Wednesday, May 4, 2011


IT'S OVER WELL BEFORE IT'S OVER: For those of us on the neighbor islands, the state legislature- which will mercifully cease to function after tomorrow's "Sine Die"- might as well be on Jupiter.

So it used to be that, for us personally, it was like going to a really long movie and falling asleep during the credits while telling our companion to wake us when it's over and tell us what happened.

After many years of local political wrangling it became apparent about 20 years ago that there are some wacky things that go on at the county level that can be traced right back to the lege and if we wanted to effect any change it would take a change of venue.

Now after two decades of long-distance code-deciphering it's become painfully obvious that we'd be better off- at least as far as our doctor is concerned- going back to a "wake me when it's over and show me the damage" attitude.

Even- or maybe especially- when we had two "allies" in the legislature- Mina Morita in the house and Gray Hooser in the senate- tackling individual bills has been a fool's errand. For the good bills, we had guides in both houses to maneuver them up the hills and out of the valleys.

But for the rest, nothing seems to matter and we only get our hopes up each time a bill moves out of a committee or reaches crossover or clears committee assignments on the other side or makes it to a conference committee.

We know we'll eventually be getting that old queasy feeling that it was all in vain.

We couldn't have agreed more when we opened an email from State Sierra Club E.D. Robert D. Harris yesterday and he wrote:

If I had to summarize this session in one word, it would be: disappointing.

Well actually we would have used a choice adjective or two not found in children's dictionaries, but why quibble?

Now young Mr. Harris is fairly new at this, taking over the SC helm a couple of years ago, so he can be excused for this starry-eyed assessment of how it's supposed to work.

Conference committees are supposed to be the stage at which the House and Senate resolve nagging differences between two different drafts of the same bill. While sometimes the differences are too great to resolve, the expectation is that most bills that reach conference committee can and should pass. Considerable work has already been done to get the bills to this point and open minds can usually figure out how to hammer out a final piece of legislation.

But sometime it takes a less jaded observer- and one who actually sat through this year's debacle- to cut through the crap in the newspapers, whose reporters and analysts have apparently failed to see the forest for the trees.

Harris gave this explanation- one that makes sense to us- as to why every god-damned bill we tracked this year either died or was made toothless, saying:

This year was different. House leaders desperately wanted to pass a tax on high-income pensioners. Presumably under the direction of the House leadership, the House Committee on Finance refused to sign off on a number of environmental bills (this might have been true across the board, but I can only speak on behalf of the bills I was tracking). Most observers concluded this was intended to force the Senate to agree to the pension tax.

The Senate refused to go along. And to increase the pressure, the Senate announced all bills needed to be finished before 6:00 pm on Friday, May 6th or the Senate would stop negotiating.

This type of grandstanding has occurred before. When the 6:00 pm deadline passed, most observers assumed that one side or the other, (House or Senate) would blink and a bulk of the bills in conference committee would then be passed.

To the shock of many, when the two budget committees came back at 9:30 pm they had only passed four or five revenue bills (not including the tax on pensions) and promptly declared the session over. Numerous bills that had been held up by the House leadership simply died.

This result was simply stunning. Critical bills died without so much as a whimper. Bills like the one that would have reallocated income from the barrel tax to fund clean energy programs and a bill to charge small fees to fund the Office of Environmental Quality Control, a chronically underfunded and understaffed agency. Bills like the popular proposed fee on paper/plastic bags, which would have provided a big new revenue source as well as create a big environmental benefit. Hordes of lobbyists were seen walking around the capitol in a daze.

But does it really matter HOW it happened this year? Surely they'll come up with another unbelievably corrupt- if not obscure and arcane- way to do it in 2012.

We'll probably forget about all this by the time next January rolls around again and once more ask around for some legislative packages and optimistically pull a few bills for support only to have ulcers and chest pains by the beginning of May; at least this year we probably won't have to sweat out the long list of vetoes and non-releases of authorized funding that marked the Ding-a-Lingle years... which of course includes the really bad bills that creeped though.

And when we do forget, please- hit us in the head with a frying pan and knock us out until it's over.

Pass the Prozac please.

1 comment:

KimoRosen said...

" maybe especially- when we had two "allies" in the legislature- Mina Morita in the house and Gray Hooser in the senate- tackling individual bills has been a fool's errand. For the good bills, we had guides in both houses to maneuver them up the hills and out of the valleys."

Who is Gray Hooser? Is that Gary's brother, cousin or what? ;D)