The Sunshine Editorial Board Interview: Sen. Karl Rhoads And Rep. David Tarnas - 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.

The Hawaii House and Senate judiciary committee chairs talk about sunshine and process reform at the Hawaii Legislature.

Editor’s note: The Civil Beat Sunshine Editorial Board spoke last week with Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and David Tarnas, chair of the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee. This interview, conducted over Zoom, has been edited for length, clarity and with an eye toward break-out stories. The lawmakers began by giving their perspective on how government reform bills fared in the recently completed 2023 session.

Sen. Karl Rhoads: I think it was a banner year. I’ve been chair of one of the Judiciary committees for nine of the last 11 years, and the only year I can think of that was even close to this was the year where we had one big bill, which was vote by mail, which of course was a sea-change bill. And most people would consider it a reform. Even some of the little bills that you, rightfully, consider fairly minor, we couldn’t get them passed in previous years because there was resistance to them.

Of course, I’m disappointed that my full public financing bill didn’t pass. I wanted to pass a public financing bill ever since I got to the Legislature. But if you look at the stuff that we got through, some of it’s pretty significant. And just the volume of it is unprecedented, I think.

Rep. David Tarnas: I am very grateful to be able to work as the chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs and be presented with this opportunity to work on these proposals coming from the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, which was created by a House resolution. And it was Speaker (Scott) Saiki that saw that we really needed to respond decisively and emphatically to this public outrage at the public corruption, the incidences that were happening across the state. Two legislators indicted for taking bribes to do their work. We were all shocked and outraged at the Legislature about it. So we knew we needed to respond to this.

The Civil Beat Sunshine Editorial Board spoke with Sen. Karl Rhoads and Rep. David Tarnas via Zoom in Wednesday. (Screenshot via Zoom/Civil Beat/2023)

And so in the end we passed bills in five areas: government transparency, ethics reform, campaign finance reform, public corruption prevention and ensuring election integrity. I feel that we did a good job. Yes, there’s more work to do. But we have accomplished a great deal. And I acknowledge that Senator Rhoads perspective after having served on the Judiciary Committee as leader in House and Senate. And I think that bears witness to the political momentum behind this government reform effort.

I’ve heard both of you say your colleagues really felt the public outrage and it felt like they needed to act and do something. What did you hear in your own districts?

Tarnas: They come up to me on the street and say, “Wow, you made the big time, David. You’re running this Judiciary Committee and you’re dealing with these big issues and you’re in the media all the time. Good Lord, you’re dealing with guns and you’re dealing with women’s reproductive rights, and you’ve got all these public ethics and sunshine bills, and they call you the Gatekeeper of the Sunshine Bills. Good heavens! Does that come with tights and a cape? I’m just grateful that I’m there to work on these issues.

And in my district, people are saying, “Good on you. You’re holding government accountable. You’re making it more transparent.” My constituents are independent folk. We’re out here in Big Sky country of Hawaii, in the Upcountry Waimea area, Kohala. We really pay attention to personal responsibility. And I think when people violate that public trust, there’s outrage in our community here because they believe in a representative democracy.

Sen. Rhoads speaking on the Senate floor. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Rhoads: Well, obviously, we represent very different districts because I heard almost nothing about the issue the entire session. What I found amusing was that the letters I did get were urging me to support my own bill, SB 1543. And I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be happy to support that. I think it’s a great bill.” I would say no more than, I don’t know, six or seven contacts through the four months would be my guess.

Speaking of SB 1543, you say this is something you’ve been trying to do pretty much since you got in. Why has it always been such a priority bill for you? And what changed this year?

Rhoads: Well, I think you’ve heard my rationale for it. There’s two groups of people that I have to make happy, and one are my constituents and one are my donors, and they do overlap to some extent, although I’d say because my district is a poorer district — especially my old House district is a poor district — they don’t overlap that much. And I think David’s experience has been somewhat different in that regard. But there’s two groups, and my feeling is that you really shouldn’t have to make donors happy. You should just have to make your constituents happy. And that’s why I’ve always supported it.

