Hawaii lawmakers are in the midst of intense negotiations about what bills to pass this year. But with only three days left to make decisions, some committees haven’t even met yet.

That’s because the legislative leadership hasn’t yet assigned lawmakers to discuss several bills, leaving the measures in limbo and some advocates disillusioned.

The proposals include House Bill 437, which would prohibit waivers of public hearings for applications to build seawalls.

Tiare Lawrence 

The House assigned negotiators but the Senate hasn’t done so yet. Senate President Ronald Kouchi didn’t reply to messages seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Tiare Lawrence, a community organizer for the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, said she’s frustrated by the lack of action.

She flew to Oahu from Maui earlier this year to testify in person for the bill, and has been watching it closely since.

“You come this far and for it to just die the way it’s dying, it’s not a pono democratic process,” she said. “The reality is that sea level rise is happening and we need to put in policies that protect our coastlines for future generations.”

The Senate also hasn’t assigned conferees for Senate Bill 562, which would extend limited liability protections for lifeguards over the objections of a group of personal injury lawyers.

Another bill that’s in limbo is a proposal to allow the news media to access disaster scenes like the lava flow that threatened a Big Island town.

Senate President Ron Kouchi listens to Senator Donna Kim senate. 11 april 2017
Senate President Ron Kouchi presides over a session in April 2017. He signs off on conference committee members. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Janet Mason, co-chair of the legislative committee for the Hawaii League of Women Voters, said bills die every year because negotiators weren’t assigned.

The reasons for not assigning negotiators vary and can range from scheduling conflicts to ideological opposition and the desire to use bills as bargaining chips.

Mason noted that because the Senate is much smaller than the House, it’s tougher to schedule committee hearings.

She urged the public to read about conference rules online and contact House and Senate leadership if bills aren’t being heard.

“It’s easy for advocates to become discouraged, but we can’t let that happen,” she said.

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.



About the Author