At the center of the dispute was a bill to allow unlicensed birth workers to continue offering their services in Hawaii.

The Hawaii House briefly considered expelling one of its members last month after she conspired with midwife activists to have several of her colleagues — including the House speaker — arrested for DUI after they killed the controversial midwifery bill she had sponsored.

The incident involving Rep. Natalia Hussey-Burdick happened at a pau hana in the speaker’s office while activists were waiting in the Capitol’s basement parking garage to call the police when lawmakers got into their cars to drive home, numerous lawmakers and others familiar with the situation told Civil Beat.

The night was Friday, March 3, the first “decking” deadline for bills to advance in session. On hand for the pau hana were most of the 45 members of the House Democratic caucus, according to people in the room and others who heard later about the gathering.

Rep. Natalia Hussey-Burdick represents District 50, Kailua and a portion of Kaneohe Bay. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

As the pau hana was winding down, one lawmaker said, Hussey-Burdick took pictures of members walking to their cars and texted an acquaintance in law enforcement and asked them to come to the Capitol. Midwife activists also followed at least one member to their car.

House Speaker Scott Saiki and House Majority Leader Nadine Nakamura did not respond Wednesday to inquiries. Hussey-Burdick indicated via text that she might talk for the story but did not respond by late Wednesday.

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, after reading the story, Hussey-Burdick texted to say that midwives weren’t involved and “nobody followed anybody to their car.”

She said she was considering issuing a statement later Thursday.

Rod Tanonaka, the Hawaii House Sergeant at Arms, said that he was not aware of Honolulu Police Department officers being called to the Capitol on the evening of March 3. He said the Department of Public Safety’s Sheriffs Division handles security at the building, and that he did not hear from them, either.

“They don’t tell me everything, but for something like that they would have told me,” he said.

The following Tuesday, when the caucus met privately before the “first crossover” deadline, Hussey-Burdick apologized to her colleagues but was vague on the reasons for offering an apology, people who attended the caucus told Civil Beat.

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House leadership had discussions about whether to expel Hussey-Burdick, a freshmen lawmaker representing Kailua and part of Kaneohe Bay. That did not happen, and she remains vice chair of the House Tourism Committee.

But she has been ostracized by her colleagues including the progressive members she aligned with. Efforts are already underway to find a replacement for her should she resign or run for reelection next year.

House Bill 955, introduced by Hussey-Burdick, failed to get a hearing in Rep. Kyle Yamashita’s House Finance Committee despite passing two earlier committees. HB 955 would have allowed traditional birth attendants to continue offering their services in Hawaii under the representation of midwifery on a permanent basis. Instead, the right to name their services midwifery will end on July 1.

Supporters of the bill camped out outside Yamashita’s office but failed to gain an audience with him to discuss the legislation. Some lawmakers wanted to pull the bill out of Yamashita’s committee to bring it to the House floor for a full vote. But leadership decided not to allow it to go to the floor.

The House is a different body than it was last session, with a new Finance chair, 18 new members in the 51-member chamber and a number of outspoken progressive representatives. The size of the Republican caucus has also grown, to six.

Hussey-Burdick has been forthright about the need for the House to change the way it does business — especially when it comes to transparency.

The situation raises questions about the standards of conduct that House members must adhere to, retaliation against members when they clash with leadership and others, and whether the public interest is served by infighting over important legislation.

Like the Senate, the House is under a constant spotlight to reform the way it operates because of the bribery convictions last year of two former legislators. Last month reports surfaced of some senators strong-arming their colleagues over gubernatorial appointments.

The House, in the meantime, has been forced to deal with the DUI arrests of Reps. Sharon Har in 2021 and Matt LoPresti last year. The legislators ultimately were cleared of the charges but both lost re-election.

But the incident involving Hussey-Burdick has cast a much different cloud over the Capitol, with some lawmakers calling her behavior and reactions by leadership disturbing and shameful. One lawmaker called it “a complete disaster” and said it disrupted an otherwise productive session.

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