I’ve thought for a long time, even from my days working on Capitol Hill 30 years ago, that this is an important reform. The first year I was Judiciary chair in the House, we moved Della Au Belatti’s bill. We got it through the House but it died early, unceremoniously in the Senate. And it just fell at that point that there was no groundswell of support for it at the time. And being Judiciary chair, there’s opportunity costs — if you hear one bill and put a lot of energy into one bill, it means you can’t work on other things. And I just never felt like the timing was right after that to make a go and to have a chance. And I think it’s mainly because almost all of us were elected under the current system and we know we can win under the current system. We don’t know whether we can win if we go this other route. So I think that’s what the resistance has been.

What the heck happened? Did either of you have the ability to speak to your money chairs and say we got it this far, why is this suddenly dying now?

Rhoads: Often in conference, because it’s so busy, you don’t really have time to track things down. I think you guys probably did get it wrong on that. I think you blame (Senator) Donovan Dela Cruz more than he really deserved. I think Gil Keith-Agaran summed it up the best at the press conference after session. He said there was no agreement reached between the money chairs, and that’s the bottom line. There was no agreement reached with the money chairs. And that’s true of a whole lot of bills that die every year.

Rep. David Tarnas, at right, joined House leaders after session ended to speak to reporters. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Tarnas: That’s correct. We took it much further than many ever expected and certainly further than it’s been in the past. And I wanted to make sure we had a full deliberative review of this proposal. And I tried to decouple what was the responsibility of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee for the Finance Committee saying, “I’m looking at it from a policy perspective. Is this a good idea?” And I felt there was compelling reason to move it forward because of its policy value. And I admitted at that time in the hearings that we may not be able to afford it and that that will be an issue. And we’ve got a lot of competing interests in spending the money. And you can see how divisive that became. And so I wanted to temper people’s expectations.

A lot of really great ideas take a long time to get through the Legislature and to get through so many bills related to government ethics. And sunshine was a significant improvement and that a major achievement of the Legislature. We did not move forward on public financing. Good heavens, you didn’t even pay for more funding for partial financing.

And so I think that we aren’t done with this conversation and we need to continue the conversation. We’re entering the interim now. We can lick our wounds. We can look at what we’ve done.

What is it that you are planning to do during the interim? Are there specific things you want to work on? I’m talking about on the accountability, transparency, reform stuff.

Rhoads: I think the post mortem on the bill for public financing is that there is some momentum going forward. And I think there’s a very good chance. It’s hard to pass bills so a very good chance might mean a 40% chance, but I think there’s a realistic chance that we do pass something next year. It wouldn’t apply for 2024, of course, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that would apply for 2026, although that is a harder one because that’s when the governor and lieutenant governor (offices are) up.

People are saying, “Good on you. You’re holding government accountable. You’re making it more transparent.”

Rep. David Tarnas

And the governor’s race in particularly is very expensive. In our the latest version of it I think we were giving a gubernatorial candidate $2.5 million. So that’s a lot of money.

There’s some other stuff that I think I just disagree with you guys. You know, you focused a lot on (a statewide) initiative (process). You have the same problem with initiative as you have at the Legislature, which is big outside money trying to influence what’s going on. And I know you guys have focused on it a lot over the last few years, but I just disagree. I don’t think the evidence is there you’re going to have a better governed state if you have initiative. Same with term limits. If you look at the House this year, there were 18 new members. And if you look at the Senate this year, it was, I think five, which is 20% of the body.

I know you keep focusing on that, but I just don’t and I’m not seeing it in terms of a policy.
I think the evidence is quite the contrary on term limits. What it does is it passes power to the lobbyists and the executive branch. I think the weight of the studies say that it doesn’t change policy. So I think the thing that might change policy is public financing. And of course, that’s one reason I focused on it.

There was one other bill that died that I thought was important — not just one — but one other that comes to mind right now. And that was the one on not allowing family members of contractors and grantees to donate. So that part of it I would guess David and I certainly aren’t that far apart on it. I’m not sure our respective bodies are in agreement.

