The Sunshine Blog: Candy Coated Opposition, Bills Hitting The Gov's Desk, A Different Kind Of Term Limits - Honolulu Civil Beat

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The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand: More than 100 people voiced or penned their opposition to a seemingly innocuous bill that would have allowed the Hawaii Office of Elections to use scanned ballots — not the real paper ones — when it sampled cast ballots to make sure everything was being counted correctly. Only two people supported House Bill 132, a measure pushed by the elections office.

Most of those who testified in opposition before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday were folks who are on high alert for possible election fraud, including a guy from Florida who FaceTimed in from his car.

Adriel Tam, a GOP candidate for the House last year who has tangled with election officials before, tossed 10 bags of M&M candies on the witness table and asked the committee members if they could tell him how many red or green or yellow M&Ms were in each bag.

Fortunately, he didn’t wait for an answer and quickly wrapped up his testimony opposing the bill, sweeping the small brown bags back into his briefcase. Anything other than visually inspecting actual paper ballots was not acceptable, he argued.

Despite Chair Karl Rhoads’ opinion that the scanned ballot audit was fine because paper ballots — we do mail them in now after all — would be on hand if necessary, HB 132 failed to move forward. Committee members split between thumbs-up and thumbs-down and a tie goes to the green M&Ms. OK, a tie means it fails.

Other sunshine bills before the committee fared better, including a requirement that lawmakers disclose on their annual financial reports if they have a business or financial relationship with a registered lobbyist. State Ethics Commission Director Robert Harris told the committee there are about 370 of those these days.

Watch the Senate Judiciary replay here.

Former Republican House candidate Adriel Lam questions whether an electronic ballot audit system is any more accurate than trying to guess what’s in a pack of M&Ms. (Screenshot/2023)

This one’s on the fast track: Senate Bill 36 has already landed on Gov. Josh Green’s desk for his consideration, one of just two bills to receive such expeditious treatment. The other, House Bill 1514, funds the expenses of the Legislature, Legislative Reference Bureau and three agencies.

SB 36, introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads and rushed through both chambers, would make clear that a person may be tried and sentenced for alleged felony offenses through what’s known as the “complaint and preliminary hearing process,” indictment by grand jury, or by written information.

SB 36 was written in the wake of a Sept. 8 Hawaii Supreme Court decision in State v. Obrero, which invalidated the practice of initiating prosecution of serious felony cases by complaint upon a finding of probable cause after a preliminary hearing. 

The bill to ease the process for bringing felony prosecution was supported by the Attorney General’s Office and prosecuting attorneys for all four Hawaii counties. The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office was so concerned about the court ruling that it had urged a special session of the Legislature to change the law.

  • A Special Commentary Project

A different kind of term limits: A good number of state lawmakers actually support legislative term limits, a Civil Beat survey recently showed.

But what if committee chairs themselves were limited in how long they could serve in those powerful posts? And what if there also was a term limit on how long someone could be Senate president and the speaker of the House?

A couple of lawmakers proposed just that in their Candidate Q&As submitted to Civil Beat last year. We thought it was an interesting idea that we’re resurfacing here.

Sen. Angus McKelvey, who has served as a committee chair in both chambers and now heads the Senate Government Operations Committee, put it this way: “We need term limits for the various chair and leadership positions in the Legislature since it is through holding these positions for years that incumbents can build lofty war chests.”

“These limits would ensure the injection of fresh ideas and perspectives and create more well-rounded lawmakers because they would have experience in all the different areas the Legislature addresses and the internal structure of organizational leadership,” McKelvey said.

Sen. Stanley Chang offered a similar view in his Q&A. “When these positions are held by members for years and years, there are fewer opportunities for fresh perspectives on important issues.”

Hmm, and these “term limits” wouldn’t require a constitutional convention, just a change in the rules of the House and the Senate. Any legislator can propose such changes, and they only require a majority floor vote to pass.

Of course, a rule change such as this might not sit well with the current leadership and committee chairs, which illustrates an unwritten rule of the Legislature: Be careful what you wish for.

Senator Stanley Chang stands fronting the Atherton YMCA located along the University Avenue.
Sen. Stanley Chang voiced some interesting views on reforming the Legislature. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Another fresh thought from Stanley Chang: In that same Q&A response, Chang suggested another reform: “Gubernatorial appointments to vacant legislative seats confer an unfair advantage to those candidates, because incumbency is an enormous electoral benefit when running for re-election, allowing for greater fundraising capacity and name recognition.”

“These individuals often have never been elected to anything by the people before,” Chang said. “The Legislature should seriously consider a statute to prohibit appointees to vacant seats from running for re-election.”

Two such vacancies were filled this year with the appointments of Luke Evslin and Trish La Chica to the House. Evslin actually has been elected to something before — he had just started his third term on the Kauai County Council. La Chica has run unsuccessfully for the House — twice.

Gov. Josh Green said they were both well-qualified, and you’ve got to wonder: Would they have accepted these appointments if it meant they couldn’t campaign for full terms later?

Read this next:

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

I really dig these roundups, I hope they continue in some from post session.Alas, as has been noted by many, the people who do not want to be in politics are the ones we need in politics. An unsolvable riddle, perhaps, less we resort to conscripted service.

BEN · 6 months ago

Gov. Josh Green said they were both well-qualified, and you’ve got to wonder: Would they have accepted these appointments if it meant they couldn’t campaign for full terms later?Interesting fact, Trish La Chica was essentially nominated out of default. Of the three other names submitted to Green for consideration, Ron Menor was dead and Charlotte Nekota would have been ineligible to run for re-election due to her serving on the Reapportionment Commission and unable to run in the two elections following reapportionment.

justaguy · 6 months ago

Finally a Stanley Chang proposal I can get behind! Actually, he's looking more and more like one of the few real common sense individuals in the legislature compared to all the entrenched lifers and wanna-be lifers!

WhatMeWorry · 6 months ago

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