February 25, 2009

Editors are clearly not Constitutional scholars

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 7:33 pm

The Advertiser editorial was a train wreck on Tuesday, especially as seen from a government process standpoint. It is as if the editorial were written by people completely unfamiliar with the Hawaii Constitution. I am not a lawyer, nor am I a Constitutional scholar per se, but I am familiar with the document enough to point out the obvious mistakes made in the editorial.

Instead of an effective bill advocating for equal rights for same-sex couples, the poorly worded [HB 444] equates civil unions with same-sex marriage: “Partners in civil unions,” it asserts, “shall have all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law … as are granted to spouses in a marriage.”

In doing so, it disregards the 1998 vote in which about 70 percent of voters passed a Constitutional amendment setting up a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

In its present form, HB 444 clearly is an end run around the 1998 vote.

I don’t get it. The editors want an “effective” bill that “advocat[es] for equal rights” but then immediately say that a bill that “equates civil unions with same-sex marriage” is the wrong solution. So, what non-”end run” method would the better solution to provide for equal rights be, then? A law that provides for civil union rights that are not the same as marriage? If the editors wish to argue that there are certain marriage rights that should not be afforded to same-sex couples they may, but then they can’t [logically] claim to support “equal rights.”

Many of the lawmakers who favor civil unions believe the public sentiment has changed in the past 10 years, and they may be right.

But the only way to test this theory is to ask Hawai’i voters directly, not simply ignore the earlier vote now on the books. Lawmakers should put the issue to another vote.

The Constitutional Amendment was not ignored! The legislature did exercise the power granted by that ConAm to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

But, leaving that point aside momentarily, Hawaii has no means to “put the issue to another vote” directly. i.e. Hawaii’s Constitution does not provide for referenda or for the initiative process. Hawaii voters may ratify proposed amendments to the Constitution, and, short of holding a ConCon (which Hawaii voters declined last year), another ConAm is the only means to put a policy question directly to voters.

Following Hawai’i's 1998 referendum [sic!], lawmakers attempted to equalize access to state services and protections through the “reciprocal beneficiaries” law, a codification of civil partnerships, including same-sex couples. But reciprocal beneficiaries do not have the same rights and protections under state law as married couples.

Sigh. Again, we have no referendum. Words matter. The editors need editors.

It would be far more just if elected leaders would recognize the importance of the 1998 vote. HB 444 should be recast to seek a new amendment that would take the question to the voters in 2010.

State lawmakers still haven’t fulfilled their constitutional duty to provide equal rights for same-sex couples under state law. But voters deserve a chance to re-examine the issue of civil unions, and to be asked which course to follow toward that goal.

Such an important and emotionally charged decision should not be imposed by a few — let the voters decide.

Since the passage of the 1998 ConAm, I believe it is (unfortunately) accurate to say that there is no longer a “constitutional duty” for legislators to provide equal rights for same-sex couples under state law. It’s quite the contrary actually. That 1998 ConAm essentially granted the legislature a new power to deny the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples—and the legislature quickly exercised that power.

Now, with no referendum or initiative possible, how would “such an important and emotionally charged issue” be decided by the voters? Like I wrote earlier (and the editors seem to have finally caught on to some extent), another ConAm would be the only way possible; ignoring the fact that the deadline to introduce such legislation has long since passed, and ignoring that the title of HB 444 [or any other active bill stil pending in either chamber] is incompatible with proposing a ConAm. But, if a ConAm were still possible, then the question becomes what specific proposal would be put to the voters for ratification in 2010? Seriously, there would need to be a relatively concise question to be printed on the ballot. What would that specific question be? Oh, and do keep in mind that a new ConAm would need to comport with the 1998 ConAm, because repealing or amending the 1998 ConAm would require a separate vote (and it would be a real mess in that situation if a change to the 1998 ConAm failed, yet a new ConAm was ratified).

