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StarBulletin.com

Legislature session hours hidden


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some days at the Hawaii Capitol, lawmakers debate and pass laws for an audience of no one. Maybe that's because the public doesn't know when they're doing business.

The Capitol Web site buries what time the state House and Senate go into session every day, making it difficult to find unless you know where to look. Visitors tend to show up in the gallery only when they're being honored or the most controversial issues come to a vote.

“;It's frustrating. Some of us have to be here 24/7 just to keep track of everything,”; said Carol Golojuch, a social worker researching Hawaii's civil unions bill in the Capitol public access room this week.

On most days the Senate meets at 11:30 a.m., and the House starts at noon, but that information isn't easy to find, and their schedule occasionally changes for special events or busy days.

One day last week, both legislative bodies started work at 9 a.m. instead of their regular times so they could vote on hundreds of bills facing a deadline to cross over to the other chamber. On Wednesday the Senate met at 11 a.m., and the House convened at 2 p.m., after both jointly celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Admission Act at noon.

Last week was Sunshine Week, an annual observation by journalists and other groups to promote freedom of information.

No one is complaining about the absence of the Legislature's working hours from its Web site and bulletin boards on display at the Capitol, but sometimes people call to ask what time sessions start, said Senate Clerk Carol Taniguchi.

“;If that's something that would be useful information, we could easily put that on the Web site,”; she said. “;It's not like it's right out there.”;

The time that the Legislature will meet is displayed at the bottom of the previous day's Order of the Day, which can be viewed through the “;Bill Status and Documents”; page on the Web site.

“;They may need to look at the Web site from the public's point of view,”; said Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kahala-Palolo). “;We ought to try to educate and invite people to attend or view the sessions and talk to legislators.”;

Tracking bills is a bit easier as they progress through the committee process. The date, time and room number of a committee hearing are displayed in the status page of the bill.