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Friday, April 28, 2000

Legislature 2000

Progress made
at civil service
reform talks

A union leader predicts
the Legislature will reach
a compromise by tonight

By Richard Borreca


Legislators had only hours left today to write a bill to reform Hawaii's civil service laws.

With union leaders and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono looking on last night, the House and Senate members negotiating the bill met in public to discuss their progress.

While avoiding any details, they did say that some progress had been made.

Sen. Bob Nakata, Labor Committee chairman, suggested that if the counties are not permitted to bargain and reach their own agreements with public employees, one of the key points in Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposed reform measure, perhaps the counties could add "supplemental agreements to increase flexibility."

That sort of delicately phrased, diplomatic language rubbed off on Rep. Dwight Takamine, House Finance Committee chairman, who said he saw "several closings of the gap, while there is still much distance in other areas."

Russell Okata, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, predicted that by tonight the Legislature will have reached a compromise agreement and that there will be a major overhaul of the civil service rules.

At the same time, Republican Sen. Sam Slom lectured his colleagues on the Senate floor last night, saying real progress was needed.

"Civil service is supposed to be the hallmark of this session. Unhappily, we have not maintained a strong positive, while we have been bombarded with lobbying, pleading and, in some cases, political threats," he said.

"We must untie the hands of management and not set back the cause of political reform," Slom said.

Gov. Ben Cayetano had asked the Legislature to decentralize the civil service system and base it on merit. He also asked that employees be allowed to strike rather than submit collective bargaining to a binding arbitrator.

Finally, Cayetano had also wanted overtime eliminated in the computation of pension benefits.

Privately, legislators were not optimistic that any of those reforms would be approved by tonight's midnight deadline.

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