Friday, May 4, 2001

Senators Sam Slom and Bob Nakata shake hands after the
adjournment of this year's legislative session yesterday.
Sen. Russell Kokubun looks on.

‘Days of politics
as usual are over’

Historic session
approved privatization,
civil service reform

>> Dems reaffirm Cayetano on auto shipping bill

By Richard Borreca

TO MOST observers this session of the Legislature ended by answering two questions: How much do you pay public workers, and where do you get the money?

Legislature The first half of the 21st Legislature ended yesterday around 2 p.m. when Senate President Robert Bunda banged down his gavel, although the big decisions changing the rules for civil servants and adding $300 million in pay raises had already been made.

Republicans in the state House, who for the first time since statehood control 19 votes, said that if there was change in the Legislature, they deserve some of the credit.

"The new Republican-influenced Legislature demonstrated that the days of politics as usual are over," Rep. Galen Fox, GOP leader, said after the session.

Just before adjourning, legislators turned down Gov. Ben Cayetano's invitation to join him in a bill-signing ceremony to publicize the civil service reform laws.

Because of the controversial nature of the bills, which were strongly opposed by Hawaii's public worker unions, senators declined.

Senate President Robert Bunda: "Why rub salt in their
wounds? The Democrats have to show a sensitivity."

"Why rub salt in their wounds?" Bunda said after the session. "The Democrats have to show a sensitivity; the unions are the backbone of who and what we are."

Cayetano signed the bills into law without an audience early yesterday but hoped to focus attention on the measures during the afternoon news conference.

The Legislature, particularly Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa-McCully) as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, fought to prepare a budget that could accommodate large pay raises for public workers.

At one time he was estimating the pay raises to add $500 million to the $3.474 billion budget. But after strikes by the state's public school teachers and university faculty, Cayetano was able to reduce the salary increases to a total of $300 million.

The question of how to pay for the raises still remained, and the Legislature answered by changing the setup for the state worker health fund system, which allows the unions to run health-care programs for all state workers and retirees.

Details of the plan will take more than a year to work out, but legislators say the plan will save money.

"When we were doing this health fund reform, as we've always said, it's not to hurt the employees, it's to preserve the benefits into the future," Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), Senate vice president, said.

From left, Sens. Bob Nakata, Kalani English, Sam Slom and
Russell Kokubun congratulated each other yesterday after the
adjournment of this year’s legislative session.

The union fears that its members will lose medical benefits or have to pay more for them, but legislators insist the program will save money while not jeopardizing benefits, although some medical plans may change.

"We spent a lot of time on it with a lot of people," Rep. Scott Saiki (D, McCully) said.

Unions, however, promised political vengeance and threatened to target legislators who voted against them.

The legislators also approved a bill to permit state and county government to privatize government operations. That measure also was fought by the unions.

Union leaders all promised that they would return next year to try to kill or change the health fund bill.

Saiki added that he expected unions to also challenge the bills in court.

Dems reaffirm
Cayetano’s stance on
auto shipping bill

By Pat Omandam

The 19 House Republicans got in one last jab at the ruling House Democratic majority in the 2001 Legislature by forcing them to vote on a bill vetoed last month by Gov. Ben Cayetano.

In a session in which the House minority used their numbers to recall bills from committees, the GOP saved its best political maneuver for last: a motion to override a veto on a measure that eliminates the need for the owner of a registered vehicle to get permission from the legal owner, the lien holder, before shipping the car interisland.

The bill unanimously passed both Houses earlier this year but was vetoed April 16. Cayetano said the current law was effective in reducing shipments of stolen vehicles across the island chain and that the proposed law did not offset this. Yesterday, House Republicans -- cognizant a state Legislature has never mustered the two-thirds support needed in both houses to override a governor's veto -- forced Democrats one by one to either reaffirm their support for the bill or fall behind party ranks and watch it die because the governor vetoed it.

Republicans argued that overriding the veto, which essentially passes the bill into law, would not cost any money. Moreover, they said, Hawaii drivers are being treated as second-class citizens because they need permission from the vehicle's legal owner to drive the car across state, something not required in other states.

They said this is the kind of action state legislatures are supposed to do when it makes sense.

"As far as I know, the only provinces, states or countries that require this kind of permission to travel within the state are totalitarian-type governments, where you have to have paperwork to show the border guards or permission to leave the town you're in or where there's martial law," said Rep. Paul Whalen (R, South Kona-North Kona).

The bill's sponsor, former House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Wailuku), was visibly surprised by the Republican action. Souki, who has tried to pass this bill for several years, said bankers, businesses and neighbor islanders all favor the proposal, and he was disappointed the governor vetoed it.

"I think his intentions were honorable -- misdirected, but honorable," Souki said.

But House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa) argued that the governor, under advice from the attorney general, had good legal reason for his veto, and urged colleagues not to change that.

The override failed by a vote of 22-29. Three Democrats, including Souki, joined Republicans in voting yes.

A similar motion in the Senate, spearheaded by Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua-Waimanalo), died by a 4-21 vote.

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