UH regents amendment
likely to appear
on 2006 ballot

Of the few dozen constitutional amendments proposed by lawmakers this session, only a handful made it past a first hearing, and only one looks like it will survive the cut.

That's not to say that there were no issues important enough to let voters decide.

But in a non-election year, lawmakers are more inclined to take a wait-and-see approach before deciding to try and amend the state constitution.

"If there is something that percolates to the level of importance so that we change something as significant as the constitution, we can do it next year," said House Majority Floor Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

Last year, four ballot measures -- all related to crime and victims' rights -- passed out of the Legislature. All four were approved by voters.

This year, only a measure that would let voters decide whether to change the selection process for the University of Hawaii Board of Regents is likely to survive the session. A final vote on Senate Bill 1256, House Draft 1, is scheduled in the Senate tomorrow.

The House already has approved the bill, which would not be subject to a veto if it passes out of the Senate.

If approved by voters, the governor would be required to appoint regents from a list provided by a candidate advisory council that would screen and nominate potential candidates. It would replace the system in which regents appointed by the governor are subject to Senate confirmation.

Supporters say the proposal aims to remove politics from the appointment process.

Republicans have called the proposal one of many introduced this year that are aimed at stripping powers traditionally held by the governor.

One key House member said recent events -- namely last year's ouster of Evan Dobelle as university president -- appeared to be the driving force behind the measure's advancement in the Legislature during a non-election year.

"Because it was a recent incident I think there's more of an interest to work on that this year as opposed to any other constitutional amendment," said House Judiciary Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Punchbowl).

Last summer, regents met in private session before announcing they were firing Dobelle "for cause." Dobelle later was allowed to resign under terms of a negotiated settlement that paid him and his lawyers an estimated $1.6 million.

Some Democrats said the action was political because Dobelle had endorsed Democrat Mazie Hirono in the 2002 gubernatorial election. However, the action by the nine-member board was unanimous and included the four regents appointed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat.

"The perception that the university is tied so closely with the political powers hurt the university," Luke said. "It really hurt the reputation of the university and I think this constitutional amendment tries to address that."

Although they were not heard this session, all proposed amendments can still be addressed next session along with any new measures that are introduced.

By the same token, lawmakers could come back next year to revise any proposed amendment that passes this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Missing the cut

A look at some of the constitutional amendments proposed this year that have not advanced:

House Bill 570: Proposing an amendment to permit testifying criminal defendants to be impeached with evidence of prior convictions for crimes involving dishonesty.
H.B. 898: Proposing an amendment to require use and protection of Hawaii's natural resources in a manner consistent with their sustainability. Defines "sustainability."
H.B. 1399: Proposing an amendment requiring Board of Education members to be elected by qualified voters in the departmental school district where the member resides, rather than by qualified voters from two at-large school board districts.
Senate Bill 692: Proposing an amendment to prohibit the counting of blank votes and overvotes in determining whether a proposed constitutional amendment has been ratified.
S.B. 739: Proposing amendments to clarify that the Legislature is required to comply with balanced budget requirements and requires the use of the latest Council on Revenues estimates to enact a balanced budget.
S.B. 995: Proposing an amendment to remove the mandatory retirement age for state justices and judges.

Source: Hawaii State Legislature, www.capitol.hawaii.gov

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