Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Reform of civil
service seems to be
on slow track

Some reform measures are
still alive, but many other
bills have died

[This is the first of several stories to run during the
final weeks of the Legislature, updating the
status of major issues]

By Craig Gima


As the Legislature enters the home stretch today, lawmakers will debate bills on legalizing industrial hemp, whether tour buses can be used to transport schoolchildren, and whether women should be allowed to breast-feed their children at work.

But when it comes to civil service reform and other bills to make government less costly and more efficient, major changes may have to wait.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature "Everybody talks about change. You want change, here's the change in the Legislature," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) reaching into his front pocket and pulling out a handful of pennies and quarters. "Here it is, the only change is the change in your pocket."

Even though Gov. Ben Cayetano's centerpiece proposal to set a deadline and begin a discussion on civil service reform is likely to pass this year, the governor is disappointed that other administration proposals to make government less costly have died.

"We're headed there (civil service reform), but we're not headed there fast enough in my opinion," Cayetano said last week. "I'm a little concerned with the lack of urgency on civil service reform."

The House and Senate were to vote on bills today, sending them back to the originating body and setting the stage for House-Senate conference committees to work out differences.

So far this session, an administration bill that would have limited retirement benefits based on overtime pay died in the House Labor Committee. Another bill to eliminate the state's contribution for retirement and health benefits for dependents of new employees died in the Senate. Other Cayetano proposals to cap benefits for employees who contribute to the retirement fund and to refund excess payments to union health plans died.

But state Human Resources Director Mike McCartney said all of those items will be part of the comprehensive discussion on civil service reform.

"I think we need to look at everything as a whole rather than bill by bill by bill," McCartney said.

McCartney and other Democrats said it is a major accomplishment to get the unions and others involved in making government more efficient to recognize the problem and agree to work together to solve it.

"If you look back over the last decade or so, very few civil service reform measures have passed," McCartney said.

"What we're saying is let's try this different process this time, a new process this time and give us a chance to prove ourselves as we enter the next session. The proof will be when you see the (civil service reform) bill (introduced next year) - is it a significant change from existing law or is it just more of the same."

McCartney said he expects civil service reform will create some flexibility for government workers and make it easier to move people around to positions where they are needed.

The "drop dead" provision that would end civil service next year is still part of the reform bill, but it would only go into effect if the Legislature takes action on it next year.

House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa), a leading proponent of civil service reform, said he believes a corner has been turned and that real reform can and must pass next year.

"Would I have liked to have produced actual reform in civil service/collective bargaining this year, sure. But I will accept everybody getting on the same page in terms of the necessity of doing it as a huge leap forward," Case said.

"I do believe it's an important milestone," he added. "But again if the result is not concrete change, it doesn't matter. You either get it done in 2000 or I think face an incredibly angry public on the issue."

Republicans however, are skeptical that reforms can pass a Legislature that is heavily influenced by labor unions.

"Are they capable of it, the answer is yes. Will they do it, the answer is a definite no. I don't think they have the political will," Slom said.

"Why don't we have it now? Why aren't we in a crisis mode?" asked Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki).

Fox noted that other states and even the federal government have already reduced the size of government and improved efficiency.

Staying alive

Bills that could make government more efficient and reduce the cost of the state's workforce are still alive this year as the Legislature heads into conference committees. The bills include:

Bullet A Senate proposal to allow a public worker union to replace the state's health fund with a union plan to provide employee and retiree health benefits.

Bullet A House proposal to cap the annual contributions to the health fund at $240 million.

Bullet A Senate proposal to eliminate 1,200 vacant positions.

Bullet A House proposal to allow counties and the states to enter into long-term privatization contracts without a review that could cancel the contract

Bullet A Senate proposal to give severance and early retirement benefits to workers in selected positions who voluntarily leave state government.

Bullet Senate and House proposals to have fees pay for the operation of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

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