The Sunshine Blog: Conference Committee Shifts Into Overdrive - 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.

It’s about frickin’ time: It was a very slow week last week at the Capitol for public discussion of bills. Only a handful of conference committees met to resolve differences in House and Senate versions of legislation.

The hold up was lack of progress on the state budget. Without consensus on how to fund the government, the status of hundreds of bills — particularly ones with dollar signs in them — was in limbo.

That changed late Friday when budget conferees finally scheduled the first public meeting on House Bill 300, which pays for the operating and capital improvement budget of the executive branch for the next two fiscal years. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and House Finance Committee Chair Kyle Yamashita are scheduled to begin hashing things out Monday at 4:30 p.m. in Room 309.

Most, but not all, bills in conference committee now have conferees. But that does not mean they will pass. Could be an anxious week at the State Capitol. (Screenshot/2023)

Word is that agreement has been reached over the past few days on some budget items but not all. The goal is to wrap things up by Wednesday, those who are in the know tell us.

The upside: Movement on the budget triggered the naming of conferees to the bulk of the conference committee bills, all of which must be dealt with by end-of-day deadlines this Thursday and Friday or else perish for the session.

The downside: There isn’t much time left, as the session is pau May 4.

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Cold feet? In spite of the progress during the last few months, several dozen bills in conference committee only have conferees assigned for only one chamber and not two, as necessary to survive. They include Senate Bill 1543, the comprehensive publicly funded campaigns bill.

The House has Yamashita and Rep. David Tarnas to chair its side of talks, but the Senate as of Sunday had not named its team — even though only one senator, Republican Kurt Fevella, voted against the measure during its third reading in that chamber. And only two GOP members in the House opposed the measure as well: Diamond Garcia and Elijah Pierick.

Are some legislators now having second thoughts about publicly funded elections? The $30 million needed to run the program for two election cycles has always been a concern, but now it seems some lawmakers are worried that the program just might result in — OMG! — competitive elections. But that’s democracy.

‘Prevent official misconduct’: Three more sunshine bills cleared conference committee late Friday. House Bill 986 creates a class C felony offense of official misconduct to forbid an official from acting in a manner intended to benefit that same official.

Tarnas said, “This is an important measure that helps to further our goal this session to strengthen our laws to prevent official misconduct and corruption that we have seen too many cases of in recent times.”

His counterpart, Sen. Karl Rhoads, concurred in changing the bill’s effective date so that it will become law upon the governor’s approval.

Senate Bill 203 also received an effective date, which will — if it becomes law — give the Campaign Spending Commission (which pushed for the bill) more leverage to crack down on allegations of violations of spending laws. Tarnas explained that SB 203’s passage now makes moot a very similar sunshine bill, House Bill 732.

“I want to make sure that the public understands that that’s what we’re doing,” he explained. (The public and The Sunshine Blog thank you, Rep. Tarnas.)

And Rhoads’ own measure, Senate Bill 1493, is similarly poised to become law. It would ban lobbyists from donating to candidates before, during and after legislative sessions.

This one is really driving us crazy: Previously on “The Deliberative Process Privilege” — the once-dead misguided policy that would allow government officials to keep secret much information that lets the public know how and why they are making decisions — House Bill 719, a bill to reduce the cost of public records, in recent shadowy maneuvering also became the vehicle for a resurrected DPP.

That was the only way that Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz would let the fee-reduction measure go through. Still, we had our doubts that HB 719 would ever see the light of day once it entered the black hole of conference committee.

But on Friday, Tarnas told Rhoads that Sen. Angus McKelvey had agreed to be conference committee chair for the bill. Tarnas, the lead House conferee on HB 719, told Rhoads he was looking forward to understanding the Senate’s draft that has the DPP language in it. As chair of the House committee that heard a stand-alone DPP bill earlier this session, he’d already rejected the idea of withholding pre-decisional documents from the public.

Maui Sen. Angus McKelvey, chair of the Government Operations Committee, will oversee the fate of a key public records bill. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

But he’ll have the opportunity to once again hear what the Senate thinks is so important about it on Monday afternoon, when the conference committee will meet publicly on the matter. The committee includes Rhoads, who would seem the more appropriate Senate chair rather than McKelvey given the subject matter but, hey, who’s connecting the dots.

Two other sunshine bills are scheduled to be taken up at that time, too: House Bill 710 on forceful obstruction of justice — it’s a Foley commission bill — and House Bill 712 preserving the recordings of public meetings — another Foley commission idea.


Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Much Ado About Nothing?


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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 think the one thing that gets me about this time of the sessions is how the Committees just sit on the bills spending very little time holding the necessary discussions until the very last minute and all of a sudden it turns into "Crunch Time" and the smallest violin that can be found starts get playing to the public saying " Oh, feel sorry for us." I'm sorry I don't.There is enough veteran politicians/committee members that have done this for many years and yet they expect the voters and people of Hawaii to feel "pity" for them, these are the same Politicians who feel they need a 64% pay increase because " Its hard to survive here in Hawaii " Really ? There are other States way bigger than Hawaii and never have lagged behind in their work loads to where there has been "Special sessions" to complete getting bills passed. So I get so irritated every single time it comes down to the end of the session and they are having to shift into Overdrive. How about taking less time making excuses and more time to getting the work done which should lead to NOT having to shift into overdrive.

unclebob61 · 1 month ago

I appreciate these updates. think we have a pretty clear picture of what's wrong with Hawaii's legislative process at this point. What I'd like to see from Civil Beat now is information on the options available to us, as constituents, aside from elections, e.g. is there a way to remove "chairs" who use coercive power or to get measures like term limits and loss of pension for those breaking the law voted on by the public, etc.? If so, spell out for the masses what the options are, and how to go about each. Mahalo!

KeepingItReal · 1 month ago

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