Tuesday, October 6, 2015         

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Senate OKs BOE appointment bill

By Mary Vorsino


The state Senate unanimously approved a fast-tracked bill yesterday that would give the governor the power to appoint Board of Education members without candidates first being vetted by an advisory council.

The bill is expected to be heard next week in the House, where members are also considering a separate measure that does call for the creation of an advisory council.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said yesterday she drafted the bill without the advisory council to ensure a clear line of accountability for the board's composition. "Some have argued that this gives the governor too much power," Tokuda (D, Kaneohe-Kailua) said on the Senate floor. "But the power that comes with appointments can cut both ways" and a bad pick will reflect on the governor.

Sen. Sam Slom, a member of the Education Committee, commended his colleagues for acting quickly to draft a bill and transmit it to the House, less than two weeks after the start of the session. "We wish Godspeed" to the House, said Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai).

A new board can't be chosen until the process under which its members are appointed is approved. A measure passed by the Legislature last year — and which included an advisory council — was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle.

Whether to set up an advisory council, which would provide the governor with a candidates' list from which to choose, is at the core of the legislative debate on what the new appointed BOE will look like. Also up for discussion is how many members the board will have and whether its student member will have a vote.

State Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades), chairman of the House Education committee, has supported the advisory council model and also pointed out that most legislators backed it last year, when a Republican governor was in office.

Takumi said yesterday the challenge for lawmakers is crafting a measure that addresses the concerns of those calling for checks and balances and who "don't want to politicize the appointment" of BOE members, while also making sure the governor is accountable.

When asked whether he still supports the creation of a BOE advisory council, Takumi said, "I think the goal is no matter what the process is, the goal is to find good, committed people. We shouldn't let the process get in the way of that."

Tokuda, who voted in favor of the advisory council model last year, has said she doesn't support the council anymore because voters sent a clear message in November for more accountability when they overwhelmingly approved getting rid of the elected BOE. The measure that passed the Senate yesterday sets in place a "process that gives the people of Hawaii the kind of direct accountability they asked for," Tokuda said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie also supports appointment without an advisory council.

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