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With Reservations
By Selected News Articles @ 2:42 PM :: 3099 Views :: Family

With Reservations

From Horns of Jericho Blog, March 19, 2015

In an institution that is steeped both in tradition [1] and strategy, it can be very confusing for a political outsider as to what votes count toward an elected officials “record”.  With duties to support or oppose legislation, elected officials are also obligated to “fix” bad legislation.  As a result, “yes” and “no” votes get further blurred [2] when elected officials vote “with reservations” – making the context of these votes all the more important.

When elected officials vote on a bill, they are only voting on the version that is before them.  For example, HB459 is very different from HB459 HD2.  The HD2 is short for “House Draft 2″ and signifies that changes have been made to the original version.  The change from HB459 to HB459 HD1 removed the controversial opt-out provision for sex education programs in public schools – the very same provision that led people to call it “The Pono Choices Bill”.  This same language was omitted in the HD2.  In fact, the bill was strengthened when “monogamy” was added as an additional topic for public school sex education programs.

With the removal of the “opt-out” provision, all parents will still have to “opt-in” to any sex education program in their child’s public education (per Dept. of Education rules).  For this very reason, many representatives who opposed Pono Choices might now vote “yes” or “with reservations”.  HB459 is no longer “the Pono Choices Bill” but just HB459 HD2.

To be clear, the version in front of legislators on 2nd and 3rd reading was not “The Pono Choices Bill”, but a bill now with no reference at all to the controversial sex education program.

A vote “with reservations” counts as a “yes” vote in the final tally, but is a flag in the official legislative record that a representative has concerns or issues with the bill in front of them.  The core issue with HB459 HD2 now is whether sex education should be taught at elementary schools – should sex education be taught to 5th graders? [3]

A “no” vote could be fairly interpreted as “No, sex education should not be taught at elementary schools”.  A vote “with reservations”, however, might support the intent of the bill – to ensure children receive sex education rather than learning it from their friends or from television – but they are looking for the elementary school provision to be removed.  Courtesy Beth Fukumoto Chang:

The bill is troubling because it includes elementary school, but there is still time to change it. This early in the process, a NO vote would mean that I would lose my opportunity to continue working to fix the problems and that only proponents of the bill would have a seat at the table moving forward. That would only make it harder to protect the interests of Hawaii’s families. [4]

A reading of the bill confirms that HB459 HD2 is still a work-in-progress.  A strategy legislators use to force discussion on a bill is to fiddle with the effective date of a bill – the date the bill will take effect if passed by the Legislature.  Sometimes the effective date is July 1st (the beginning of state government’s fiscal year) of the same year, and sometimes it is “immediately”.  Going down to section 4 of HB459 HD2:

SECTION 4.  This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2050.

This date will have to be changed for the bill to take effect, ensuring that the bill is further discussed, and that it cannot become law without coming back to the House for Final Reading.  Whether it includes the controversial “elementary school provision” remains to be seen.  Since HB459 HD2 is not a final draft, voting “with reservations” is entirely appropriate to keep a seat at the table to try to remove the “elementary school” provision in Conference Committee.

A vote “with reservations” at this stage is not a validation of the controversial and misleading Pono Choices program – that judgment should be reserved for the Final Reading of the bill. What is clear though is continuing to refer to HB459 HD2 as the “Pono Choices Bill” is misleading at best – but is more accurately irresponsible.

There is no easy answer to what a vote “with reservations” means – only that every vote must be taken in context of when the vote was taken.  Only on a bill’s final [5] reading does a vote “with reservations” still count as a “yes” during election season.  Until then, the only way to know what reservations an elected official has is to ask them yourself.

  *   *   *   *   *

[1] In committee hearings and often on 1st, 2nd or 3rd readings, many majority members will vote “with reservations” out of deference to the chair of the committee.  Committee chairs (sometimes) work hard on difficult bills that need to get out the door.  In recognition of this effort, they will vote “with reservations” rather than “no”.  In this sense, “with reservations” is a symbolic vote done out of tradition and respect for a colleague.

[2] Hyper-partisan groups (liberal Democrats, Tea Party Conservatives, etc.) on either side of the political spectrum rely on black and white labels to force moderates into one camp or the other.  The rationale is “you are either for us, or against us”.  While not perfect, it is this blog’s intent to avoid this tactic.

[3] HB459 requires “medically accurate” sex education at elementary, middle, intermediate, high and alternative schools.  It also permits the Dept. of Education to modify or eliminate such programs for reasons of age appropriateness.

[4] If you have the stomach to read an entire Horns of Jericho blog post, you might be interested in what Fukumoto Chang has to say about her vote, and the necessary gamesmanship that is involved to ensure that the best interests of families and people of faith are protected.  Fukumoto Chang is right in that the interests of families may be better served at this point of the game with a vote of “with reservations” to keep a seat at the discussion table and to possibly shape the final product.  While often at odds with the Minority Leader, this blog applauds Fukumoto Chang’s rationale and leadership displayed by her explanation.

