Bill would restrict the gov
A proposal that would require the governor to seek legislative approval before declaring a state of emergency in certain situations appears headed for approval in the Legislature.
While the House and Senate still have to work out the final language of the bill, the concept is supported by Democratic leadership in both chambers.
Minority Republicans criticize the measure as a power grab by the majority aimed at essentially punishing Gov. Linda Lingle for her use of emergency powers two years ago to address the homelessness problem on the Leeward Coast.
"What this bill does is tie the hands of the governor in times when she most will be needed by the people of Hawaii to be able to act quickly and decisively," said Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua).
Lingle declared the homeless situation in 2006 a state of emergency, which allowed the state to quickly allocate resources to build shelters. The governor acknowledged the "creative" use of the emergency powers but defended it as necessary to address public health and safety issues stemming from the homeless situation.
House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell said the measure does not dilute the governor's authority in times of natural disasters or man-made emergencies such as an act of terrorism, oil spill, plane crash or civil disobedience.
In other situations the governor would have to issue an emergency declaration, subject to legislative approval, that outlines "tangible and measurable harm or damage" that cannot be corrected by the Legislature in regular or special session.
Democrats say the measure attempts to clarify the law and maintain the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches of government.
House Speaker Calvin Say said it was wrong for the governor to allocate resources, including state funds, to address the problem.
"The Legislature's role and responsibility is for the appropriation of the budget," Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley) said yesterday in an interview. "In this particular case, money was never appropriated for the homeless situation on the Leeward Coast, and to me (she) usurped the Legislature's authority."
The measure passed the House on Tuesday with seven Democrats joining seven Republicans in opposition.
Rep. Joe Souki, speaker emeritus, said the bill appeared "petty."
"Yes, the homeless thing maybe was handled incorrectly," said Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku). "But this is petty if we're going to be coming up with a bill of this nature."
The bill now goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee, where a final version will be crafted.
Lingle, who typically does not say whether she will veto a bill until she has had a chance to review it in its final form, has called the emergency powers measure one of a handful of "bad bills" that she is following.