This bill that we passed that I think is a big deal that says lobbyists can’t donate during session — that’s easy enough to check. There’s a lobby list, you look it up, you get a check from somebody and you can just sort of look at it and say, “Okay, this person’s not a lobbyist, so I can take the money.”

Rhoads, Tarnas and colleagues in conference committee, where many bills died with little explanation. (David Croxie/Civil Beat/2023)

But with the contractors, there’s no easy way to do that. And I think if I bring up anything novel next year in that regard, it would be some kind of a procedure that allows candidates to say, “Okay, here are the contractors here, their families here, their officers, I can’t take that money or I can take that money because they’re not on the list.” But right now it’s sort of like you just have to trust people to tell you. And there’s no easy way to check.

Tarnas: On that particular bill, I think one other alternative in order to gain some broader support is to take an incremental step, and that is to prohibit the contributions from those who get grants-in-aid from the Legislature. So anyone who serves on the board or works for the company, an employee of the company, they cannot contribute to the Legislature.

I think that might be a place where we can start. And that’s what I’m considering at this point. I’m trying to look at that same thing — what didn’t work and what are some ways we can start the conversation again next session and this particular bill?

At a Civil Beat event earlier in session, Sen. Rhoads, you made a comment that many in the Legislature had wanted these kinds of reforms for the last 10 years or so. And it’s finally happening. Why didn’t it happen before? If that many people in the Legislature wanted these kinds of bills, why didn’t you do it before if it’s the right thing to do and a good thing for public policy? What stopped it?

Rhoads: I think that’s pretty much an exact quote. I said, “Significant numbers of people, numbers of members wanted to do it.” But if you don’t have significant (support) in the Senate — it’s probably 10 people — but that’s still not a majority. There’s multiple factors going on. One, is it a priority? And if it’s not — every bill you hear is, at least for the Ways and Means and Judiciary and some of the busier committees — it’s something else you can’t do. And you have to make a judgment as to whether this is the year we’re going to be able to pass this or not.

So just back to the old adage about politics being the art of the possible. You need two things to pass a bill at the Legislature: You need inside champions, and you need outside pressure. And the outside pressure just wasn’t there. Like I mentioned, even this year, I got very few people, very few of my own constituents said anything about any of this stuff, and that was certainly the case in previous years. So lack of outside pressure, I would say, is the difference between this year and previous years.

Tarnas: There was a major public outcry, it was that public outrage. When people ask me for a summary, I always refer to that because there’s an energy that comes from that public outrage. Whether it’s in conversation that I have with people at the store or at the post office down the street or in comments, online news or emails to me or whatever — it’s people are saying, “Enough already.”

So I think that’s why I felt emboldened. I felt courageous enough to move forward on a number of these recommendations. It was perfect synchronicity. We had all these recommendations coming out of the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct. I had support within the House to move things. The House majority caucus really wanted to move on these measures. It was a top political priority for us this session.

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I am very happy that I got to work with Senator Rhoads because he was already a proven Senate Judiciary chair, a proven House Judiciary chair who’s been working on these things for a long time. So I knew I had an ally. I had a willing and able partner in the Senate to move through — a real smart group of staff that worked with us on both sides and administration support, the Ethics Commission, the Campaign Spending Commission. These are people from those organizations that got involved, and the Attorney General’s Office. A lot of people really wanted to contribute to success. And I think that’s why we were so successful.

But there’s still this real cynicism about the legislative process. People just are very suspicious that things are happening internally that nobody knows about. You guys did a really great job explaining your decisions on individual bills. But can you speak to that a little bit? How do you get people over the cynicism that the public seems to have about what you guys do?

Tarnas: By explaining the process. That’s why I am always so careful to explain that in my hearings. And Karl does the same thing. We try to make sure we don’t use jargon, make sure we don’t use legalese. I went overboard this session to explain even more about all the different reasons why I deferred a bill, for example, the reasons why I wasn’t passing a bill but expressing reservations about that dissension and concerns from other members. I try to be very disclosive about that.

