LawmakersFor the first time since statehood, the Legislature today overturned a Hawaii governor's veto.
The legislation raises the
age at which minors may
participate in consensual
sex to 16 from 14
This veto override is historic for state of Hawaii
In a special session that lasted just over an hour this morning, the Senate and House voted to override Gov. Ben Cayetano's veto of a bill to raise to 16 from 14 the age at which minors may have consensual sex.
The vote required a two-thirds majority to override the veto. In the House, 48 members voted yes to override the veto, while three members were excused. In the Senate, one member -- Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kapahulu) -- voted against the override, while 23 members voted yes and one was excused.
The last time a Hawaii governor's veto was 44 years ago when Hawaii was still a U.S. territory. The consent bill had been proposed by the Democratic floor leader, Rep. Marilyn Lee of Mililani, after Republicans singled out the issue during the regular legislative session.
"This is the wrong bill. It is a bad bill. And I'm not the only one to think that," Cayetano said today. He noted that the prosecutor's office and the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women also oppose the bill.
"Anytime politicians make decisions based on politics, it's damaging," he said.
Cayetano has argued that the bill will not protect 14- and 15-year-old minors. "It is so poorly written that it may also be unjust to 19- and 20-year-olds," he said yesterday.
A 19-year-old who engages in consensual sex with a 14-year-old faces a 20-year felony prison sentence, but if a 19-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old, there is no criminal penalty, he said.
The bill has a sliding age limit to address the question of teenagers having sex, according to the bill's supporters.
"The Republicans manipulated this into a political issue under the guise of protecting 14- and 15-year-olds. Now our Democratic lawmakers, fearful of the issue being used against them in 2002, have caved in to political pressure."
The Legislature, Cayetano said, is supposed to "make difficult decisions which may not be politically correct.
Kelly Rosati, executive director of Hawaii Family Forum, however, yesterday praised the Legislature's move to override, saying it was the act of a courageous Legislature.
"We are grateful for the courage of this Legislature," Rosati said. "On a bipartisan basis, these elected officials are taking a strong stand for Hawaii's youth, and the public will be very pleased.
"Hawaii will no longer be the only state in the nation where adults are legally free to have so-called consensual sex with middle-school students."
Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki), the GOP leader, said yesterday that both Democrats and Republicans are willing to "correct the governor's misstep."
"The issue is a serious one. It is about protecting 14- and 15-year-olds. It is protecting them in the same way that they are protected in the rest of the 49 states," Fox said.
The call back to session came after both Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say had downplayed the idea of a special session to override the veto.
Yesterday, the two leaders said the issue had been complicated by legislators wanting to open the session to a number of veto overrides. But after it was decided to limit the session to just this one bill, the votes fell into place.
"It changed within four hours," Bunda said.
The Democrats' Senate leader, Sen. Jonathan Chun (South Kauai), said he spent the weekend contacting senators to see how they would vote. Chun, who wanted to override the veto, said once the Senate said it had the votes for the override, the House would fall into place.
Say said the Senate brought the House "to this point by achieving sufficient consensus for action." The bill will also have a place in Hawaii history as the first bill overridden since Hawaii became a state.
"There is little historical precedence for this action being contemplated by the Legislature," Say said.
Say said the override comes from a clear policy difference between the Legislature and the governor.
"Any political exploitation of this situation would be reckless and disgraceful," Say said.
In a release yesterday, Cayetano said that in talks with legislators last week, Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke told him the bill was a bad measure.
"But she added, 'I'm going to close my eyes on this one' because the Republicans would use this issue against House Democrats in the next election," Cayetano said. Luke said yesterday that Cayetano was quoting her out of context.
Talking about the override, Luke said, "What he needs to understand is that the Legislature is not like the old-time Legislature: We may be Democrats, but we are overriding a Democratic governor.
In Hawaii's history as a state, never has the Legislature overridden a veto.
This veto override is
historic for state of Hawaii
The last time it happened was in June 44 years ago, when Hawaii was still a territory of the United States.
At 3 p.m. June 7, 1957, the territorial Legislature adjourned after overriding a governor's veto. It was the 51st time it had happened since the formation of the territorial Legislature in 1901, and until today it was the last.
Daniel K. Inouye was a Democrat in the territorial House, and Bill Quinn was the appointed governor of the territory of Hawaii.
The territorial Legislature had, over the objections of Quinn, passed a huge tax reform bill that could affect revenues for a territorial budget that had a deficit, according to one legislator.
The bill was vetoed by Quinn, who said it introduced too many graduated steps in the income tax law. He also said the bill drew too heavily from a narrow tax base, the wealthy.
The Legislature, however, called itself back into session.
The Legislature, controlled by Democrats in 1957, said that while the governor and the lawmakers could disagree, the governor should not reject a bill on the basis of philosophy but only if there is a technical difficulty with the bill.
"Short of finding any such specific defects which will cause undue hardships on the people of the territory, your committee believes that the governor has the obligation to not intercede in the measure becoming law," the legislators' Committee of the Whole stated.
Quinn had argued that "drastic changes in the tax laws should be avoided because they involve needless experiments with the economy of the territory."
When the vote was taken, the Legislature prevailed.
Hawaii Revised Statutes