The Sunshine Blog: So Much For Game-Changing Legislation - 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. 

“Shenanigans”: Arguably the most significant sunshine bill still to be taken up during conference committee at the State Capitol is Senate Bill 1543, which would set up a comprehensive system of public financing for all candidates seeking election to state and county public office. The idea is to provide sufficient funding to qualifying candidates so that they can compete against candidates — mainly incumbents — who typically get big bucks from private sources like developers, banks, unions and so forth.

On Wednesday SB 1543 was altered dramatically, and without public input, since that’s the way Hawaii lawmakers like to do their conference committees.

Rather than taking effect in 2026, it would be delayed until 2028. It would also be a one-off of sorts — “a one-cycle deal,” as the bill’s author, Sen. Karl Rhoads, described it.

The Legislature would provide $7.5 million for the funding program and a matching amount in a future Legislature before 2026 for a total of $15 million.

Another change: In order to guard against overspending from the state — that is, if too many people applied for the program — there would be a lottery. Those who survive the draw would get the full funding and those who do not would get nothing.

Why the big change at the last minute? Reached after the meeting, Rhoads said, “It’s kind of hard to explain. That seems to be what members can tolerate, is the way to put it.”

One major supporter of SB 1543 royally bummed by the the switch but not wanting to anger lawmakers called the new draft “shenanigans” and “a pilot” program.

The status sheet for Senate Bill 1543. (Screenshot/2023)

Confusion over the last-minute change was compounded by the fact that SB 1543 had been scheduled on Tuesday to be discussed by conferees on Wednesday at 3:05 p.m. Late Tuesday, however, the time was bumped to 5 p.m.

But the conferees went ahead and met at the earlier time, which is when Rhoads announced the new version of the bill. Indeed, both times were listed on the legislative website.

The 5 p.m. slot was, Rhoads explained, a “clerical error” but, because it was officially announced, the conferees adjourned the earlier meeting and then returned at 5 p.m. for a very, very quick meeting, as there was nothing actually remaining to discuss.

And there’s yet another meeting Thursday on SB 1543. Whew.

Waiting for WAM and FIN “release”: Now that the state budget is more or less settled, there has been a mad rush of conference committee action at the Hawaii State Capitol. Nearly 100 meetings were scheduled starting at 9 a.m Wednesday and continuing until 5 p.m.

Conference Room 325 at the State Capitol is where pretty much all the sunshine bills are being addressed during conference committee. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2023)

But for all the activity, a ton of bills are still waiting for “release” (approval) from the all-powerful money committees. Such was the case with Senate Bill 627, which would allow a candidate for office along with the candidate’s treasurer to use campaign funds for child care and dependent care costs.

Nicole Woo of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network Speaks said in her testimony, “Passing this bill would allow for all parents to have support for child care while campaigning but it would have an acute impact on women running for state office. Women still provide the majority of caregiving and running for office does not change this. In fact, mothers were much more likely, compared with fathers, to meet the majority of the demands for housework and caregiving during the pandemic.”

At this point in the legislative process, however, public testimony is not allowed. HB 627 is close to passage, but unless the Senate Ways and Means Committee and/or the House Finance Committee give it the green light, the bill can’t move — even if there is no money allocation in the bill itself.

HB 627’s conferees, Sen. Henry Aquino and Rep. David Tarnas, will reconvene Thursday afternoon.

Deja vu all over again: Senators and representatives met for the third time in three days on House Bill 719, the public records bill. Thus far they just haven’t been able to reach agreement, although there appeared to be a compromise in the works as of Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the bill’s lead chairs Rep. David Tarnas and Sen. Angus McKelvey reiterated that they had reached an agreement — one that eliminates the deliberative process privilege section but allows for capping costs on most requests and waiving fees altogether when the records are being requested in the public interest.

The latest hitch? No “release” from WAM and FIN to pay for the two full-time positions that would be added to the state Office of Information Practices. Tarnas, McKelvey and company will be back at it again Thursday — a practice known as “rolling it over.”

And still rolling: Other sunshine bills pushed back another 24 hours include House Bill 463, which aims to lower the threshold for disclosure of campaign expenditures for noncandidate committees such as PACs to $100. Tarnas said he got word from the Campaign Spending Commission urging that HB 463 be deferred because of the $100 threshold. Tarnas and Rhoads agreed to roll it over to Thursday in order to continue discussion.

House Bill 1502 was also pushed back another day by the same chairs because they still did not agree on a date for the bill to become law. HB 1502 is a “media shield” bill that limits “compelled disclosure” of sources or unpublished information for journalists, newscasters and persons who collect or disseminate news or information of “substantial public interest.”

Campaign finance reports: Senate Bill 1189 would give the public and the media an earlier peek at campaign contributions then is currently available. Lawmakers announced they have a bill on that one.

Now, the practice for legislators and legislative candidates is to not reveal campaign contributions until well into the summer, which is long after a legislative session. SB 1189, should the governor approve it, will require a report on Feb. 28 of general election years.

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Rhoads, the lead conferee on the bill, said the original intent of the legislation was to “catch large donations” during session so everyone could see who was giving how much to whom. It was decided that it would just be easier to require all donations, he explained.

Rhoads’ House counterpart Tarnas said, “I’m amenable to that. We have a bill.”

The grateful dead: Also getting approval Wednesday afternoon: Senate Bill 19, which guarantees the vote of eligible voters who cast their ballot and then die “or otherwise become ineligible” before election day. Rhoads explained that this is already a law, but the advent of all mail-in balloting in 2022 necessitated an update to the statute.

This measure also passed out of conference committee, although like many similar measures it needs a final floor vote — a formality at this point in the session: House Bill 141 requires that presidential electors take a pledge that they will vote for their party’s nominee and not someone else. If they do, their vote is nullified and they are deemed a “faithless elector” and removed from their position.

In 2016 Hawaii’s Democratic Party had a faithless elector — a Bernie Sanders supporter who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Read this next:

The Sunshine Blog: Wait Til You See What Just Happened To The Plan To Publicly Fund Campaigns

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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)

"Shenanigans" comprehensive system of public financing for all candidates seeking election to state and county public office...provide sufficient funding to qualifying candidates so that they can compete...On Wednesday SB 1543 was altered dramatically, and without public input, since that’s the way Hawaii lawmakers like to do their conference committees.Those who survive the "lottery" would get the full funding and those who do not would get nothing.Not just shenanigans!!Enhanced log rolling! Shame on all of you! I guess elections and running for office is about money and not fairness! · 4 months ago

The shenanigans over SB1543 shows us how poorly our current legislators are treating our very legitimate concerns. They are, through sneaky moves, going to claim success while killing the bill at the gate. Time for the peasants to make themselves heard. Vote these people out and be loud about what they're doing. Education on issues which Civil Beat is doing a great job at will save us if we broadcast what we learn far and wide.

Malia · 5 months ago

From the forefront of 2022 elections discussions to the back-burner in just months.

surferx808 · 5 months ago

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