Part of a Hawaii legislator’s job is to attend the 60 days of floor sessions from January to mid-May.
That’s where lawmakers may vote on bills or resolutions, appointments, debate amendments, make speeches, or recognize groups or people. They aren’t supposed to miss these meetings unless they’re sick, unable to attend or excused by the leader of their respective chamber, according to House and Senate rules.
Almost a third of lawmakers had perfect attendance during the session that adjourns Thursday, while five lawmakers missed at least 10 session days.
Technically, former House Speaker Joe Souki had the worst attendance by far with 22 absences before he was forced out of his job early last month after admitting to sexually harassing women over the years at the Capitol. Rep. Troy Hashimoto, who replaced Souki, hasn’t missed a day since he started two weeks ago.
Other than Souki, leading the pack of no-shows was Rep. Chris Lee of Kailua, who missed 12 floor session days. Last year he missed five full days and was late once.
Lee, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said he was sick once and took several trips off-island to discuss energy and climate change matters. Collaborating with others is key to passing and implementing energy and climate-related measures, he said.
Unlike the Senate, which only counts a full missed session as an absence, the House differentiates between whether a representative missed a full session or the initial roll call.
Rep. Kaniela Ing, a Maui lawmaker running to represent urban Oahu in Congress, missed 10 floor sessions and was late six times this year. Last year he missed five floor sessions and was late twice.
As a neighbor island legislator, Ing said he sometimes needs to visit residents in his district, attend to work responsibilities and care for his often-sick 2-year-old son. He said being a legislator is about more than showing up to floor sessions, which don’t always entail casting votes.
On March 21, one of the days that Ing missed, he participated in an online Reddit AMA “Ask Me Anything” discussion on a progressive politics forum and solicited donations.
Rep. Beth Fukumoto, a Mililani representative who’s also running to represent urban Oahu in Congress, missed 10 floor sessions and was late once. Last year, she attended all floor sessions but was late once.
Fukumoto said half of her absences this year were family-related and required travel. The rest were either sick days or time spent traveling to Washington, D.C., prior to announcing her run for Congress.
Seventeen representatives had perfect attendance, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke, and Reps. Henry Aquino, Tom Brower, Richard Creagan, Ty Cullen, Aaron Ling Johanson, Bertrand Kobayashi, Lei Learmont, Dee Morikawa, Scott Nishimoto, Takashi Ohno, Gregg Takayama, Roy Takumi, Cynthia Thielen and Kyle Yamashita.
Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English of Maui had eight absences this year. He racked up 12 absences last year while traveling.
His district encompasses east and upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
English was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon. One of his staffers said most of the absences were a result of flooded roads in Hana, where English has a home.
English’s absences for Senate sessions were surpassed only by Sen. Breene Harimoto, who was gone for 20 days. Harimoto said those absences were related to chemotherapy treatments he receives for lung cancer.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and Sens. Will Espero, Donna Kim, Clarence Nishihara and Brian Taniguchi had perfect attendance.
Legislators are paid about $60,000 per year.
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