And the testimony that we received? I sent it out 24 hours in advance as soon — as we could compile it right after the 24 hour deadline, we would compile it and then release it within at least an hour or two, we would have it out. And so a chair can do that sort of thing if the chair decides to.

We didn’t try to change the rules to make everyone do as much as I was. I just figured I would lead by example and do these things so that the public could have more access to information, get more of the inside story about what’s going on and the deliberative process that we’re going through.

Because I think the Legislature works well, and I just think we need to do a better job explaining to people how it works. And I think we need to have the ability to talk to each other, individual legislator to other legislator, or in small groups of legislators, to be able to understand the possibilities of policy reform in some of these very complicated areas.

So I think it’s okay to have those conversations when it’s not a public notice meeting with the public there watching everything. I think that’s part of the legislative process. But we have to assure and explain to the people that this is a representative democracy. You elected us to study, to work with each other, to come up with the bills and pass out good bills and good budgets that meet the public priorities that you know we share. And that’s what people wanted me to do.

So that’s why I keep talking about a representative democracy. It’s not like we’re trying to be secret. We’re just doing our job and it’s complicated stuff and it takes time talking with each other. Sometimes it’s not all compliant with Sunshine Law, and I think that’s okay for the Legislature.

Rhoads: Well, I think I differ somewhat from my colleague in this regard. I understand why people feel like it’s an opaque process, because when you get 76 people interacting with each other and having as many side conversations about any topic, and many of which are quite complicated. And so that makes it even seem more opaque because people don’t even know what we’re talking about in many instances. If you’re not in the weeds, you’re probably not being a good legislator. So you have a bunch of people with side conversations all the time that aren’t covered by Sunshine, that are about some topics that are very arcane. And yeah, it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes.

Is there something going on? Well, yeah, there’s something going on. But is it any different in our Legislature than it is in any other legislature in the world? I would say no. Is there something nefarious going on? No. I would say that it’s nefarious only in the sense that they may be working against bills that you like. And so some people will be working for the bills that you like and some people will be working against the bills that you like. And it’s important to remember that this is a proxy for warfare. And so emotions run high. People say unpleasant things to each other sometimes, and they use information to their advantage or lack of information to keep their opponents at a disadvantage. Some people find that off-putting. I don’t. I think it’s way better than actually shooting each other over a difference of opinion about what policy should be. But it is messy.

I think the other thing that doesn’t help is when the media goes after specific issues where either they haven’t quite figured out what’s happening in the building or they just have a policy preference. And I’m not even saying that a policy preference is wrong. It’s just you have to be really careful that you don’t conflate the personalities with the policies.

So if you guys are, as you clearly are, pro-term limits, okay, that’s fine. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. And that’s what everybody at the Legislature has too, an opinion about stuff. But it’s one of these issues where it sounds good in practice and everybody thinks we should do it, but they don’t know that it really doesn’t make any difference.

And that’s where the media comes in, because you’re the filter from what we do to what people read, because not everybody can come to the Legislature and listen all day, every day, because they have jobs, too. And as David has pointed out, this is a representative democracy. They hire us to do this stuff.

So I think there’s a couple of things going on there, but those are the salient ones, I think, is how the media portrays it. And then also the fact that it’s just very difficult, even if you’re in the process, to always know exactly what happened on every single bill.

One thing that we tried to do this year that’s different than our legislative coverage in the past was to try and look at it from the public’s perspective. We tried to focus on what people should know about the legislative process and how it works and how it could be better. How do we learn what’s going on in the building to a greater extent so that the public does feel more included in the public process? How do you get the public more comfortable, more involved, with what you all are doing?

Rhoads: I don’t want to say just negative things about your coverage, because I actually appreciate very much that you’re focused on what’s happening in the building. The Star-Advertiser at this point, they just don’t really do much. You are the local paper at this point. So that to me is really important.

So what could I do to make it more transparent? I mean, I’m not sure. One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that in many respects, the whole thing is way more transparent. I could watch everything on TV now. I’ve done it for years. Maybe David has better answers.

Tarnas: I think that both of us served by example of how we can optimize our transparency as committee chairs. We get out the testimony as soon as possible. We are courteous and efficient in our taking of testimony, and I think everyone really appreciates that.

