From Horns of Jericho Blog, February 24, 2015 (MORE BILLS ADDED >>> See update below)
Marijuana advocates are hard at work trying to game the system to ensure an easy and speedy passage of their pet legislation. In doing so, they do the public a great disservice – bypassing important committees. However, a deeper analysis reflects partisan dynamics and an internal party struggle to take credit for legalizing marijuana in Hawaii.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor scheduled a special hearing for Thursday morning to push out three more bills to decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Instead, those in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana would be fined an amount not to exceed $100. So why does the Senate need five different bills to legalize marijuana?
||ESPERO, Baker, Galuteria, Ihara, Ruderman
||RUDERMAN, ENGLISH, ESPERO, GABBARD, Shimabukuro
||GABBARD, DELA CRUZ, ENGLISH, ESPERO, RUDERMAN, Riviere
||ENGLISH, DELA CRUZ, ESPERO, INOUYE, RUDERMAN, Baker, Shimabukuro
The first answer is ‘gaming the system’. Legislators carefully craft their bills with a mind toward the committees that the bills would likely be referred to. Notice from the table above that marijuana decriminalization bills started out by being referred to three different committees for a minimum of two hearings. The last three bills, to be heard on Thursday, will be heard by only one committee at one hearing. The simple answer is language from SB189 was further refined to make SB666 appear to only be a judicial issue.
That simply is not true. Advocates for marijuana have relentlessly tried to dissociate the issue of public safety from marijuana use. Possession of marijuana is just as much an issue of public safety as possession of an open alcoholic beverage, a concealed knife or a powder keg of explosives. Criminalizing possession is intended as a deterrent against dangerous actions.
The second answer is that the five different bills reflect internal power struggles in the hyper-partisan Senate, and an eagerness to take credit for legalizing marijuana. Despite wearing the same party label, there is a wide spectrum of views and personalities in the 24-member Senate majority caucus. Cliques that are more appropriate toward high school aged teenagers form as power centers. Introduction and sponsorship of bills reflect these factions – Ruderman, Ihara and Gabbard (co-introducers on SB189) catapulted Espero into the Senate Vice Presidency. Not surprisingly, Espero’s signature appears on all five because of the authority he wields, and his passion to be the one who legalizes marijuana.
While this explains why five different bills exist, it does not explain why the Senate needs to pass three more when they have already advanced two bills (SB189, SB596) that do the exact same thing. In the Senate, there is value to hearing all five bills to maintain stability and alliances between different factions.
All three bills on Thursday’s JDL agenda should be opposed because they intentionally skipped a hearing before the public safety committee (PSM). Legalization/decriminalization of marijuana is a bad idea, fast-tracking the same idea through the Legislature by skipping committees only makes it worse – if that was even possible.
SB189 and SB596, which also require a hearing before JDL to advance are conspicuously absent from the day’s agenda. It looks like marijuana advocates are hoping that the House will also refer it to a single committee after it crosses over from the Senate to escape public debate and scrutiny.
For analysis and draft testimony, please see the 2015 Legislation Tracker.
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UPDATE: Haste Makes Waste
From Horns of Jericho Blog, February 24, 2015
As legislative deadlines loom, marijuana advocates shuttle unfinished bills into hearings in order to keep bills alive. Amidst the flurry, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee betrays public trust by invoking the maligned gut and replace in order to ensure that marijuana measures continue into the next phase of the legislative calendar.
Less than half a day since the previous post regarding advancing marijuana legislation, the number of bills up for consideration has since doubled. Three bills to legalize/decriminalize marijuana possession were already scheduled for a hearing on Thursday morning. With minutes left on the mandatory 48-hour notice, Senate Judiciary Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran posted notice of a second hearing to push the discussion of medical marijuana through the halfway point of Hawaii’s legislative session. Additionally, Sylvia Luke (close friend to Gil Keith-Agaran) has posted notice that she intends to hear HB321 on Friday, February 27th.
Within the next three days, Hawaii’s legislature will be addressing a total of six bills on marijuana:
For more discussion on SB666, SB708 and SB879 – please see a previous post: Power Play. Note that “JDL” refers to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, and “FIN” refers to the House Committee on Finance.
The second agenda added by Agaran is what legislative insiders would call “housekeeping”. When SB1302 was advanced on February 18th by a joint senate committee (health, public safety and judiciary), the only changes that were made were minor technical fixes. Only today (Feb. 24th) did the senate realize that SB1302 was so severely flawed that it warranted additional fixes. In order to do so, Sen. Keith-Agaran had to invoke the much despised and deplored “gut and replace” fix.
The practice of “gut and replace” removes the entire contents of a previous bill and replaces it with language that is completely unrelated to the original bill. The practice is widely described as a betrayal of the public trust and is criticized highly by good government groups like Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters – Hawaii. The practice of“gut and replace” became so widespread that both groups awarded the Rusty Scalpel Award to the worst breach of public trust and government transparency. To add further injury and insult, the contents of SB1291 were Christmas tree’d to advance language that was gutted from SB1291.
If you’re confused, that is exactly what liberal Democrats are counting on.
While elected officials continue to abide by the word of the very rules they established to govern themselves, they deliberately violate the very spirit that the same rules were established under: honesty and transparency in government. On the topic of the gut and replace, Senator Les Ihara was quoted by the Maui News saying:
“It’s one of the practices by the Legislature that is held in disdain by the public,” Ihara said. “My interest is in fostering trust in the legislative process, and I believe this fosters distrust.”
While it is not clear what Senate President Donna Mercado Kim feels about SB1302, she also commented to the Maui Newsabout how the practice is a “necessary evil”:
“There’s no perfect system, there’s no perfect way of doing it,” Kim said. “If something you believe in got killed on one side of the house, and you wanted it to be kept alive, then you would be advocating for it.”
It has long been the position of this blog that these bills die for a very good reason – because they are bad. The fact that elected officials exploit the rules to revive bad ideas makes a bad problem even worse.
SB1302 reflects poorly on both the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, and the Hawaii State Senate as a whole. Like a student waiting to the last minute to submit a paper, the Senate waited until the last minute to hear and fix SB1302. Only a week after they submitted their results did they notice their poor workmanship. Had the Senate taken the time to methodically and deliberately look at SB1302, they would have noticed how fatally flawed the bill was and acted accordingly.
Instead they are saddled with a bad bill that they are trying to fix – and the public relations disaster that ensues.
Blogger’s note: Analysis and draft testimony will not be available for SB1291 and SB682. While it is recommended that these measures be opposed not only for their support of marijuana, but also because they are a shining example of everything that is wrong with government and how it lacks transparency. Analysis and recommendations for HB321 will be made available in the next post. Until then I bid you “good night”.
 In fairness, JDL has at least recognized the sloppiness of their work and is attempting to fix it while it is still possible. Other poorly worded bills have required the Legislature to return during their long 7-month recess in order to fix it.