This post is not as tightly argued as I would like, but I’ve got other things to attend to today. This is a good enough start, I reckon, but I apologize. And, yes, I see the irony in my scolding editors in an incompletely-edited post of my own. :)

February 22, 2009

Tesoro publishes gross margin data, whereas PIMAR will not

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 9:56 am

Took me a few days to notice, but the Advertiser ran a story last week about the turnaround for Tesoro (one of the two refiners in Hawaii). Before my previous webhost had a disk failure, you might recall all of the posts I had written about the Petroleum Industry Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting (sic!) program and the weekly reports that are published which are of no use to consumers trying to ascertain if gasoline price gouging is happening. The weekly reports include boilerplate language claiming that gross margins (and other data) for refiners can’t be released because, with only two refiners, those data cannot be aggregated to maintain confidentiality (never mind that confidentiality could be maintained by publishing the gross margins of the refiners and withholding the useless-to-consumers volume data…). Well, what’s the need for confidentiality now that Tesoro has made public its gross refining margin data?

Hawai’i operations played a large part in the profit increase, as the refinery here produced a $140 million gross refining margin compared with a $51 million loss last year. Tesoro has taken steps to modify the plant to handle heavier crude oil in addition to the light sweet crude from Asia, while getting better prices for its production.

Those changes helped the refinery transition from being Tesoro’s worst to the best in terms of a closely watched industry metric, gross refining margin per throughput barrel.

Gross refining margin is revenue minus the cost of crude oil, purchased refined products, transportation and distribution.

In Hawai’i, the fourth-quarter margin per barrel was $23.42, compared with a negative $7.42 last year.

So, with the company making the data public, any claim to confidentiality under the PIMAR Protective Order (PDF) should go away, right? The PUC should begin publishing the data.

February 21, 2009

Bah. Who needs Rex Johnson, sexism, and porn? We have ninjas! Tourism is saved.

Filed under: Hawaii Media,Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 10:37 am

One the best Advertiser headlines that I can recall: Ninjas sent to fight tourism slump.

Sadly, the author of this article seems to be oblivious to the laughably farcical premise. To “lure visitors from Japan” the Hawaii Tourism Authority (via its subcontractor, Hawaii Tourism Japan) hires ninjas to entertain pre-schoolers and shoppers in Honolulu(?). Who needs the economic stimulus package? This plan can’t fail. Whatever amount the HTA is paying HTJ, it is not enough—even in these tough economic times. I mean we’re talking ninjas, folks. Aww, yeah. Budget surplus, here we come.

Getting those weapons through TSA checkpoints will put a damper on the otherwise inevitable torrent of ninja tourists, but this plan is orders of magnitude better than having the previous boss in the news for forwarding racist and pornographic email messages…

February 18, 2009

Why did I pre-order? [grumble, grumble]

Filed under: Hawaii Media,Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 6:25 pm

Okay, I gotta admit that I’m feeling like a sucker for pre-ordering my copy of Cayetano’s memoir. After pestering the publisher for more than a year(!) while the publication date was repeatedly pushed back, I ordered my copy as soon as the website would take my money. It said books would be delivered February 13. I still have not recieved my pre-ordered copy.  A Friday release followed by a holiday weekend contributed to the slow shipping, of course. But on Sunday I see stories about the book in the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin. The Advertiser also published four consecutive days of excerpts from the book, and today we see the Capitol Notebook blogger flogging the autobiography, too. That’s a lot of free publicity and can’t hurt sales…

I feel like one of those Harry Potter dorks who did not go to the midnight release party and is forced to avoid the media and their friends (well, some of those dorks have more than one friend, anyway). When will I get my copy, dagfunnit!? :)

I did sneak a peek at the story sidebars to see that Cayetano will be signing copies of his book in a few weeks. I’ll be there! …if I have my copy in time.

UPDATE: I received my copy in the mail today (i.e. February 20). Postmarked on the 19th(!). Now I really feel like a chump for pre-ordering and paying for shipping when I could have went down the road to a bookstore last weekend and avoided shipping fees altogether…

February 14, 2009

Civil Unions = veto bait?

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 11:50 am

Maybe it’s out there somewhere, but I have not seen any news reports with Governor Lingle’s reaction to the Civil Unions bill that recently passed the House 33-17. The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin stories after the House vote both mentioned the uncertain fate of the bill in the Senate, but then stop there. A Google search found a quote from Governor Lingle’s senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, saying that Lingle takes no position.

According to the committee report, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor testified in opposition to the bill. I have requested copies of all the testimony, but I don’t see any government agencies (other than the LG) on the list of testifiers. Their absence is odd, as it is clear that CUs would have effects on a wide range of state functions. Of course, the Governor’s Office policy is to require prior approval of all “official” testimony from the executive branch, and if the Governor is unwilling to take a position on CUs, then this probably explains their collective silence.

