Do you care about medical marijuana dispensaries? Death with dignity? Regulating e-cigarettes? Or adding buffer zones for the spraying of pesticides around schools?

All of those issues and more are expected to crop up in the 2015 Hawaii Legislature, which kicks off Wednesday. But tracking the session can be confusing for those not familiar with the process. Bookmark this page to get tips on how to keep track of what lawmakers are up to.

Hawaii State Capitol building w/ Father Damien Statue. 2 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A statue of Father Damien in front of the Hawaii Capitol.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Public Access Room

The Public Access Room is an impressive resource for anyone testifying for the first time. Go to the Capitol in downtown Honolulu, take the elevator to the fourth floor and look for the colorful fliers stacked outside its door, Room 401.

There you can get information about how to testify on bills, how to navigate the Legislature’s website, and the basics of drafting and submitting testimony. You can use computers to research bills, write testimony and make copies of it. Staff members offer workshops twice a week to provide an introduction to Hawaii’s lawmaking process. They’ll even customize workshops depending on your needs.

If you don’t want to drive all the way the Capitol, there’s a lot of information online. Here’s a quick overview of how to navigate the Legislature’s website, and below are more tips on how to make sense of the legislative session:

Understanding the Legislative Process

  • If you’re completely new to the process, read this citizen’s guide to learn about what it takes to get a bill through the Legislature. Demystify the jargon with this glossary.
  • Check out the session calendar to see when lawmakers are convening and keep up with daily events by reading upcoming hearing notices.
  • Know who are the most influential policymakers by checking out the House and Senate leadership and committee assignments.

Tracking Bills and Resolutions

  • Search for a bill on the Legislature’s website by typing in its bill number, i.e. “HB1700” or “SB200.” You can also search by keywords. Below those fields, see the “Order of the Day” to figure out what measures lawmakers are voting on in each chamber.
  • See which bills have passed key legislative hurdles by clicking on “Reports and Lists.” This is also where you can search for measures by which lawmaker introduced them or which package of bills they’re a part of.
  • Access archives of bills and resolutions dating back to 1999.

Watching Hearings and Briefings

  • Committee hearings are when lawmakers accept testimony about measures and decide whether or not to advance them; briefings are when lawmakers gather information from specific people. The Legislature holds thousands of hours of these meetings throughout the session. To keep track of which ones you might be interested in, sign up to receive email notifications.
  • While not all hearings and briefings are recorded, you can watch selected hearings through Capitol TV or via Olelo on television or online.
  • If you want to attend in person, there’s metered public parking in the Capitol underground just off Punchbowl Street, but it’s often full. Bring quarters to use city parking or park in public parking garages a few blocks away. If you’re taking The Bus, the closest stops are at Beretania and Punchbowl, and South King and Punchbowl. Watch this video for more information on how to get to the Capitol.
  • If you’ve arrived but are lost, here are map directories of the entire building as well as seating charts for who sits where in each chamber.

Sharing Your Views

  • If you’d like to share your input on a bill or resolution, here’s how to submit testimony online. It’s best to turn it in at least 24 hours before a hearing, although late testimony is also accepted. Not sure how to draft testimony? Here’s a suggested outline.
  • You can also contact your lawmakers directly. This information sheet shows their room numbers and phone numbers, and here are all of their emails.  If you aren’t sure who represents you, here are the district descriptions for the House and the Senate as well as nifty interactive district maps for the House and the Senate.

Engaging on Social Media

  • Many Hawaii lawmakers, political parties and state departments have Facebook pages where they post updates. “Like” their pages to keep up with news from the people and organizations that you’re interested in.
  • If you’re on Twitter, useful hashtags include#HILeg, #HIgov and #HInews.
  • Follow @nathaneagle and @ahofschneider to keep up with Civil Beat’s legislative reporters and their coverage.

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