Democrats try to weaken
Lingle’s executive power

Legislators move to share
influence with the GOP governor


Monday, Feb.16, 2003

>> The state House majority floor leader is Rep. Marilyn Lee. A story on Page A13 yesterday incorrectly reported that Rep. Marcus Oshiro held the position. Oshiro is a majority whip.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

Gov. Linda Lingle's powers to make certain appointments, adopt administrative rules and regulations and control spending of one-third of the state's budget would be curbed by a variety of House and Senate bills being considered this year.

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Senate President Robert Bunda acknowledges that there's a growing sense of concern among Democratic lawmakers that some of the powers of the Hawaii governor's office, among the strongest in the nation, need to be shared by the Legislature.

The fact that the office is now held by a Republican likely added incentive to act this year on curbs considered but never pursued seriously under 40 years of Democratic governorships, he said.

"In the past, many lawmakers have felt that the power of the administration is great and that the Legislature felt it needed to look at balance in its relationship with the administration, so that's why you have some of these bills around today," said Bunda (D, Wahiawa).

The moves by the Lingle administration to decentralize the public education system and the Democratic majorities of the House and Senate to further centralize its control has made the balance of power issue more pronounced this year, he said.

Lingle said last night that her being a Republican is behind the efforts by Democratic lawmakers, but she said she isn't surprised.

"Hawaii traditionally has had a very strong central authority, a strong executive branch, and the fact that they want to get back some authority is understandable now that they have a Republican in office," she said. "That's clearly the reason it's being proposed now."

Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo) said the Democrats are attacking now because a Republican is in the governor's seat.

"It's an incredibly unhealthy, unethical and unprecedented partisan onslaught on the executive branch of government," he said.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, McCully) said it's an issue that has evolved over the years, and not because Hawaii has a Republican governor, recalling there had been similar concerns during the administration of former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano.

He calls it "growing pains" as Hawaii's government becomes more complex in modern times.

"The general feeling is that there are some boards and commissions in state government that wield considerable amount of influence and power and that the makeup of those entities should have diverse representation," Saiki said. "And to ensure this diverse representation, we believe that the appoint power needs to be modified."

As for administrative rules and regulations, House lawmakers are concerned that some rules and regulations exceed the powers intended by the laws that allowed their creation, he said.

The key power shift would come under House and Senate bills backing Superintendent of Education Patricia Hamamoto's call for all school-related state functions -- hiring, buying, health, social services and budgeting -- to be shifted wholesale from the various other departments to the Department of Education.

Another bill up for a decision on Thursday by the House Education and Judiciary Committees calls for a constitutional amendment to bar the governor from line-item vetoing any public school-related appropriations.

The feasibility of the governor to carry out her constitutional responsibility to develop and implement a balanced budget and financial plan would be jeopardized "if over one-third of state funded programs and over one-half of general fund programs are removed from the governor's purview," state Budget and Finance Director Georgina Kawamura told lawmakers last week.

She warned that the loss of the governor's control could cause Hawaii's current good scores from major bond rating agencies to drop, causing the state to pay higher interest rates when it borrows money.

A Senate proposal would repeal the power of the governor and mayors to veto rules and regulations developed by various departments and state agencies. Two Senate committees killed the measure after Attorney General Mark Bennett advised it appeared to be blatantly unconstitutional.

Several House measures still under consideration would have legislative or other types of review of new administrative rules to determine if they go too far and in effect create new laws.

The Senate Education Committee on Friday approved a bill that would curb the governor's power to name members to the University of Hawaii's Board of Regents, setting up a 12-member "candidate advisory council" with four members each named by the Senate president, House speaker, and governor.

Yet to get a hearing is a Senate bill for a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to let the University of Hawaii Foundation board name some of the regents.

Advancing in the House is a proposed constitutional amendment letting the House and Senate leadership join the governor in naming members to the Land Use Commission.

The House last week backed away from a bill that would have given the Legislature power to enact alternatives to the current appointment process, in which the governor's nomination to key posts and to boards and commissions require Senate confirmation.

However, advancing in the House is a measure that would require legislative approval of deputy director and special assistant positions in state departments that are not specifically authorized by law.

During floor debate when the measure was approved on second reading Friday and sent to the Finance Committee for further review, Rep. Mark Moses (R, Makakilo) called it "a blatant attempt to disrupt the administration."

House Majority Floor Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa) defended the bill.

"It's basically (a matter) of being accountable for what they're paying these people, what their job descriptions are," he said.

"Otherwise they can run roughshod over hiring any amount of people without any notion of cost or any of the benefits as far as what type of services they're providing."

Associated Press writer B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.


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