33 House votes are not enough to override a veto. The Advertiser mentions that Representative Takai (who is on military leave) did not vote but supports the bill. I’m not sure why they mention that, since Takai would need to be present to participate in any (potential) veto override vote. Maybe Takai has a brief period of liberty scheduled this summer when he could attend? I dunno.

The Senate, if the speculation in the media is true, probably does not have a 2/3 majority in favor of the bill, even though Democrats comprise 92% of the chamber. The lack of a Senate supermajority is not that surprising, given that 13 House Democrats have already voted no.

If Governor Lingle signals her intentions regarding Civil Unions (in either direction), it would provide cynical uncertain legislators an opportunity to chose a more politically advantageous position. Which is likely to be the main reason why the Governor remains silent.

February 7, 2009

Jon Riki vs. C-3PO’s evil cousin

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 11:20 am

Just when I had thought that perhaps his blog had hit a plateau in its, well, slowly-escalating oddity, there comes this new post at Representative Karamatsu’s blog. Wow. A tour de force in bizarro rambling! Now, a post like that is less amusing coming from the Chair(!) of the Judiciary Committee than if it were from some random powerless “everyman,” but it still cracks me up.

Now, the fun part. Which male “elected leader” is 5P8C , and what is the issue at stake? Karamatsu says this all went down on Thursday, which is the same day his “Juiciary” committee passed out the Civil Unions bill. Karamatsu’s post mentions that this was his first meeting with 5P8C, which would make him most likely to be a freshman legislator.

So, which is a line from the Star Wars scripts, and which is from a political blog?

Choice A:

Only destiny will reveal 5P8C’s superior counterpart. I have learned that there will always be someone stronger, smarter, and better than you no matter what you think. If you fight negative energy with negative energy, sooner or later you will lose.

Choice B:

A: Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you, the conflict.
B: There is no conflict.
A: You couldn’t bring yourself to kill me before and I don’t believe you’ll destroy me now.
B: You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.

I reckon this is what happens when too many people have those silly iPhone lightsabers! I don’t even have a cell phone. Sigh.

UPDATE: 5P8C is indeed Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, according to a new blog post by Derrick DePledge.

Legislators continue to bemoan an unpleasant legislative task

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 11:20 am

Recent stories (Advertiser and S-B) about the Governor asking legislators (via the media, instead of face-to-face) to delay the budget process until March make the Governor sound like an undergrad begging for an extension on her term paper revision, but I don’t think that’s what is really going on. It seems, to me, more like the Lege trying to avoid its responsibilities.

According to the legislative history, Governor Lingle’s executive budget (HB 200) was introduced on her behalf by Speaker Say on January 23rd. The website provides a PDF link that contains Lingle’s budget bill as submitted. So, [other than submitting most of her budget in landscape(!) orientation] what’s the problem, exactly?

Is her draft of the budget based on an outdated set of revenue projections? Hard for me to know for certain, but I’m 99% sure it is. However, that is the case every year, as the budget is submitted in late January and a new COR forecast is released every March.

It’s pretty clear (and understandable, from a cynical perspective) that neither the Governor nor the Lege is very eager to march at the front of the budget cut parade. However, the Governor has fulfilled her obligation to submit a budget for consideration. The House and Senate fiscal committees would like the Governor to submit another draft, showing where she would make even deeper cuts? I’m sure they would, and I’d love for the Governor (or anyone) to give me a spiffy new motorcycle, but none of that is likely to happen.

It’s time for the Lege to take its bite of the (bitter) apple. In years of increasing revenue forecasts you don’t hear legislators grumbling for revised input from the Governor about how to amend the budget. Well, that same policy should work just fine in the down years, too…

February 4, 2009

The debate over the GET surcharge

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics,Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:36 pm

Mayor Hannemann and State leaders are engaged in a struggle about a possible change that would see the State receive the proceeds of the 0.5% Honolulu County GET surcharge. David Shapiro has an interesting column and a blog posting on the topic.

The transit tax was levied by the City Council, not the Legislature, and the money belongs to the city.

Can the state legally transfer a city tax raised for a dedicated purpose to the state general fund for another purpose? The state Supreme Court struck down the Legislature’s transfer of insurance assessments to the general fund.

