Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Legislature 2001

House fails to
curtail power
of conference

A measure to rescind
the veto powers was
defeated along party lines

By Lisa Asato

Efforts to rescind sole veto power of conference committee chairmen were defeated in the state House yesterday.

After nearly an hour of debate on three resolutions proposed by Rep. Ed Case (D, Manoa), representatives defeated the measures in a vote split down party lines. All 18 Republicans present -- one was absent -- joined Case in supporting the measures that would reverse an April 12 agreement between House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) and Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa). That agreement gives sole veto power to a conference committee chairman even if a majority of his committee members disagree.

Today, the Senate is expected to debate its own resolution that would invalidate that agreement. Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kapahulu) said 10 senators support the measure, and the group needs three more votes to pass the resolution. The group spent yesterday asking colleagues for their support, but it was still hard to say whether they would succeed, Ihara said.

Traditionally, an agreed-upon bill would advance out of conference committee -- in which the House and Senate resolve their differences on bills -- as long as it had the support of the majority of each of the House and Senate quorums.

"A vote in favor of these resolutions is a vote in favor of democracy; a vote against these resolutions solidifies the power of a single chair to kill legislation in a conference committee," said Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua).

She said the agreement effectively relinquishes the powers of 76 legislators into the hands of a few. It is like saying, "We are handing you, single legislator, the total power to veto energy reform or any other bill that might be before us," she said. "This does not make sense. That's a dictatorship, not a democracy."

Case, who authored the proposals, said the unilateral agreement between Say and Bunda puts about 20 reform measures at immediate risk. He said the principle of majority rule has been abused.

He said some reforms at risk this session deal with renewable energy and campaign finance, which face opposition by their respective chairmen, Sens. Ron Menor (D, Mililani) and Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu).

House Democratic leadership argued that the agreement is merely a guideline -- not a binding rule -- that would make the chaos of conference committees more manageable and efficient.

Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke (D, Nuuanu) said the change would be vital in the case of the budget decisions. She said changing the rules now would allow other chairmen to override the Finance chairman, who understands how to balance the budget.

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