Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Bill takes step toward elected attorney general

A measure to propose amending the state Constitution will be heard in the Senate

By Ken Kobayashi


A bill calling for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow voters to select the attorney general is scheduled to be heard this afternoon by the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee.

Senate Bill 1187 would amend the Constitution by calling for a nonpartisan election, with the winner getting a four-year term. The proposed amendment would be placed before Hawaii voters.

If the amendment is adopted, Hawaii would join 43 states that elect their attorneys general.

Hawaii's attorney general currently is appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

Similar proposals to amend the Hawaii Constitution have been introduced in past years, but have not been approved by state lawmakers.

Proponents say the state's top legal officer should be held accountable to the public and that elected attorneys general would be more independent from the governor.

Opponents contend the attorney general works closely with the governor and that elected attorneys general might be influenced by special interests donating to their campaigns.

In testimony submitted to the committee, Kenneth Conklin supported the measure.

"We need an attorney general who is beholden to the people of Hawaii rather than to the governor, so that the AG will have credibility if it ever becomes necessary for the AG to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing by the governor, Cabinet officers, department heads, etc.," he said.

In opposition, Gregory Swartz said an elected attorney general "may appear to improve the independence of the office," but the harm of "politicizing the office and its litigation, opinions and other activities far outweighs the benefits."

Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) and Sen. Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kaimuki-Palolo), two of the five committee members, expressed support yesterday for the measure.

The hearing is set for 4:15 p.m. in conference room 016 at the state Capitol.

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