Tuesday, June 26, 2001


Veto override
special session
gains steam

Legislators eye July 10 to
overturn the rejections

Richard Borreca

For the first time in seven years as governor, Ben Cayetano faces a Legislature seriously considering overriding his veto.

Although Cayetano has slacked off his usual veto pace, the Democratic governor this year has rejected 33 bills, prompting Legislative leaders to call a Thursday meeting to consider returning July 10 to override or modify some vetoes.

In 1999, Cayetano vetoed 45 bills, and last year he rejected an additional 43 measures, but his slackened disapproval rate has not met with many state Capitol fans because this year he vetoed a bill to raise the age that minors can have consensual sex, the age of consent, from 14 to 16.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, North Shore) met with key Senate Democrats yesterday but found the group was split on what to do. Bunda reported that some Democrats wanted to let the veto stand, while others wanted to override the veto and make the new age-of-consent bill a state law. Still others wanted to use an obscure provision of the state Constitution to amend the bill to meet Cayetano's objections and then pass that new bill.

Bunda and others, such as Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Wai-pahu), said any sort of direct challenge to Cayetano would be easier if there were several bills to override, and Bunda yesterday said he was watching Cayetano's actions on the state budget.

Last year, Cayetano cut millions from the state budget, much of it specifically earmarked for education and construction projects put in by the Legislature and commonly called pork-barrel funds. Bunda warned that a veto override would be almost assured if Cayetano again touched the Legislature's pork, but when he learned that Cayetano had signed the budget "clean" before leaving to attend the National Education Conference in Los Angeles, a veto became less likely, Bunda said.

House members, however, are still thinking about a straight veto override.

The age-of-consent bill was made a political issue by the 19 House Republicans, but it was passed by the Democrats.

Democratic floor leader Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani) sponsored the bill that eventually passed, and she says it was a compromise to a real problem Cayetano is ignoring.

"We are making a very important statement to the community: This is a problem and we are dealing with it," she said.

Lee said social workers in the community are worried about "young men and women who are being sexually exploited," and want something done about it.

Cayetano has said he thinks the 20-year prison term for someone found guilty of having consensual sex with someone 14 to 16 years old is too harsh.

Other groups, including the state Commission on the Status of Woman, argued that the bill was too broad.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, vice speaker of the House, said House leaders will also meet Thursday to decide if they want to override the veto.

"Our inclination is to come back for a veto override or not meet at all," Luke (D, Pauoa) said, rejecting the Senate's suggestions to modify the bill to Cayetano's liking.

"This is something that the members have worked very hard on," she said.

But she, like Kawamoto in the Senate, acknowledges that one bill may not be enough to get the required two-thirds majority needed to call an override session. So Luke suggested adding other vetoed bills such as continuation of jobless benefits for sugar workers laid off on Kauai and legislative authority over changes to the Ala Wai Golf Course.

Senate leaders have already said those bills are unlikely to trigger a veto override in the Senate.

One veto that is likely to stand is a bill that would require children 8 and under or those weighing less than 80 pounds to be put in approved car seats. Cayetano said the measure would cause a hardship for families with three or more youngsters who all needed car seats. The measure just barely passed the Senate, so there is not enough support for an override.

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