Checks and balances get a bit bumpy
EVERY YEAR there is a bit more tension. Every legislative session, both sides push the limits a tad more. Add up all those years of small insider elbowing and pretty soon you could start a serious beef.
Something like that is happening with the Legislature and the state Supreme Court. Although no one is saying it publicly, legislators, lobbyists and lawyers are noting that the Legislature and the Supreme Court appear a tad testy.
This shows that a healthy tension between the branches of government is alive and well.
In contention is a series of legislative attempts to allow a defendant to be found guilty of continuous sexual assault of a minor if the jury agreed he had assaulted the child at least three times during a certain period of time.
The Supreme Court knocked down that law and in 2003 the Legislature proposed amending the state Constitution to meet the court's concerns. The approved amendment was ruled invalid in 2005, prompting Attorney General Mark Bennett to call it "another example of a Supreme Court decision undermining the Legislature's attempts to protect young children."
In both court cases, the court said the Legislature's procedure was at fault and that made the law invalid.
The Legislature and Bennett were especially concerned with the second court decision, which noted that proposed constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature must have three readings in each chamber and the bill's title must say that the bill is to amend the Constitution.
What other nits will the court pick next, worry lawmakers.
"I am concerned that if they don't like a bill they will say something like, 'You didn't have three substantive readings,'" says Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee.
Hanabusa also archly noted that it sounded like "a Circuit Court judge's full-employment bill" to her when she heard a bill to permit the chief justice to pull up Circuit Court judges to the Supreme Court without gubernatorial nomination or Senate consent. The committee also killed the bill, which had been requested by the state Supreme Court.
If the court is giving the Legislature tips on bill drafting, the Legislature is not above giving the Judiciary some advice on how to budget.
The Judiciary wants a new courthouse in burgeoning Kapolei, but the facility, budgeted at $95 million, has jumped $45 million in cost overruns. Members of the Senate money committee are balking at the new $40 million facility.
Hanabusa, an attorney, says she is a strong supporter of judicial independence and has supported the Judiciary's efforts to build the new courthouse, but she also says, "It is a two-way street and we are co-equal branches of government."
If the judicial-legislative relationship is a two-way street, watch out for more than the usual number of potholes this year.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org