Legally? I’d say “yes.” This would be quite a different matter from the insurance and E-911 moneys being moved to the general fund. For starters, the GET (including the surcharge) is already state money and sits in the general fund until the surcharge is disbursed quarterly to the County. It is only after the State hands over (some) of the surcharge that the “dedicated purpose” is specified, and the law only says that the County has to use the surcharge funds for a specified purpose. So, it would appear to (non-lawyer) me that if the County didn’t receive any of the surcharge, that point would be moot. Furthermore, the equal protection claims described in the recent HSC ruling don’t appear applicable to a GET surcharge levied across the entire Honolulu County economy.

The bigger issue is fairness. If a tax paid by O’ahu residents only is siphoned by the state, Oahuans would effectively be taxed at a rate of 4.5 percent for the same state services that residents of other counties get for a tax rate of 4 percent.

Talk about inviting a tax-discrimination lawsuit by unhappy O’ahu taxpayers — not to mention a political backlash against O’ahu lawmakers who let their constituents bear a disproportionate burden in balancing the state budget.

On the other hand, neighbor island voters (and legislators) would quietly smile. The question then becomes one of if there would be enough neighbor island legislators and (revenue-desperate) Oahu legislators to make a majority. Remember, many districts of Oahu did not vote for the transit question on the November ballot, so the “political backlash” calculus is not as straightforward as Shapiro may think. When it comes right down to it, the Oahu taxpayers would not see any overt immediate difference; the GET on Oahu would not change, and the non-existent rail system would remain non-existent.

The comments at the column and blog post are also worth a look, which is where readers and Shapiro speculate that a “temporary” GET increase will be applied statewide. All legislators would need is a bill with a usable title… Oh, wait, that’s a bill sponsored by a few House Republicans and dissident Democrats? Even better. Heh.

Were the State to “withhold” the Honolulu GET surcharge instead of a enacting statewide GET increase, then I would not be entirely surprised if the the Honolulu Council were to threaten to repeal its surcharge in retaliation. That would seriously raise the ante in this spat, though, and (since the Council would need approval from the Lege to ever re-instate a GET surcharge) I don’t think the County would be so bold.

February 1, 2009

Dissident Democrats seek to clean House

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 1:23 pm

I haven’t even touched the Senate Bills, but I did survey the list of bills introduced in the House. Many of the bills will never even be heard in committee, and most of them will never become law, but it’s still a fun list to browse—if you’re wonky.

Anyway, I thought I’d point out HB 186 which was introduced by Representative Saiki. It proposes a Constitutional Amendment to limit legislators’ terms to 20 years in the House and 20 years in the Senate. Saiki won his House seat in 1994. Saiki and other dissident House democrats have tried several times in recent years to unseat Speaker Say (first elected in 1976). Representative Chris Lee (a true freshman) would appear to have joined Saiki among the dissident Democrats, since he was not “awarded” (read “burdened with”) the typical vice-chairmanship of a committee that is foisted upon junior legislators who support the Speaker. Chris Lee introduced HB 973, a bill substantially the same as Saiki’s.

Not to be outdone, however, and still smarting from the defeat of the ConCon ballot question in November, Representative Belatti (elected in 2006) introduced HB 364 which proposes to amend the Hawaii Constitution to limit legislators to only 12 years in each chamber. Unsurprisingly, Saiki did not sign on as an introducer of Belatti’s bill, haha.

So, in the unlikely event that either of these measures were heard, passed and ratified, there would indeed be significant turnover in the Lege. Reps Chang, Marumoto, (Speaker) Say, (Speaker Emeritus) Souki and Thielen would be term-limited out in 2010 if a 20 year limit were ratified. (No Senators would fall to a 20 year limit.) In addition to the aforementioned old-timers, Reps Herkes, Ito, Marilyn Lee, Luke, Morita, Marcus Oshiro, Saiki, Takai, Takumi and Ward would be pau in 2010 should a 12 year limit be ratified. Senators Baker, Bunda, Chun Oakland, Fukunaga, Ige, Ihara, Sakamoto, and Slom would be gone, too.

The implications for internal leadership struggles, and the likely churning among term-limited members seeking a spot in the opposite chamber would be fascinating.

Don’t hold your breath, though.

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