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Friday, January 14, 2000


State lawmakers
must produce results
—or else

With elections in the fall,
numerous issues demand fast
action by House and
Senate members

By Pat Omandam


Two weeks ago, Willie Espero was a member of the public hoping state lawmakers would do something this year to ease transportation problems and improve educational facilities in Ewa Beach.

Today, as the newest member of the state Legislature, Espero finds himself contemplating not only the future of his neighborhood, but of the entire state as well.

Espero was appointed Dec. 30 by Gov. Ben Cayetano to the House seat vacated by Paul Oshiro. Already he knows he and the other 75 lawmakers must make hard decisions on an array of issues during the 60-day session that begins Wednesday.

If not, they face a public backlash this fall when the entire House and half the Senate is up for re-election.

"I believe that this session is going to be very productive," Espero said. "Hopefully, the people will see that the Legislature did listen."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
The State Capitol, shown here with two lobbyists huddled against
an upper-floor railing, will become a hub of activity when the
state Legislature convenes Wednesday.

Last year, the public complained of another do-nothing session after lawmakers were unable to agree on issues like civil service reform, fireworks, a new state prison and a state tax credit for hotel renovation. The Senate's votes not to reconfirm two Cayetano appointees, Attorney General Margery Bronster and state Budget Director Earl Anzai, heightened that public scrutiny.

Now, with renewed optimism in a new century, House and Senate members say their priority is on the civil service reform package Cayetano is expected to present in his State of the State address on Jan. 24. The governor last month predicted civil service reform will be "the defining issue" of this session.

House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa) said the governor's reform package expands on objectives the House pushed in 1998 to stir the economy. Those proposals included tax reform, a hiring freeze, restructuring collective bargaining and civil service laws, promoting privatization, and integrating the state's budgeting, accounting and procurement systems.

Case said the eight separate tax cuts passed by lawmakers during the past two years provided specific tax relief to the business community. Now, he said, it is time for lawmakers to see how they can improve the economy through reforms in civil service, collective bargaining and regulations.

"I don't see that as pressure because of an election year. I see that as what we should be doing. I think my colleagues have that view of, 'This is what we need to do, and we will do it,' " he said.

Unions loom large

However, the powerful public worker unions remain apprehensive about too much tampering with civil service. Randy Perreira, deputy executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees' Association, said the governor's reform plans -- which members were briefed on recently -- do not focus on civil service but on cutting back collective bargaining and employee benefits.

Perreira says the civil service system needs to be modernized, but government workers are not the problem. He suggested Cayetano's drumbeat on civil service reform is making it more of an issue than it needs to be.

Republicans are skeptical that the Democratic-controlled Legislature will pass meaningful reforms this year.

House Minority Leader Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki) thinks it may take three years to get civil service reform passed. Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) added he's not optimistic about its chances in the Senate, which he said has been pro-labor in recent years.

Anzai confirmation up again

The Senate also must consider confirming an attorney general they rejected last year as budget chief. Slom, however, doesn't see the Senate spending much time debating Anzai's confirmation as attorney general.

"I think the governor is in the driver's seat," Slom said. "You've got 13 of the 25 senators that are up for election. They've gotten a snoot-full from their constituents about Bronster/Anzai.

"I would be very surprised if it is a major confrontational thing, and I'll be very surprised if he's not confirmed."

Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said there may be some pressure from the public to approve Anzai, but not as much as there would have been if Bronster was up for another appointment.

"I would think that the track record that he developed will help him win over some of those people who voted no for him as budget director," he said.

Matsunaga said he and co-chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) have ranked substance abuse treatment, domestic violence, firearms control, drunken-driver penalties and the medical use of marijuana as the top issues for their committee.

Explosive decisions

Meanwhile, lawmakers heard loud and clear about the public's demand for fireworks regulation. House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said lawmakers are poised to approve some sort of regulation early on, but probably not a total ban.

Say is equally hopeful of an agreement on where to build a new state prison, given it's been six years since Cayetano first pushed for one.

"I personally feel that it's going to be a very productive session," Say said. "We've got two big issues already -- fireworks and prisons. And I told the caucus I don't want to vacillate about a prison."

Some of the other issues to watch out for this session -- both old and new -- are fluoridation of drinking water, high-technology measures, welfare and campaign finance reform, public worker pay raises or freezes, a minimum wage increase, shark-finning, State Hospital funding for relocation of patients, domestic violence, women's issues, Felix Consent Decree compliance, and the elimination of the insanity plea.

The House also is ready to act on legislation dealing with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs if the U.S. Supreme Court this spring rules against the state in the Rice vs. Cayetano appeal.

Case said lawmakers are trying to understand what are the possible outcomes of the appeal by Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice over a lower court ruling that he cannot vote in OHA elections because he is not Hawaiian.

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