Column: State House GOP agrees with many against ‘gut and replace’
The House Republican Caucus strongly believes in a healthy democracy which relies on open debate and public involvement.
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The House Republican Caucus strongly believes in a healthy democracy which relies on open debate and public involvement. However, there are elected legislators who continue to injure the trust of the public when they shortcut the legislative process to pass an agenda.
As the House Republican Caucus, we agree that the practice of “gut and replace” at the Legislature incapacitates good rule-making, and we further align with the efforts made by Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii who are exposing this questionable method of legislating.
Gut-and-replace is the repeated practice we see each legislative session where a committee deletes the contents of a bill and replaces it with the contents of another. We have seen various forms of it, and unfortunately, the public is left playing a game of whack-a-mole — a bill that died in one committee that somehow pops up later in another bill, either replacing a bill completely or getting crammed in.
It is no wonder that a number of organizations are legally challenging this controversial practice.
Lawmakers by no means are experts on all matters facing the public, and that is why we rely on input from the public to balance our blind spots. In fact, the Legislature bulks up during the legislative session so we can attend hearings, hire staffers to help us filter through testimony and constituent feedback, and invest in technology to promote transparency — but we can’t just go through the motions.
Elected officials need to keep the spirit of democracy alive by firing up constituents to get involved and show up. It is an insult to democracy if we encourage participation only to strangle the process and ignore the input.
At issue in the lawsuit against the Hawaii Legislature is whether Senate Bill 2858 (2018) violates the Hawaii Constitution’s requirement that all bills must go through three “readings” (meaning the bill gets voted on and passed by each legislative chamber) before it is approved and sent to the governor. With SB 2858, the bill number and title remained unchanged, but the bill’s updated text was so unrelated to the bill’s previous language that it effectively became a different piece of legislation.
To quote the League of Women Voters’ argument: “Reading requirements are supposed to facilitate informed and meaningful deliberation on legislative proposals.”
When bills are gutted and replaced with unrelated content, confusion and frustration abound. We oppose gut-and-replace because we agree that the practice violates the Hawaii Constitution’s requirement that legislation receive an honest hearing and public comment throughout the process.
The practice of gut-and-replace is very prevalent during the last weeks of the legislative session at conference committees where the Senate and House must compromise on the final language of bills. No public testimony is accepted at conference committee. For perspective: during the 2018 legislative session, over 400 Senate and House bills went to conference committees, with over 180 bills coming out to receive a final vote and be sent to the governor. The fact that there is no public forum to receive testimony in conference committee gives chairpeople and committees the ability to slide language into a bill and avoid public comments.
Under the current rules that govern lawmaking, the Legislature has the flexibility to game the system and push through any agenda if legislators so please.
A commitment to the foundation of representative democracy demands that legislators, the public, the media and the courts stand united against gut-and-replace tactics. Hawaii’s families would be better off, and our government would be stronger with the end of gut-and-replace.