House snubsThe state House refused to consider a Senate bill that would create a teachers union-backed health plan pushed by hundreds of teachers jamming the gallery.
A rules-skirting move fails even
as teachers jam into the gallery
By Pat Omandam
"We just don't have the information now," state Rep. Helene Hale (D, Puna). "Many of us need to get the information straight in our mind before we can act."
Yesterday, state Rep. Terry Yoshinaga (D, Moiliili) repeatedly questioned House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) on the procedures needed to approve Senate Bill 2861, Senate Draft 2. Last week, the Senate suspended its rules to allow the measure to be approved and sent to the House despite missing several legislative deadlines.
As a result, Say said the bill was not properly before the House for any action, and it would take a suspension of the House rules for it to be considered.
That vote failed to get the required majority 26 votes of the 51-member House, ending any possible action on the bill yesterday. But Say said any legislator could make a motion to suspend the rules of the House during the remainder of this session, which would be the first step toward properly considering the bill.
As amended by the Senate, the bill allows the Hawaii State Teachers Association and other public employee unions to set up a voluntary employee beneficiary association. The HSTA would then continue with its own health plan instead of being forced into a single state-run system through reforms passed last year by the Legislature.
HSTA President Karen Ginoza had acknowledged when the bill passed the Senate that it faced an uphill battle in the House. In an attempt to influence House members, the union held a rally yesterday afternoon at the state Capitol, packing the House gallery and the Capitol courtyard with hundreds of teachers who came to support the bill.
The teachers who watched the session generally were disappointed. Some said they will remember those legislators who left the chamber before the vote was taken to suspend the rules.
The House did approve two resolutions, House Resolution 96 and House Concurrent Resolution 139, that called for studies of the voluntary employee beneficiary association bill.
State Rep. Chris Halford (R, Kihei) argued the health plan works and should be taken up by the House. Moreover, he said, it is subject to federal requirements under the IRS, providing the fiscal accountability needed of such trusts.
"With VEBA comes accountability and transparency in spending public money," Halford. "I believe that the State of Hawaii has been lacking in accountability in the spending of money, and we would be better served trusting our money through a VEBA trust."
But Hale supported the study, saying there are a lot of unanswered questions about the system that should be answered before the House considers the bill. Hale added the measure would not take effect until 2003, so there is time to address this issue next session.
Star-Bulletin reporter Stephanie Healea
contributed to this report.
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