Hawaii lawmakers are bill crazy.
At least, you might come to that conclusion if you compared them with their peers around the country.
Hawaii’s 76-member Legislature averages 42 bills per politician — outstripping even the bill-per-lawmaker count for members of Congress.
Last year, 535 members of Congress introduced 10,621 bills bill. This amounts to about 20 bills per politician. In other words, less than half of what their Hawaii counterparts produce.
Some states limit the number of bills allowed each session because they worry that having too many bills clogs the legislative process. But Hawaii’s lawmakers don’t seem concerned.
If lawmakers worked seven days a week for the entire four-month legislative session, they would have to consider 30 bills a day to hear all 3,224 at least once.
Senate President Shan Tsutsui told Civil Beat that he thinks it’s good for the state that lawmakers introduce so many bills because it means more ideas get heard.
“I think part of the whole beauty of the process is that bill introduction is an opportunity for almost anybody to have their voice heard on a particular issue whether you support it or not,” Tsutsui said. “That’s why we do a lot of bills that are done ‘by request’.”
“By request” is a tool politicians use to introduce bills on behalf of constituents, while not necessarily endorsing the bills’ contents.
Some states believe too many bills can clog the political process.
Those who favor bill limitations “feel that the limits reduce the number of ‘hero bills’ going through the system,” the report states. “The idea is not to restrict lawmakers’ work, but to reduce the amount of time spent on superfluous proposals and to allow more time for substantive legislation. Most legislators do not have enough time to read and understand all bills. Bill limits help streamline the legislative process and reduce costs for staff, printing and paper.”
At least one state legislature is considering a proposal this year to limit bill introductions even further.
In California, Assemblyman Brian Nestande has introduced a resolution that would reduce the number of bills allowed from 40 to 30 per each two-year legislative cycle. Nestande says each bill introduced to the legislature costs California $20,000 to research and process. Nestande believes if caps were imposed, it could save his state $24 million.
Tsutsui told Civil Beat calculating the cost of considering a bill in Hawaii is next to impossible.
“The reason is, there are a lot of different ways how bills are drafted,” Tsutsui said. “A lot of times, you’ll have a constituency who will have a group and they draft a bill and so part of it is just dropping a bill in, like cutting and pasting. And then there are times that requires research from staff attorneys and so forth. I don’t know. I would hate to even guess.”
Of course, some states introduce far more bills than Hawaii does. New York averages close to 16,000 bills a year, according to the NCSL.
But New York’s population is around 19.5 million – 15 times that of Hawaii. New York also has a full-time legislature, unlike Hawaii’s, which is part-time.
One of the problems associated with having too many bills to consider is that each cannot receive full and fair consideration. As part of California’s effort to limit bill introductions this year, one politician told the Contra Costa Times that with fewer bills, there would be more time for analysis.
“The reduction in the number of bills will create the opportunity to give especially close scrutiny to each piece of legislation because there will be more time for that analysis to take place,” said Mike Feuer, a Democrat representing Los Angeles.
Tsutsui says that despite the large number of bills introduced in Hawaii, each receives a fair hearing.
“Once the bills are introduced, we do have committees in both the House and the Senate that actually refer all the bills,” Tsutsui told Civil Beat. “So they read through every single bill and say which bills should be referred to which subject matter committee. And then, once that happens, every subject matter committee chairman and their committee members will look through the bills and decide which bills they want to hear or not hear. So there is a process and every bill is definitely looked at by not only members of leadership as well as the committee chairman, but a bunch of other members as well.”
Considering the number of bills, and the size of some of them, it’s nothing short of impressive that each is fully read by several different lawmakers.
It’s true that some bills are so short that they take up just three sentences, while others are the length of a novel.
HB 1453, for example, a bill that would establish civil unions, is more than 400 pages long.