Lee Cataluna: Bans are so easy, reform is too hard
In just the last week there has been big talk from the Legislature about bills that would make Hawaii the first in the nation to ban people convicted of driving under the influence from buying liquor and the first in the nation to ban cigarettes.
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In just the last week there has been big talk from the Legislature about bills that would make Hawaii the first in the nation to ban people convicted of driving under the influence from buying liquor and the first in the nation to ban cigarettes. Those firsts sit on the altar of first-in-the-nation promises about clean energy, carbon neutrality, crosswalk texting, pesticide spraying and plastic bag distributing.
First-in-the-nation proposals, especially if they have that great mix of kooky optimism and implausible enforceability, make for the kind of stories that get picked up by news outlets outside Hawaii and spread on a slow news day. They’re a great way for an ambitious politician to get some free publicity without having to craft and pass workable legislation. Ooh, they’re talking about me in Boise. Ooh, they mentioned my name in Santa Fe.
Whatever. We’re past being offended by the self-promotional bluster of politicians.
But hey, before the folks at the Capitol start cranking up on the headline-grabbing sideshow issues, how about first tackling all the ways Hawaii is near the bottom in the nation in important front-and-center things, like worst driving conditions, highest per-capita homeless, not to mention how it’s one of the hardest places to run a business, make a living, be a teacher or buy a house?
Aw, but fixing that stuff is hard.
The easiest thing for a lawmaker to do is to suggest a ban. It makes them seem tough and bold. If a ban does pass, the politician gets the credit while it’s up to the people to change their behavior. The burden is on us and we’re already pretty heavily burdened. Government doesn’t have to work harder or smarter if we’re the ones making all the changes or if businesses have to “take the lead” on every new trendy idea.
But when we talk about big problems, intractable problems, bottom-of-the-barrel problems that hurt Hawaii, it’s often government that has to change. Regulations have to be simplified. Enforcement has to be funded. Fat has to be trimmed. Plans have to be put into action. It is much harder to look at the internal workings of government and make that work harder or smarter.
Then some shocking tragedy like the crash that killed three people in Kakaako happens and it has people scrambling for after-the-fact legislative fixes and more of those empty first-in-the-nation proposals. The horrible truth is that no law would have stopped that speeding, intoxicated driver from plowing into those people. No “traffic calming” or flashing light or elevated walkway design can keep people safe from freaks causing freak accidents. No ban on liquor has ever kept people from getting their hands on liquor. No law has succeeded in keeping drunks from driving or idiots from racing. It’s a terrible thing to consider, this helplessness to fate, but it is a truth of life.
If only the Legislature focused on stuff that desperately needs to get fixed, the nuts-and-bolts, gnarly, intractable stuff that is their kuleana even if they aren’t novel enough to garner national headlines, Hawaii might get off the bottom of some of those national lists.
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.