There are some things we desperately need that our state legislators seemingly will never provide:

• The right to statewide initiative and referendum that citizens enjoy in almost every other Western state.

• Legislative term limits to encourage fresh leadership and a better chance to shake up the entrenched power structure that runs the islands.

Unfortunately, it looks like this session will bring more of the same inaction on frequently proposed reforms that are clearly supported by Hawaii voters — you know, the folks the politicians are supposed to be working for.

Even as they pay lip service to the obvious need to energize the electorate in a state that consistently serves up stale choices to voters, key legislators are again blocking initiative/referendum and term limits bills without even allowing committee hearings on them.

Mauka Facade of the Capitol with Tilt Shift Lens.
Key good-government reforms like term limits and allowing citizen initiatives have all but died in the Legislature. A handful of measures such as all-mail balloting remain alive. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The clock is running out, because Friday is the deadline for bills to clear the committees they’ve been referred to in their initial chambers. And while legislative leaders sometimes employ magic tricks to get around such deadlines, that’s only to boost measures they support rather than those they consistently run away from.

Who has been thwarting the biggest reform bills this time around? The chairs of the judiciary committees, Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Karl Rhoads.

That’s where the measures sit, including Senate Bills 456 and 440 in support of statewide citizen initiatives, House Bill 459 and Senate Bill 312 for a statewide referendum process, and House Bill 102 and Senate Bill 311 for legislative term limits.

Contact Key Lawmakers

Civil Beat polls have found widespread support for these reforms among Hawaii voters:

• Last October, 70 percent supported term limits for legislators, while 14 percent opposed the idea.

• In December 2017, 60 percent supported allowing voters to go over the heads of legislators and propose their own new laws through statewide citizen initiatives or binding referendums that could force public votes on measures approved by the Legislature. Eighteen percent opposed that.

And yet, bills to accomplish these things can’t even get hearings in the Legislature.

Same goes for other ideas that are popular with voters, including having Hawaii join the vast majority of states that sell lottery tickets generating billions of dollars for state services.

Our December 2017 poll found that 55 percent of likely Hawaii voters support a lottery while 34 percent oppose it.

Numerous lottery bills are sitting in the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Sen. Laura Thielen, and the House Lower and Higher Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Justin Woodson.

Some would establish a unique state lottery here, others would have us join the 44 other states that participate in Powerball and Mega Millions. In most cases, the proceeds would go to public education.

It is inexplicable that our cash-strapped state government won’t avail itself of this revenue source, especially when many of those lottery tickets would no doubt be purchased by out-of-state tourists.

Not a single lottery bill has been scheduled for a hearing.

This is not to say the Legislature never takes action on needed reforms. Last session, for instance, it finally approved medical aid in dying so that the terminally ill have more control over their fate.

This session, it appears on track to raising the minimum wage.

Bills to convert to all-mail balloting statewide and require an additional campaign funding report before the general election are still alive. But the judiciary committees derailed the most intriguing election reform, a bill that would have advanced the top two primary vote-getters to the general election regardless of political party.

Some good government bills also still have beating hearts, including:

  • Sen. Thielen’s Senate Bill 1057, which would require the state Office of Information Practices to resolve complaints regarding access to public records or open meetings within six months — sometimes it takes years.
  • Rep. Scott Nishimoto’s House Bill 285, which would require county police departments to disclose the identities of officers who are suspended or discharged.
  • Senate Bill 678, introduced by Sens. Les Ihara and Donna Mercado Kim, that would apply provisions of the state Sunshine Law governing open meetings and public records to the Legislature.

Still, the most fundamental reforms go wanting.

When Civil Beat editorialized last year in support of holding a constitutional convention, we said it was the only way Hawaii would give its citizens the chance to seize the rights of statewide voter initiative and referendum while clamping term limits on legislators.

We’re sorry to see that so far, the Legislature is proving us correct.

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