Hawaii legislators are the only people who can create a state law. The Governor can’t; the Judiciary can’t.
As you can imagine, this has led to situations where our state laws treat legislators differently from other government officials.
For example, all City & County Councils, State and County Boards and Commissions and Task Forces, have to follow Hawaii’s Sunshine Law. Meetings are publically noticed 7 days in advance; they can only vote on items on their agenda; the public may attend and testify; no meeting behind closed doors to discuss items they will be voting on.
The Hawaii State Legislature exempted itself from the Sunshine Law. Which is why legislators can (and have) meet behind closed doors, decide to gut a bill in Committee without notice, replace it with entirely different contents, and vote it into law.
Special treatment for state legislators can be found in other laws; from different levels of pension contributions, to no term limits, unlike every other elected politician and virtually all appointed Boards and Commissions.
Our State Constitution recognizes that it’s not wise to let legislators be the exclusive gatekeepers of what should, and should not be, in state law. The framers of our State Constitution, and Hawaii voters who ratified it, believed it is necessary to have a limited and deliberate opportunity for residents bypass the Legislature and bring forward ideas for voters to consider.
This opportunity is limited: once every ten years, Hawaii voters are asked if we should hold a State Constitutional Convention (aka “ConCon”).
The opportunity is deliberate: the Constitution mandates a thoughtful civic procedure. Delegates are elected by voters; ideas discussed; proposals must be publically circulated at least 30 days before a vote; public education on proposals must be provided; and ultimately any amendment is only passed if over 50% of Hawaii voters vote “Yes.”
A ConCon proposes amendments to the Constitution. These amendments can direct the Legislature to pass laws supporting positions important to Hawaii residents. Positions like changing how the Legislature operates so that people on all islands can participate more easily; that the Legislature abide by standards like the Sunshine Law; that we require full and timely disclosure of campaign and SuperPac finances of elections.
Some people cite the cost of a ConCon as a reason to vote against holding one.
But what is the cost of leaving these decisions exclusively under the control of the Legislature?