Flawed bills need a fix, not a fight
I AM surprised, and I must say disappointed, at the reaction of Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and House Speaker Calvin Say regarding the letter sent to them Thursday by Gov. Linda Lingle.
As she has done during the past four and a half years, the governor has reached out to the Legislature, asking its members to work collaboratively with our administration to "fix" bills that she believes are in the public's interest, but contain legal flaws or might be unconstitutional. The changes are simple and can be made in a special session starting Tuesday.
One bill (Senate Bill 1922), which would allocate funds for a Creative Media Academy and MELE programs, contains a provision the attorney general says violates the Hawaii state Constitution. It would require the University of Hawaii to lease a specific property to the Public Broadcasting System at no cost and on specific terms and conditions, which could be construed as a special and not a general law. The Constitution requires that the legislative power over state lands be exercised only in general law. The Constitution also grants the University of Hawaii Board of Regents exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management and operation of the university. This bill sets aside the authority of the Board of Regents to control and manage the land and substitutes that authority with the Legislature's determination of how the land should be used. This can be corrected by the Legislature by deleting the unconstitutional portions of the bill.
Several other measures have adverse fiscal implications for our state highway system. For example, the pedestrian safety bill, SB 1191, which the governor testified in support of during the legislative session, can be corrected by amending it to the Legislature's original version that used general funds to pay for much-needed pedestrian safety improvements, rather than taking the money out of the state highway fund.
Recently, Hawaii was ranked as having the worst highway system in the nation, with many of our bridges in disrepair. This has occurred after years of legislative raids from the state highway fund. Money exists in the general fund to implement improvements without hurting our highways.
SB 837 authorizes the purchase of agricultural lands in Kunia and Ewa by appropriating $9,200,000, an amount that matches the asking sales price of a parcel offered by a large private corporation. Having the option of using the state's power of eminent domain would allow the state to pursue this purchase using fair market value, not the seller's asking price. This bill could be easily amended this week in special session to ensure that eminent domain procedures are available, similar to the way the Legislature approached the Kukui Gardens purchase to keep rental housing units affordable.
Our state Constitution provides a solution for this problem of well-intentioned but seriously flawed bills. The Constitution allows the Legislature to convene a special session and quickly amend the bills to fix the flaws.
Hanabusa has unfortunately said it's "too late" to follow this process. Instead, it appears the Legislature will go forward with its predetermined game plan agreed to in May to override the governor's vetoes. In doing so, legislators will enact into law bills that will harm the public interest.
Speaker Say stated, "We'll fix them next session." If the speaker knows the bills need to be fixed, why does he want to allow these flawed measures to become law? Why make the public wait until January and delay amending important bills that can make a difference today?
The executive and legislative branches of government can show the public that by working together, the needs of our residents are most important and are the overriding concern to everyone.
Hanabusa and Say's attitude is most unfortunate. While Democratic legislators have the sheer power and overwhelming numbers to override vetoes, they should step back, take advantage of the process our Constitution provides, and act in the public interest by fixing flawed and unconstitutional bills this week.
James R. "Duke" Aiona Jr. is the lieutenant governor of Hawaii.