation and the appointment of czars is a gift to industry and their fat cats.
Now that issues and concerns are on the table for this bill, you should be able to go back and see who has been testifying in favor of it.
Thanks to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa’s convenient rule change, you can’t easily do that.
Hanabusa’s cloak of invisibility
It’s not just this bill. Look at another controversial bill, SB1626 SD1, SCR 600, Relating to Taxation.
The Ways and Means committee report successfully hides the name of testifiers. It reports “one government official,” who turned out to be Mayor Mufi Hannemann, “six private organizations,” and “two concerned citizens.”
Who read their testimony orally but didn’t turn it in?
Wouldn’t you want to know who those folks are? Tough. Now they can hide their presence from you.
I must say that its not Hanabusa but the Senate majority. The rules exist to make efficient the work of the deliberative body. Hanabusa stands in for the majority to administer the proper functioning of the body, but the rules reflect the will of the majority. Everyone of them is responsible.