Friday, February 9, 2001
Jury duty exemption
should be repealedThe issue: Numerous public officials and others are automatically exempted from jury service.
Our view: The exemption should be stricken from the law because jury service is a civic responsibility to be honored by all citizens.
WHEN Rep. Patsy Mink was called for jury duty more than a decade ago, she dutifully appeared in state Circuit Court and agreed to serve on the panel in a trial expected to last 15 days. She could have used an automatic exemption to which elected officials are entitled but decided otherwise, saying, "I felt that was not appropriate." She was right, and the Legislature should end such exemptions.
Governor Cayetano and the judiciary are pushing for enactment of a bill that would remove jury-service exemptions now provided not only to elected officials such as Mink, but to state department heads, judges, priests, police officers and others. They should be treated no differently than others whose ordinary job and family responsibilities are often disrupted by jury service.
"Although jurors tell us they enjoyed being on a jury, people summoned for jury service have to cancel appointments, rearrange schedules and miss work," says Michael Broderick, administrative director of the courts. The response should be that jury service is a citizen's duty.
Mink appreciated the important civic responsibility of jury duty. She also understood that exceptional circumstances may allow a citizen to be excused from jury service to tend to other matters, the importance of which is to be decided by the judge.
Mink advised Judge Marie Milks that Congress could be called into session during the trial, possibly because of a Middle East crisis of that period. "I wanted them to know there are circumstances beyond my control," Mink explained. Milks released the congresswoman from jury duty, but Mink's willingness to serve demonstrated that the exemption is, as she said, inappropriate. It should be stricken from the law.
limit state pay raisesThe issue: A Senate committee has given its approval to arbitrated pay raises for the state's white-collar employees.
Our view: State pay raises should be limited to what the state can afford.
STATE legislators in dispute with Governor Cayetano over an arbitrated pay raise for state white-collar employees are ushering the proposed raise through the Legislature. In all probability, the issue will end up before the state Supreme Court.
Cayetano says the Legislature's failure to approve the pay raise last year amounted to a rejection of the arbitrator panel's award. Legislators would do taxpayers a service by focusing less on the legality of the award than on its affordability.
Efforts to bring state employees' pay levels under control were set back early last year when a state judge struck down a law that would have frozen salaries of about 48,000 public employees for two years. Soon afterward, the Legislature failed to take action on the arbitration panel's award of 15 percent pay raises for workers represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association. The raise could cost the state more than $100 million over the next two years.
One of the legal issues is whether the Legislature's failure to act constituted rejection of the arbitrated contract. Cayetano points out a 1979 ruling by the Hawaii Public Employment Relations Board that the Legislature's failure on several cost items in an arbitration award amounted to the award's rejection.
The Senate Labor Committee this week voted to fund the pay raise and forwarded the proposal to the Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Sam Slom cast the only dissent, emphasizing what other committee members gave scant attention: affordability.
Slom maintained that the Legislature should provide tax relief and educational reforms before considering whether to increase state employees' salaries. "I don't want to get in a position where we don't have money for education because we have given out pay raises," he said.
Democratic Senate Leader Cal Kawamoto criticized Cayetano for proposing salary increases for state executives while opposing pay raises for other state employees. Kawamoto has a point, but his rationale does not justify increasing pay to all state employees.
State employee unions can be relied upon to use their considerable political muscle to secure passage of the pay raises. Legislators should resist pressure to approve raises that exceed the state's ability to pay.
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