House holds party lines
on proposed rule changes

Democrats use their majority
to vote down a floor amendment

By Pat Omandam

House Democrats and Republicans verbally sparred for the first time this session on the issue of proposed rules changes that Republicans said are fairer and in the spirit of bipartisanship.

But in the end the majority ruled against it.

Legislature 2003

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House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) introduced a floor amendment yesterday to reword the House rules, which are adopted every year, so the 15-member GOP minority could formally appeal the majority's assignment of bills to committees, as well as sit on a majority-only review panel that settles those disputes.

"In today's session the House Democrats, including their freshmen who campaigned on change and openness, had before them their very first opportunity to real change," said David Pendleton (R, Kailua-Kaneohe), assistant minority leader.

"Instead of embracing it, they reverted to their old ways and demonstrated that their campaign themes were just that: campaign themes, not genuine commitments," he said.

Where and how many committees a bill is referred to may be particularly important this year to House Republicans because the minority has lost the minimum 17 members needed to recall idle bills from committees and onto the House floor for debate.

The minority used its recall powers the past two sessions to force discussion on several controversial issues, including age of consent, election recount and campaign spending reform.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Kapolei) said many bills introduced by Republicans are assigned to three or more committees, which makes them difficult to pass during the session. He added the proposed rule changes are not party-specific, and Democrats may find themselves as the minority group one day.

"And I need to caution the members on the other side of the aisle that someday these rules may help you and protect you," Moses said.

But House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Moiliili) argued House rules are designed with safeguards in place. He said the minority leader is consulted about bill assignments, and there have not been any problems with it so far.

While procedural issues are important, Saiki said, the public wants results from the Legislature and does not want them to bicker over "minutiae" like this.

Saiki added committee chairmen are given great flexibility and authority on which bills are heard, and they attempt to hear as many as possible in the short time they have.

"We have internal and external deadlines that we must follow, and our rules are designed to accommodate for all of these time considerations," Saiki said.

The House voted 33-15 -- along party lines -- to kill the floor amendment yesterday.

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