On Tuesday the Hawaii Legislature is set to act on hundreds of bills as lawmakers near the halfway mark of the 2019 session.

The bills include measures that increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022, enact voting by mail across all counties in 2020 and establish a carbon emissions tax.

Those are just some of the pieces of legislation that Civil Beat has been tracking this session out of the more than 3,100 House bills and Senate bills that were introduced in January.

There were more than 3,000 bills introduced since January. Only a few hundred usually pass.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Only about 10 percent of bills usually pass, however, and that means most measures won’t make it this year — although they do carry over to the 2020 session. It’s even possible some bills may be resurrected before session ends May 2.

For now, here’s a rundown of important legislation that did not make the cut.

Voting Reforms

Several bills proposing reforms to Hawaii’s election system were early victims this legislative session.

Senate Bill 4 could have lowered the voting age to 16 for state and local elections.

“The idea is to get people in the habit young, and they’ll keep doing it,” Sen. Karl Rhoads told Civil Beat last month.

Rhoads’ Senate Judiciary Committee deferred the bill Feb. 1.

Rhoads and other lawmakers also had an idea to randomize candidate names on ballots. The preamble to SB 194 and HB 438 says that candidates listed first on the ballot could have an advantage over candidates listed further down on a ballot.

Both bills passed their first committees but were never given hearings by the House Finance Committee or Senate Ways and Means.

House Bills 1588 and 1589, introduced by House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, would have allowed the top two vote-getters in the August primaries to advance to the November general election regardless of their political party.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, pictured above last March, introduced bills that would let the top-two vote getters in certain races face off in a general election. Neither of the bills survived.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“I really do not believe the election system is here to serve the parties,” Luke said.

Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, deferred the bill in early February.

While these measures may be dead for now, though, more than a dozen other bills related to voting and elections remain alive.

In addition to the vote-by-mail measure mentioned above, there are bills calling for mandatory recounts in close elections and for automatic voter registration.

But Not For Inmates

The 5,400 incarcerated individuals in Hawaii’s prisons and jails along with 1,450 inmates held in Arizona will not likely be given the right to vote this year. SB 1503 did not clear a final joint hearing by the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees.

The measure had the support of the League of Women Voters. Hawaii would have joined Maine and Vermont as the only states that allow inmates to vote.

Lawmakers also considered a proposal to bring those 1,450 inmates held in the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, back home.

CCA Arizona Saguaro Correctional Center2. 5 march 2016

The Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona currently houses 1,450 Hawaii prisoners.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

House Bill 424 would have required the state to start reducing the number of inmates it sends to private prisons on the mainland by July and to stop the practice altogether by 2035. House Public Safety, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregg Takayama said the bill was unrealistic and deferred it in early February.

Lawmakers may move ahead with pretrial reform measures. But several bills proposing changes to Hawaii’s bail system won’t make it through.

SB 1538 would have forced courts to set bail at a reasonable amount after it considered a defendant’s financial circumstances. The bill passed its first committee but was never heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 294, would require the release of any defendant charged with a minor crime who does not pose a flight risk or a danger to the community. It was never given a hearing.

A bill to ban people with three or more Waikiki-related misdemeanors from being in the district at night also died. Rhoads killed SB 637 Feb. 20.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, who represents the area from Kakaako to Waikiki, said that the bill targeted people who go to Waikiki with criminal intent.

“They are nuisances, and they are coming back and coming back,” she told Civil Beat last month.

 A Police Standards Board

The state’s new Law Enforcement Standards Board wanted four more years and $275,000 before it set certification standards for state law enforcement officers and the four county police departments.

It won’t get either after lawmakers did not advance two bills that would have extended funding to the board as well as its deadline for implementing statewide training standards.

Lawmakers tasked the board last year with coming up with minimum training standards as well as a decertification process by July 1. The board said in a report to the Legislature that it was “near impossible” to complete its mandate without more time and more funding.

Since the bills extending the boards deadline didn’t pass, that means the board still needs to create those standards by July 1.

And Porn Is Still Free

Sen. Mike Gabbard and Rep. Sam Kong introduced two bills that would have charged Hawaii residents $20 to unblock porn sites.

The fees would have gone to a fund that would allow the state to make grants to organizations fighting human trafficking. A similar bill in Arizona would raise money to help pay for a border wall with Mexico.

Senator Mike Gabbard cesspool forum.

Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced a bill that would have charged porn-watchers $20 to unblock porn sites.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another bill sought to ban pornography involving animals.

HB 24 would have outlawed bestiality in Hawaii.

“I chose to introduce it because it should be a no-brainer. We simply should have a law in the event that people do take advantage of animals or traffic videos of this type of behavior,” said Rep. Tom Brower, who authored the bill.

HB 1529  sought to protect Hawaii’s student journalists from prior restraint by public school officials. The bill never received a hearing this session.

SB 860 and HB 369 would have allowed the Legislature to intervene in any court case that involved claims based on the state constitution or statutes. One testifier on the bills called them the “Colleen Hanabusa Employment Act,” so named for the former congresswoman’s intervention on behalf of the Legislature in a case involving its gut-and-replace tactics.

Rhoads and Lee killed the bills in their respective chamber’s judiciary committees.

Rep. John Mizuno authored HB 692, which would have watered down inspection requirements at care homes. The bills first stop was the House Health Committee, chaired by Mizuno. He never gave the bill a hearing.

HB 1478 and SB 1453 concerned increasing the extent to which the public records law applies to the state Judiciary.

But Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the Office of Information Practices, wanted lawmakers to insert language into the bill that would have created a “deliberative process privilege” in the state public records law.

The state Supreme Court ruled in December that no such privilege currently exists in the law. Rhoads and Lee also killed both bills.

No Dan Inouye Day

Even though Hawaii voters polled have consistently shown they support an initiative process so that citizens can put proposals on state ballots, bills calling for that in the Senate (Senate Bill 440 and Senate Bill 456) went nowhere this year.

Same goes for bills — in the House and in the Senate — to have the electorate directly call for a referendum. And there will be no term limits for senators and representatives because House Bill 102 and Senate Bill 311 were never heard.

Nor will there be a day named in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye or the late U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka. The bills never received a hearing.

Bills asking the state to designate historical markers for Barack Obama’s time in the islands and to set up a commission to come up with other ways to assess the Hawaii-born president’s historic legacy did pass. But the Senate Ways and Means Committee elected not to consider the bills, so they are shelved for now.

A note to our readers

While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.

About the Authors