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Friday, July 28, 2000

State of Hawaii

Threat of lawsuit
adds pressure
to call special
legislative session

House and Senate leaders
are advised that a provision
of the 2002 election is illegal

By Crystal Kua


The heat is on the state Legislature to hold a special session this year to fix an inequity in Senate terms in the state Constitution -- despite objections by the governor.

Two mainland lawyers who are experts in voting laws are threatening to file a lawsuit on behalf of a group of Hawaii voters and civic leaders if state lawmakers fail to resolve the problem before the general election.

In a July 26 letter to House and Senate leaders, Virginia attorney J. Gerald Hebert wrote that he and Stanford University Law School Professor Pamela S. Karlan have determined that the provision that will allow some incumbent senators to have longer terms in office than challengers if they win in the 2002 election doesn't jibe with the U.S. Constitution.

"As attorneys who frequently participate in federal rights litigation, we can assure that a legislative solution to this problem is a far better and less costly course of action for the state than a judicial one," Hebert wrote.

However, Gov. Ben Cayetano also wrote to Senate President Norman Mizuguchi and House Speaker Calvin Say, urging them not to hold a special session to fix the constitutional snafu, saying the action will be a waste of taxpayers' money.

Cayetano said the matter can wait until next session.

House Republicans disagree with the governor and are joining the call for the special session. "I say let's get on with it. The special session is (a) small price to pay to maintain the integrity of our electoral process," House Minority Leader Barbara Marumoto said.

Legislative leaders are looking at holding a special session from Aug. 7 to Aug. 17.

Both Say and Mizuguchi maintained their positions yesterday that if they get the two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate needed a special session, and if there is an agreement on the proposed legislative fix for the Senate terms, they will move forward with the session.

If such legislation passes both houses, the measure can be placed on the general election ballot for voter ratification.

"I agree with the governor's comments on the issue of a special session but remain open to working with my colleagues in both chambers to address this matter in the most appropriate way," Mizuguchi said.

Say said he wished that the governor had sent his letter before House Democrats held a majority caucus Tuesday to discuss the special session because his letter would have contributed to the discussion.

A special session agenda also could include the Senate's considering three judicial appointments and possible hearings to clear up questions about a new medical information privacy law.

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