I certainly am always appreciative of the Public Access Room. We are one of the very few legislatures in the country that fund a Public Access Room specifically to make it easier for the public to be able to learn more about the legislative process and get engaged in it. That’s a big investment. And very few states do that. And I think that shows the kind of commitment and what works.

And as a legislator, I try to do everything I can to get my constituents engaged, informed and involved whether it’s e-newsletters and giving them links, to coaching them to get their own account and read. And I try to do that with the students too. So we all have our part and there’s a bunch of ways to do it.

I appreciate your coverage too, as Karl says, you spend a lot of your column inches focused on what’s going on inside the Capitol and the legislative session. And that I think it really helps us do our work. It can be a challenge to have that large volume of material being written. But I think that all in all, it is beneficial.

But it’s unusual. You look over the history of time, my first term was 1994 to 1998. Very different sort of media coverage back then. You didn’t even have email hardly. And no social media.

Now, it’s an entirely different matter. You’re on a totally different platform. We’ve got social media, We’ve got people connected through video conferencing. We got Zoom testify. I’ve been trying to get that remote testimony for years because my district is so far away. We finally got it, it is the silver lining to pandemic.

So I think we’ve really gone light years to improve public engagement in the process. And you want to push this even further. Well, good on you. We’ll keep working it together.

Senator, I think you were a co-introducer of the Senate Bill 149 calling for a year-round legislature. A lot of people have pointed to this as one of the things that would really change things at the Legislature. And it passed your committee and ran into a roadblock at WAM. What are your thoughts now about a year-round legislature or one that checked in at least once a month?

Rhoads: Well, it would be a major departure from what the founding mothers and fathers of the state of Hawaii envisioned. They envisioned a citizen’s legislature. You went in, you came in, you did your business, you went back to your normal life. And the state was a lot smaller then. And maybe you could get through all the business in four months and go back to your regular job. The state is enough bigger now that that’s really, really hard to do.

I try to do everything I can to get my constituents engaged, informed and involved.

Rep. David Tarnas

Having said that, even in state like Texas, which of course, is the second most populous state in the country, my recollection is they only have one extended regular session every other year, and then they have an off year where it’s like six weeks or four weeks or something like that. And that’s a huge state. They just cede all the authority to the executive branch, which you can argue about whether that’s good or bad, but I think that’s what happens.

I thought for a while that applying Sunshine fully to the Legislature isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It just would take longer. And that was the other reason I was interested in the proposal. The city councils do it. So you could do it. It just takes longer. And I don’t think you could motor through the volume of bills that we motor through in four months if we had to abide by that set of rules.

What happened to it in WAM? I don’t remember. The Judiciary committees and WAM and Finance kill lots and lots of bills.

Should the money chairs and judiciary chairs have that ability to kill so many bills?

Absolutely. I could talk about that more if you like. But the short answer is yes.

Rep. Tarnas, how do you feel about the concept of a year-round legislature?

Tarnas: Well, I have always been a supporter of convening a constitutional convention every 10 years. When the opportunity comes up I always tell people “vote yes.” And people say, “No, no, we don’t want to do that because it could open up a whole bunch of things in the Constitution we don’t want to mess with.”

But I think the discussion about making the Legislature full time is a big issue. It’s a systemic reform, which I think really should be left up to a constitutional convention. And I would support a constitutional convention to address this issue.

I think they should also start addressing the issue of devolution of power to the counties. We also need to look at the issue of taxation authority, because property taxes have been the counties, but now we gave some general excise tax authority to the counties, too, that used to be just the state. So, we’re giving more responsibility to the counties, but we have to get more taxation authority. All these things all intermixed in the Constitution. That’s why I think it would be better just to have a constitutional convention. And let’s talk about a full time legislature in that context. And I would support that. A constitutional convention would come up with something thoughtful, so let’s not pre-judge. But let’s start talking about that, having a constitutional convention.

