The Senate president, vice president and majority leader — all Democrats — are the top positions in the Senate.
But a Civil Beat analysis of the 2011 Legislature found that committee chairs may have more direct influence on whether legislation lives or dies.
In the 2011 session, six Senate committee chairs led the way in getting their own bills passed — that is, bills in which they were the chief sponsor:
• Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee Chair Roz Baker (13 bills passed).
• Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Chair Will Espero (10 bills).
• Judiciary and Labor Chair Clayton Hee (9 bills).
• Education Chair Jill Tokuda (8 bills).
• Water, Land and Housing Chair Donovan Dela Cruz (7 bills).
• Human Services Chair Suzanne Chun Oakland (7 bills).
Combined, that adds up to 54 bills, almost half of the 122 Senate bills approved and sent to the governor’s desk.
Civil Beat analyzed all 3,224 bills introduced this year in the House and Senate, determined how many had passed and who deserves credit as chief sponsor for those 252 bills.
The analysis found that no Republican bills passed.
It also found that three appointed Senators had the highest “batting averages” when it came to passing their own bills: Gil Kahele passed six of his 17 bills (35.3 percent), Maile Shimabukuro passed six of 25 bills (24 percent) and Malama Solomon passed five of 23 (21.7 percent).
A big reason the six Senate chairs did so well in terms of passing the greatest number of bills has to do with the nature of the bills themselves and the committees they had to pass through.
Tokuda’s biggest accomplishment, for example, was shepherding the bill that set up an appointed school board, as mandated by voters last fall. The first committee the measure had to clear was her own, Education.
Most of Tokuda’s bills, in fact, concerned education. Similarly, Clayton Hee authored several bills on animal cruelty, adult probation and employment, which had to clear his Judiciary and Labor.
A major accomplishment for Hee was the bill recognizing Native Hawaiians and establishing a roll commission. Not only did the bill have to go through his committee, but it also had to clear Hawaiian Affairs, where Hee is a member.
Baker, meanwhile, succeeded in pushing bills to track sales of pseudoephedrine, to make adjustments to renewable energy portfolio standards and to address insurance requirements and the Public Utilities Commission — all part of her Commerce and Consumer Protection bailiwick.
Baker’s biggest accomplishment was the mortgage foreclosure resolution bill that was signed into law with great fanfare just last week.
A bill need not go through a chair’s committee to pass, however. Another big success for Baker was passage of a measure prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims of domestic or sexual violence in certain situations.
The bill, part of the package of bills that came from the Women’s Legislative Caucus, did not go through Baker’s committee. But it was sponsored by all nine female senators, who made sure the bill survived.
Being a committee chair, however, is no guarantee of getting bills passed.
Health Committee Chair Josh Green and Agriculture Committee Chair Clarence Nishihara went 0-33 and 0-25, respectively.
Green failed to get bills passed prohibiting the harvesting of aquarium fish, requiring helmets for all-terrain-vehicle riders under the age of 18, creating a Hawaii Health Authority under the governor and a host of mostly health-related measures.
Nishihara, meanwhile, sponsored a couple of bills related to gambling, several others involving the procurement process and a measure that would have extended the life of a climate change task force.
Nor does holding a leadership position ensure legislative success.
Majority Policy Leader Les Ihara went 0-58 this session, although one of the bills that he introduced — the so-called “gifts bill‚” began as an ethics reform bill and ended up as a green light for lobbyists to shower lawmakers with gifts and other goodies.
Two other Democratic senators also failed to get any bills passed: Pohai Ryan (14 introduced) and Ron Kouchi (5 introduced). Both were among three senators who introduced the least amount of bills, and both were serving in their first legislative session.
Kouchi was appointed to fill Gary Hooser’s seat and was elected proper in November. Three other appointed senators did much better, but they achieved their high success rate by limiting their attempts. Two of them, Malama Solomon and Maile Shimabukuro previously served in the Legislature.
As Civil Beat has stated in other stories examining the Legislature, getting one’s own bills passed is not the sole indicator of a lawmaker’s effectiveness.
More than 20 percent of all bills introduced in the Senate came from Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, for example, though just five of his 316 bills passed.
But that number is misleading, since he introduced more than 270 short form bills that were referred to a wide variety of committees and never moved. Short-form bills are those that contain only a reference to a general idea of a subject and are used for the possible subsequent drafting of a bill on that subject in long form — a way to keep options open, in other words.
Espero and Suzanne Chun Oakland also introduced a lot of bills — 95 and 114, respectively.
David Ige only saw two of his bills pass. But as chair of Ways and Means, arguably no senator worked harder last session than Ige.
And many bills go through a transformation process, often cramming language from other bills into a single “vehicle.”
A bill introduced by Vice President Donna Mercado Kim started out calling for imposing a transient accommodations tax on guest rooms that are “furnished on a complimentary or gratuitous basis, or otherwise at no charge, including as part of a package or in exchange for non-monetary consideration.”
That language survived in the final version of the bill that ultimately passed. But the bill now also caps how much TAT goes to the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the four counties.
It’s all part of the Portuguese-sausage making process.
Here’s a complete breakdown for the bills introduced by all 25 senators at the 2011 Legislature.
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Source: Civil Beat analysis of Hawaii public records
To view all the bills that passed the state Senate this year, click here.
Friday: Read about which Democrats led the way in passing House bills.