HB 252, a 4-page bill relating to the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission, was assigned to the joint Senate Committees on Tourism Hawaiian Affairs and Judiciary.
At the April hearing, without posting any proposed drafts for public notice, the Committees amended the bill to add over 40 pages on geothermal development. It appears the addition is identical to HB 932. HB 932 had been assigned to the joint Senate Committees on Energy Environment and Water Land.
The Energy and Water Committees held a hearing on HB 932 in March, and deferred decision-making because they did not have the votes to pass the bill. At least that’s what the Committee Chairs said in the March hearing.
Now we see the contents of HB 932 were inserted into HB 252, which was never assigned to the Senate Committees on Energy or Water.
So the question before the Senate now is: whether the subject matter Chairs of Energy or Water object to HB 252 bypassing their Committees, or if they’ll waive the referral and allow the bill to move forward for floor vote, and, possibly, ultimately to conference committee and become law? The answer will be apparent soon, as HB 252 is scheduled for a floor vote Tuesday April 9.
My question is, why do our legislative procedures only ask the Chairs of the subject matter Committees if they object to the process? What about the rights of the Committee Members?
If only Committee Chairs are consulted when waiving a Committee referral, doesn’t that say the votes of the members are essentially irrelevant, at least for the purpose of this process?
Perhaps if I were a Committee Chair, I would support this approach. Giving the Chair the exclusive power to waive, or demand, referrals, gives the Chair great control over the legislative process. That power can also be used to negotiate bills on other topics in addition to your subject matter.
Given that there are 15 Senate Committees (plus 5 additional Senators in leadership) out of 25 Senators, it would not be surprising for any body following this approach to develop a culture of “Chair Courtesy.” Under such a culture, other Chairs could be reluctant to counter a Chair’s decision to waive a referral, despite what other members of that subject matter Committee feel.
I object to the geothermal bill bypassing the Water Land Committee and the Energy and Environment Committee. It is the job of those Committee Chairs to do the hard work to see if they could find sufficient community support for some measure on geothermal development to pass the legislature. I respect the many times many Committee Chairs are willing to do that hard work. They don’t always reach universal support, but they develop far superior bills that reflect compromise between competing policy choices. In my opinion, in the case of the geothermal bill, the Committee leadership didn’t play that role for whatever reason, and deferred the bill.
Placing the contents of that bill into other another bill before other committees is a process that resurrects a bill in a form that didn’t have the votes to pass either subject matter Committee; a bill with significant public opposition that was never addressed. It strikes me that a procedure that only looks to the vote of the Chairs in this matter is overlooking the interests of the members of the Committees.
A lot has been said about the Rules of Legislative Process protecting the public’s right to have notice of bills being heard and the opportunity to testify. And those are extremely important rights that the process should protect.
However, I’m raising an additional issue here. I realize that this question may seem like heresy to some. But don’t the members of the subject matter Committees also have rights to consider, in addition to the Chair? Isn’t the process to protect the membership, as well as the public and the rights of the Chair?
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.
I’ve listed the membership of the relevant Committees below, for your convenience.
|Energy & Environment
|Water & Land
|Tourism & Hawaiian Affairs
|Judiciary & Labor
Donovan Dela Cruz