Why do they introduce so many bills every year knowing that, year after year, only a couple hundred out of many thousands of bills that get introduced pass? That’s another source of frustration for the public. And then you have folks that work on these bills for a long time and then they die all of a sudden in what we like to say is the dark of night. It just seems like a weird process from the beginning.

Tarnas: It’s just a product of, I think, the lack of coordination or lack of collaboration among legislators to write the bills. Individual legislators tend to work in their own and maybe small groups to prepare legislation. I have advocated for it in previous sessions back in the ’90s. I think we are starting to do that work where we met in small working groups of the Democratic Party Majority Caucus over the interim and then introduced the bill during session. And so it was much more of a collaborative process, and we bring in some outside experts to work with the smaller group of legislators that were working on a particular issue.

I think we could do more of that. And I think that lack of collaboration ends up having duplicative bills. I think we could do a better job and facilitating more process efficiencies in the legislative process, especially at the front end and coming up with bills. But, you know, that’s all done in private conversations. It’s not sunshine.

Anyway, I think that’s why I look forward to this interim, because I get to work on some of these projects we didn’t finish last session and prep for next session. I’ll call up Karl and say, “Karl, let’s talk, we’ve got some of these things.” And I’ll call up other people and talk over the interim time with Anne Lopez, the attorney general, work on some things with them over the interim and come back next session with some proposals.

Rhoads: I think I basically agree with everything David said there. I think part of the reason that doesn’t happen is because every other year you don’t know who’s coming back. You know, statistically most of us come back, but you don’t know for sure.

I think the other thing, at least for me, I introduced something like 152 bills last year. I was No. 1, far away. And so we were starting to get curious about whether we’d actually introduced more than anybody ever had. And it wasn’t even close. My predecessor, Susie Chun-Oakland, District 13, had introduced 222 one time. So at least in my case, I think a lot of times it’s just there’s a lot of problems.

This is the chit of the realm — bills — and if there’s a problem that bill can solve, I’ll try to solve it because it’s much easier to write a letter to somebody to get something fixed than it is to introduce a bill and pass it. Maybe it’s just District 13 — we’ve got a lot of problems to try to solve. That’s why we get so many. And of course, the House limits the number you can put in pretty severely. The Senate doesn’t. But we usually end up with about the same number of bills introduced.

Almost no bills are exclusively good or bad. It’s just a thousand shades of gray.

Sen. Karl Rhoads

Tarnas: Yeah, Karl’s right. We’re problem-solvers, that’s what we’re hired to do. So, if you see a problem, you come up with a bill that solves it, if that’s what needed, or you write a letter or you bug an agency or you do whatever work — that’s our job as state senators and state reps is to solve problems for people. And so it is that is the chit of the realm. I like that.

Rhoads: This is a little get off topic, but since I have the chance to talk to you, I know you don’t like voting with reservations. I think they’re actually very useful. And if you look at my voting record, this is how I usually use them. If it’s a bill that I just don’t agree with the concept whatsoever, I just vote no.

But a lot of times bills come up and you’re like, “Well, yeah, I could sort of see what you’re trying to do there. But there’s this one provision that’s going to do X, and I don’t want that to happen. That wouldn’t make any sense.” So I vote reservations, and the way it works internally at caucus is when we’re talking about bills, they go down, they tally the list and say, “Okay, Rhoads and McKelvey and Dela Cruz and Gil Keith-Agaran all voted with reservations at one point or another on the bill. What’s the issue?”

Rhoads and Tarnas say their is much work to be done during the interim, including on a full public financing of elections. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

And one of two things happens. One is you say, “No, they fixed it at JHA over in the House, so it’s all good. I’m a yes now.” Or it just goes south, and you just say, “Nah, I can’t vote for that.” But it’s a marker to whoever is dealing with it next that there’s a potential problem with this bill that you need to look at.

Now, on final votes, I totally agree. We should just vote yes or no. Most of your votes aren’t final votes. Most of your votes are either in committee or at third reading where it hasn’t gone to conference yet.

