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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Legislature 2000

Quorum proposal
may open last-minute
committee proceedings
to general public

By Richard Borreca


Leaders in the Legislature appear close to agreement on a new plan to open the last-minute part of the decision-making process to the public.

Although opening up the conference committee proceedings was included as an amendment to the state Constitution in 1978, the Legislature has refused to open them.

Citizens groups, such as Common Cause, have called it a serious omission because the public would not know how legislators on the conference committee voted until days after the action was taken.

Yesterday, Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) said he would recommend that the House and Senate hold the decision-making conference committee with a quorum of members in attendance and that a written record of the vote be kept.

Calvin Say (D, Palolo Valley-Kaimuki), speaker of the House, said the proposal was similar to one the House had already made and it was likely to be adopted.

The pending agreement was welcomed by Linda Lingle, state Republican chairwoman, who had sued the Legislature asking that the conference committee be opened.

"As long as they carry through on their intentions, we will have achieved our goal of opening up the process -- it shows what a strong two-party system can achieve," she said.

"If this recommendation turns into action, of course, we will withdraw our lawsuit," she added.

The Legislature had been backed into a corner on the issue because the requirement to hold open decision-making on conference committees had been known for some time.

In 1991, the Democratic attorney for the state House, James Funaki, issued an opinion saying the Legislature was required to hold the meetings in the open, because the conference committee was considered a legislative committee and it was taking official action on a piece of legislation.

Then, this year, the state attorney general agreed, saying that the conference committee meetings should make their decisions when a quorum is present and with a written record of the votes taken.

Legislative leaders, however, said they didn't think they could rearrange the legislative schedule for this year's session.

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