[ OUR OPINION ]
RAISING state House and Senate members' salaries would seem reasonable if legislative work were their only source of income. But they are assumed to be part-time legislators, assigned to meet only 60 weekdays a year from mid-January to early May, and are paid handsomely for that period. Ethics guidelines are based on that assumption, requiring only disclosure, not prohibition, of other employment that might be regarded as creating conflicts of interest. If legislators insist on a pay raise, it should be coupled with a tightening of ethics requirements.
Lawmakers’ pay should
reflect part-time hours
THE ISSUEA state agency has recommended salary raises for legislators over the next decade.
Isle legislators are paid $32,000 a session. They also receive $10 a day in personal expenses for those living on Oahu and $80 a day for neighbor islanders. That is decent pay for a period of less than four months, but is not much to live on for the entire year. No legislator is expected to do so. Legislators ran for election knowing that full-time employment was not part of the job description.
As a result, many conflicts of interest are expected, since legislators are called upon to make decisions that may affect companies where they are employed when the Legislature is not in session. Business people gravitate to commerce committees and practicing lawyers to judiciary panels. Blatant conflicts, such as a company hiring or using a legislator as a lobbyist, are unacceptable even in a part-time Legislature, but even that has been known to occur.
Legislatures in most states also are part-time, with sessions typically lasting two to four months and compensation ranging from $7,200 in Texas to $38,400 in Oklahoma, plus expenses. Hawaii already is near the high end of part-time salaries. In the nine states where legislative positions essentially are year-long and considered full-time, salaries range from $44,333 in Wisconsin to $99,000 in California, where the session runs from early January to mid-September.
Hawaii's Legislative Salary Commission has recommended that legislative salaries be increased to $34,200 in 2005 and $40,000 in 2012. Warren Daspit, the commission's chairman, calls those increases justified, based on average wage hikes for the state's private and public workers. That is the wrong measuring tool.
More to the point, the proposed raises would cause Hawaii lawmakers' salaries to approach wage levels in several states where the legislatures convene all year. Hawaii's Legislature should remain part-time, with wages and ethical rules reflecting that fact.
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EXPERIENCED substitute teachers without college degrees may be as skilled in the classroom as their counterparts who have diplomas. Even so, federal requirements leave the state Department of Education with little choice but to leave them off employment rosters.
Law leaves behind
THE ISSUEAbout 1,450 were told they cannot be hired for temporary duty in isle public schools because they don't meet new requirements.
Education officials could use the help of Governor Lingle, who has noted her Republican credentials in Washington, in seeking a waiver to allow the department some temporary leeway or at least get some clarification from the federal government.
About 1,450 of 5,000 substitute teachers were notified earlier this month by the DOE that they won't be allowed to work in public schools because they do not have the level of education demanded by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The DOE had warned the teachers in October that the law could affect their employment.
Meanwhile, education officials sought clarification from the federal government of the law's general prescript that requires "highly qualified" teachers and whether Hawaii could get a waiver of that regulation for substitutes. Officials also wanted federal guidance on whether substitutes could be considered paraprofessionals, which may have negated the need for the college degree, or allowed them to qualify with a two-year degree obtained by 2006.
The DOE received no response and, in the absence of guidance, decided to match substitute qualification requirements with the same level as regular teachers. The decision may cut into the number of substitute teachers available in some school districts.
Education officials won't know how acute the shortage may be until after April 22, the deadline for substitutes to renew their eligibility, as some may have received the necessary degrees. However, it appears that a good number won't be able to qualify.
Ideally, Hawaii would staff all classrooms with highly qualified teachers every day, as the federal law demands. However, a teacher shortage, coupled with absences, places an average of about 1,000 substitute teachers in classrooms daily.
Education officials say many substitutes, those with and without degrees, are effective and reliable employees, but the federal mandate allows them few options. They should ask Lingle to use her influence to get some answers from inside the beltway.
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