But that’s why I voted WR. I mean, there are political reasons to do it too. I try to avoid those. I wouldn’t say I’ve never done it for a political reason where it’s somebody who’s complaining to you about the bill and you want to indicate that you recognize that there’s a political issue and not a policy issue. And so you vote WR. But I think during the middle of the process it makes perfect sense.

But you just described the whole reason that we’re trying to look at this from the public’s perspective. You’re looking at it from your own internal convenience perspective. Yes, it does signal to other folks in your caucus what you think about it. But what about to everybody on the outside? How are they supposed to know what you’re thinking?

Tarnas: So have the Legislature explain their reservations.

Rhoads: Why is it different? It’s not just for my internal convenience. It’s because I’m not sure about that bill. But if you kill it, it’s dead. And so even if two-thirds of it was really good ideas and then you kill it early on in the process, nothing’s going to happen till the next year, whereas you could fix it between now and then and still have a good bill.

It just seems to me that it’s used as either a signal or a political chit, and that people should just say, “I like it or I don’t.” And maybe the answer is just don’t use it on final passage. I do know that no other legislature allows it. And there must be a reason that nobody else does it.

Rhoads: Almost no bills are exclusively good or bad. I mean, it’s just a thousand shades of gray. I think the most interesting one we have is kanalua (undecided, hesitation, pass). I’ve never heard anybody use it in the Senate. I think we have it, I think you’re allowed to kanalua.

Tarnas: Not in your final vote, though. You can kanalua several times, at least in the House. But then you have to vote aye or nay.

Rhoads: At least in the House, it was three times. You could kanalua and then they would come back around to you again. And then on the third time, you couldn’t kanalua, that was considered a yes.

Tarnas: Yes.

Rhoads: I always thought it was very interesting. I also I don’t know if I’ve ever used it, but it was for people who are high up in the alphabet and they wanted to see how certain other people were voting to see if it’s something they thought they could get away with politically. So they’d wait and see. You know, after Takamine and Taniguchi had voted, then they could decide whether they wanted to vote yes or not.

If you could wave your magic wand to make things work a little better what would you do?

Tarnas: Well, I think we did it. We got remote testimony and that’s huge for my constituency. Huge. Our website is much improved. Our ability to give the public access to information, quickly archiving all the videos.

I think we’re making huge strides, and we have more work to do. The bills that died in conference committee, let’s look at those and see what we can move forward next session. I think we did a lot this past session. I was grateful to be part of that. And now we let’s build on that momentum.

Rhoads: There are some other things that are not immediately apparent. I think especially during session we need more staff. I think that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed much over the years, as the state has gotten bigger and bigger. We have more and more constituents to respond to, and we just don’t have any extra people to do it.

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Latest Comments (0)

Rhoads and Tarnas are sincere, but both are so immersed in the system that they can't see all of the flaws.

sleepingdog · 6 months ago

Totally agree with Rhoads on opposing ballot initiatives and term limits. It just opens the flood gates for the rich people and corporations to further hijack democracy more than it already has been. Totally disagree with Tarnas on Constitutional Conventions for the same reason. I also prefer representative democracy over direct democracy. While I am very happy Iam Tongi is the next American Idol I do not want our legislation to be determined the by the American Idol method.And sure, Senator Dela Cruz is not the only one to blame for the death of Voter Owned Elections, but if he, Rep. Yamashita, Sen. Kouchi, or Rep. Saiki get voted out of office then that is another way for the public to voice their opinions other than calling, emailing, protesting, etc. . And whenever those federal indictments come down, and they surely will, then the public may be motivated by anger to have their preference respected.

Frank_DeGiacomo · 6 months ago

Both legislators think it's OK for the Money Committees to have so much power. Basically I agree, because some group needs to look at the entire State budget and decide whether we can afford all the good ideas. However, I think it is clearly wrong that bills that have NO fiscal implications are so often sent to the money committees. Given their responsibility for the budget, adding these other bills just ensures that most will not get further consideration. It often looks like the House and Senate leadership do that to ensure that bills they don't like will get stopped, either at the money committee hearings or in secret by conference committees! (Money committee chairs are generally part of the conference committee for any bill that has gone through their committee.)

JusticePlease · 6 months ago

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