Ballot initiatives up for vote
Voters could be asked to decide on a state salary commission and judges' retirement
Residents might get a chance to vote on whether to set up a salary commission to set pay for top state officials, and whether to remove the mandatory retirement age for judges.
The state Legislature is poised to vote today on the two proposals among several proposed amendments. If passed by the Legislature, the proposals will end up on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
Attorney General Mark Bennett lobbied strongly against changing judges' retirement age from 70, saying a regular turnover of judges would help the legal system.
"It invigorates the Judiciary by bringing fresh ideas and greater diversity to the bench," Bennett said.
A total of 37 states have mandatory retirement for judges, Bennett said.
Senate Bill 995 was also opposed by the state Judicial Selection Commission, which said it would make it difficult for judges to move up to higher judicial positions.
"It will discourage many attorneys from applying for judicial openings, and will impede the introduction of new ideas and ways of looking at the law," said Melvin Chiba, selection commission chairman, in testimony to the House Finance Committee.
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Judiciary Committee chairwoman, said the bill would do away with the last state mandatory retirement limits.
"We don't have age requirements retiring from the Legislature or for governor. This is a question of age discrimination," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
Hanabusa said no specific judges were considered by the proposal, but James Burns, chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, and District Court Judge Matthew Pyun are both 69.
The other proposal, House Bill 1917, would create a commission to handle the salaries of most state executives. The Legislature is still working on a set of rules, House Bill 1918, which would create a seven-member commission.
The commission would set salaries for the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators, state judges and state department heads. The only state executives not covered by the proposed commission would be the heads of the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii.
The governor, Senate president and the House speaker would each pick two members, with the chief justice picking the final member.
After the commission made recommendations, the new salaries would go into effect unless the Legislature voted to reject them.
Supporters of the plan said having one commission review all the state executive and judicial salaries would create a fairer standard and allow for more consistency among positions.
In past years the Legislature created a commission to review members' salaries, while pay for judges went more than a decade without revision.
In another proposed amendment, the Legislature would define what behavior constitutes a continuing course of conduct in sexual assault crimes against minors younger than 14. A previous state law has been rejected by the state Supreme Court.
Finally, another amendment would authorize the state to issue special-purpose revenue bonds to assist agricultural enterprises serving important agricultural lands.