Lawmakers will return to the Hawaii State Capitol on July 6 to consider overriding Gov. David Ige’s vetoes of measures the Legislature approved this year, and to also make some necessary fixes to botched bills that deal with state finances, House Speaker Scott Saiki announced Tuesday.

Ige has said he intends to veto 28 bills passed by his fellow Democrats, which is an unusually high number.

Saiki said that long target list has made some lawmakers unhappy, but it is not clear yet whether the Democrats have the two-thirds majority required to override Ige’s decisions on any of the bills.

Senate President Ron Kouchi declined to identify possible veto overrides, stressing instead the importance of fixing the budget glitches.

Ige is not required to veto all 28 bills and still has the option of signing some of them or allowing them to become law without his signature. That makes it difficult for lawmakers to precisely plan their response, since they do not know yet which measures Ige will finally reject.

In a memo distributed Monday, Saiki said the House and Senate will reconvene at noon on July 6. They will then recess to review the final list of bills that Ige actually vetoes and make final decisions on which measures require a response from lawmakers.

Ige has until the end of the day — that is, 11:59 p.m. — on July 6 to veto measures passed this spring. If he takes no action by that date, the bills will then become law with or without his signature.

Senate President Ron Kouchi walks into senate floor with left, House Speaker Scott Saiki. House adjourned and walked over to the Senate side and greeted Senator English before the Senater reconvened.
Senate President Ron Kouchi walking on to Senate floor with House Speaker Scott Saiki at left. House and Senate leaders say they are unsure which bills might trigger a veto override this year, if any. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Some of the measures have been the subject of intense lobbying campaigns in recent weeks, including a bill to authorize the counties to levy their own hotel room tax of up to 3%, and another to distribute $2,200 bonuses to part- and full-time public school teachers.

Ige has also said he needs amendments to some budget bills because lawmakers specified in the budget the state must use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to repay more than $300 million in bond debt.

The federal government does not allow the state to use that pot of pandemic relief funding to pay down debt, Ige said, and lawmakers will therefore need to appropriate money from other sources to cover state borrowing.

That means lawmakers must approve a fix that will ensure the state meets its debt obligations. If Ige and the Legislature can agree on language that would accomplish that, lawmakers can approve an amendment with a simple majority next month without a veto override.

Gov. David Ige during his virtual state-of-the-state speech this year. The governor said rapidly changing economic conditions triggered some of his expected vetoes. Screenshot

Overrides Rare

The Legislature rarely musters enough votes for an override, but Saiki said Ige’s intent-to-veto list released last week targeted an extraordinary number of bills.

“Because there’s 28 bills, the members’ reactions are all over the place,” Saiki said Tuesday.

Some lawmakers who introduced bills on the potential veto list and committee chairs who worked on measures on the list want to override specific vetoes, he said, “but outside of that, there hasn’t been a big push yet” for overrides.

That said, some lawmakers were surprised by the large number of bills on the list, Saiki said.

“I think 28 bills represents almost 10% of the bills that we approved this session, and it’s just a large number,” he said. “The governor didn’t give a full explanation for his rationale on each of the bills — on all of the bills — and I think it just took members aback.”

Ige has said some of his vetoes are being triggered by changing conditions in recent weeks as the state’s tourism industry rebounded. That means state tax collections are rapidly increasing, and some of the more dramatic changes lawmakers made to state spending plans are no longer necessary, he said.

The state also received last-minute guidance from the federal government on how the state may use billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief money. That presented problems because lawmakers earmarked some federal funds for uses that are not allowed, such as debt service.

Saiki said he has asked House committee chairs to work with their Senate counterparts to see how various bills might be fixed with a simple majority vote, or whether override votes are necessary or desirable.

“I would see us voting on amended bills. I’m not sure yet about overrides,” Saiki said.

The session will likely last for at least several days for technical reasons. According to a legal opinion by the state Attorney General, if lawmakers decided to amend a bill with Ige’s consent, they will need to make the amendment with a floor vote, and then wait at least 48 hours before taking a final vote on the re-written bill.

Fixing The Budget

Senate President Ron Kouchi said that the priority going into the override session will be the budget.

“At a minimum, we need to get an agreed upon fix on that and then we need to see if we can reach an agreement on other (bills),” Kouchi said. He declined to identify any measures that the Legislature may take up.

Rather than jump straight to overriding the governor’s veto of any bills, lawmakers instead want to find workarounds with the administration first, according to Kouchi.

He didn’t rule out the possibility that lawmakers may try to override some of Ige’s vetoes, but said it’s also possible the Legislature may just let some issues slide until the 2022 session.

Kouchi said the Legislature is still waiting for Ige to send specific changes that should be made to bills on his intent to veto list. He said the volume of that list and the complexity of some of the bills on it have made work difficult for lawmakers.

“This has certainly been more complicated than any of the other veto convenings that I’ve participated in the 11 years I’ve been in the Senate,” Kouchi said.

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