Open and Transparent Governing: How’s the Legislature doing at Half-way Point?

Honolulu, HI —In light of Sunshine Week – a week dedicated to promoting public access to government information — the League of Women Voters of Hawaii (LWVHI) and Common Cause Hawaii (CCHI) are releasing their observations of the first half of the 2013 Legislative Session. “We want to call attention to the State House and Senate performance in the areas of openness and transparency of their legislative process,” said LWVHI President Beppie Shapiro.

The citizen groups have been tracking the number of “gut and replace” bills and waivers of public hearing notice requirements for each chamber.

“Gut and replace” is a much-deplored practice by which a bill which has been progressing in the Legislature is hi-jacked by Legislative leaders to serve a different purpose. The number and title of the bill are left unchanged, but without public notice the original content of the bill is gutted and replaced by new content. Often the public and even some legislators are unaware of the change until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The House had no “gut and replace bills” this session, compared to seven in 2012. Janet Mason, League of Women Voters of Hawaii legislative chair, stated: “We commend the House for using short form bills instead of resorting to gutting and replacing the contents of other bills. I’m sure the public appreciates this, as well as limiting its waivers of House hearing notice requirements.”

The Senate had eight gut and replace bills this session, the same as in 2012, even though short form bills could have been used instead of other senators’ bill with different contents. Additionally, the Senate invited testimony only on proposed bill drafts, and not on the bills scheduled for hearing. “We must call out the unnecessary practice of gut and replace, which denies the public the opportunity to testify on bills scheduled for hearing,” stated Carmille Lim, Common Cause Hawaii executive director.

As in last session, the House waived its 48-hour hearing notice requirement (designed to let the public submit testimony and/or plan to attend a hearing) one time, but the hearing involved eight bills, and the waiver allowed only one hour and 45 minutes’ notice for receiving testimony on these bills. In 2012 the Senate waived its 72-hour hearing notice requirement six times, but so far this session, the Senate had no such waivers. “We thank the Senate for its perfect record of no waivers of its 72-hour hearing notice requirement” said Janet Mason, LWVHI Legislative Chair.

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii, and Common Cause Hawaii appreciate the efforts of the new House and Senate leaders to increase transparency in the legislative process, and support them in making additional improvements as the Session continues.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization to encourage informed citizen participation in government and politics.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.

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