Monday, June 28, 1999

Legislature shouldn’t
swap override votes

Bullet The issue: Legislative leaders are considering a special session.
Bullet Our view: The legislators shouldn't get involved in trading votes to override the governor's vetoes.

THE legislative process at the state level involves the Senate, the House of Representatives and the governor. Bills passed by both houses go to the governor, for his approval or veto. The Legislature can override vetoes if it can achieve two-thirds majorities in each house.

There have been 51 veto overrides in Hawaii's legislative history -- all when Hawaii was a U.S. territory. As the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca noted in his column, the first veto override had to do with lowering the tax on female dogs.

There has never been an override of a veto since statehood, although there have been nearly 400 vetoes since 1959. (However, twice the Legislature met in special session to amend a vetoed bill, meeting the governor's objections.)

That could change this year. Legislators are talking about holding a special session and attempting overrides of some of Governor Cayetano's 45 vetoes.

It's likely that a special session will be called, if only to clear up some unfinished business from the regular session. That includes correcting a bill granting tax incentives for construction or renovation of hotels. The Legislature passed the bill but inadvertently left the percentage of the tax break blank.

Another such item would be passage of an emergency appropriations bill to pay $2.1 million to the federal government for refunds from the Hawaii Public Employees Health Fund. Failure to make that payment would leave the state owing $200,000 to $300,000 in interest.

The veto overrides could also be attempted in the same special session. But the thinking is that the Legislature's leaders would have to agree in advance as to what vetoes would be taken up, and be sure they had the votes for the overrides. They wouldn't want the session to drag on. House Speaker Calvin Say doesn't want the special session to attempt veto overrides, and apparently that won't happen. Say is concerned that legislators would get involved in trading their support.

"If we're going to override one thing, do we have to agree to override another thing to get that?" Say asked. "I don't want to get involved in that."

The problem would not arise if there were overwhelming support for an override of a particular veto. Perhaps the veto of a bill aimed at making it easier to win convictions in child abuse cases would qualify. But Say is correct in resisting the swapping of votes for overrides.

Capital punishment

Bullet The issue: The president of the Philippines decided to save a convicted rapist from execution, but failed because a telephone line was busy.
Bullet Our view: The case illustrates the awful finality of capital punishment.

A man was executed in the Philippines because a telephone line was tied up. At the last minute, President Joseph Estrada changed his mind about whether to save a convicted rapist from execution, but it was too late. His phone call to halt the execution went through one minute after the convict, Eduardo Agbayani, was pronounced dead by lethal injection.

It was the second execution since the Philippines restored capital punishment in 1994 -- and it was a mistake. Estrada had said earlier Friday that he would not grant a reprieve. But he changed his mind just five minutes before the scheduled start of the execution after emotional appeals from one of the defendant's daughters and a Catholic bishop.

The case illustrates the awful finality of capital punishment. There is no way to reverse an execution. Because a telephone line was tied up, the presidential reprieve came too late.

In this case, there was no dispute over the subject's guilt. But there are cases in which the innocent have been executed. By the time the mistake is discovered, it's too late.

There is a natural tendency to seek vengeance for heinous crimes through the death of the culprit. But when a man's life is taken because a telephone line is tied up for a few minutes, it makes you wonder.

Telescope for students

Bullet The issue: The world's largest telescope for education and scientific outreach is being built on Haleakala.
Bullet Our view: The telescope will make astronomy a far more interesting subject for its users.

ASTRONOMY is a highly specialized science but now high school and college students in Hawaii and Britain will soon be able to use a remotely operated telescope on Haleakala.

The world's largest telescope for education and scientific outreach is being built by a partnership between the University of Hawaii and a British group.

An educational trust established by Martin "Dill" Faulkes, a self-made millionaire, is providing about $3 million for the project. Faulkes Telescope Corp. will own and manage the 2-meter telescope at the university's High Altitude Observatory on Haleakala.

The telescope will have a sophisticated electronic camera with 4 million individual picture elements, or pixels.

Hawaii and British astronomers will involve students in research projects. Students will be able to observe stellar events as they occur and instruct the telescope to take images for research projects.

The project should make astronomy a far more interesting field of study for the youth of today and tomorrow and stimulate their interest in other sciences as well.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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