[5] Without going into the complexities of the Legislative process, the vote that counts is made the last time (final) that a bill is voted on in its chamber – most often this if Final Reading, but in a fewer number of instances it is 3rd reading.

  *   *   *   *   *

My Vote on SB979, Safe Places for Youth

Message to Constituents from Rep Beth Fukumoto Chang

Aloha!                      March 25, 2015

Thank you for the great feedback on my last email regarding House Bill 459 - Comprehensive Sex Education. I've heard from many of you who enjoyed getting more detailed information about the intricacies of the process that each bill needs to go through and the strategic decisions that are sometimes difficult to understand at first glance.

This year marks my 7th session working at the Legislature, and my 3rd session as an elected official. My understanding of the legislative process has definitely deepened over time, and I want to make sure that I take the time to share that with those who are interested in being more involved. I know there's still a lot that I need to learn, but I'm excited to have more of you on that journey with me.

In my last email, I talked about voting yes with reservations on House Bill 459 to ensure that I would be able to protect your family's interests as the bill moves forward. I explained that, "This early in the process, a NO vote would mean that I would lose my opportunity to continue working to fix the problems and that only proponents of the bill would have a seat at the table moving forward." For the full explanation, please click here.

Today, I voted NO on Senate Bill 979 – Safe Places for Youth, even though it's early in the process, and I wanted to take the opportunity to explain why I treated this bill differently than House Bill 459.

This bill first came across my desk in 2013 when I met with the advocates who presented it simply as a measure to create places where kids know they can go to make a phone call and get help. The bill had been proposed by kids during a Youth Summit. Seeing no problems with the bill, every member of the Legislature voted to pass it, but it still didn't make it through the session. In 2014, the bill was reintroduced. This time, testifiers raised concerns over how the bill, as drafted, could allow untrained and unlicensed volunteers to evaluate youth in crisis as well as erode parental rights. The bill was deferred and didn't pass.

This year, the bill was proposed again. I voted yes with reservations because I knew the original intent of the bill was to help youth in crisis know where to go for help. I hoped that we could come up with a draft that would provide help, protect parents' rights, and ensure that we're not simply outsourcing the evaluations of youth in crisis to untrained private entities. However, when we voted today on the Senate version, I voted NO – even though it's not the final vote - because after three years of discussion, no substantive changes have been made to improve the measure.

I wanted to write this because, as you're getting more involved in the Legislature, I think it's important to understand that sometimes a compromise can be reached and sometimes it can't. I'm often criticized because people mistake the desire to find a compromise for being compromised. But, they're very different. Our constituents want us to work across the aisle – particularly as Republicans with a 7 member minority - and find commonalities or at least, try to make legislation better even when it's bad. That's compromise. That's why I voted yes with reservations on House Bill 459. Because I still have an opportunity to fix it and the majority of legislators have been open to improvements. Being compromised would be voting YES when you know it's a bill that's bad for Hawaii, and you know you can't do anything to make it better. That's why I voted NO on Senate Bill 979.

As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. If you have more questions about Senate Bill 979, please see below for a brief explanation on what the bill does and what the problems are with the bill.

Sincerely,

Rep Beth Fukumoto Chang

  *   *   *   *   *

What is the purpose of Senate Bill 979/House Bill 395, Safe Places for Youth?

During the Annual Children and Youth Summit sponsored by the legislature's Keiki Caucus in 2012, youths expressed concern over a lack of safe places where they could seek safety from intolerable home or school environments without fear of being judged, detained, or criminalized. They also expressed interest in being able to access other youth-specific advice, guidance, programs, and services, including guidance and counseling for suicide prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, tobacco use cessation, and alcohol and substance abuse support. Finally, they wished to access safe places where they could have fun without the fear of being harassed, bullied, or pressured by other youth or adults.[1]

Many states have already established programs to provide safe havens and resources to youth. Hawaii already offers many of those resources, but youth do not always know where to go to access these resources. This measure would designate places such as schools, shopping centers, life guards, law enforcement officers, libraries, grocery stores, public transit workers, restaurants, social service agencies, and nonprofit organizations where youth can gain access to these services.[2]

What does the bill do?

The Safe Place for Youth bill (SB979 SD2):

  • Requires the Office of Youth Services to coordinate a Safe Places for Youth pilot program until 6/30/2021 to establish a network of safe places where youth in crisis can access safety and services;
  • Establishes the position of the Safe Places for Youth Program coordinator;
  • Enables youths in crisis who are at least 14, but under 18, years of age to consent to services in the safe places program under certain circumstances; and
  • Requires certain understandings and assessment of the youth in crisis before intervention can be offered. Information can be offered at any time.  

What are the concerns?

This bill would allow volunteers from any private organization designated as a "safe place" to evaluate youth in crisis. Essentially, it's a privatization of youth services, many of which are currently provided by the state, without any defined oversight or protocols. The bill does not address training, specific evaluation rubrics or require background checks for those participating.

In addition to allowing volunteers to assess youth in crisis, it would also allow those volunteers to determine whether or not a parent should be contacted.  While the bill says it "requires that service providers attempt to obtain parental consent."[3] it does not specifically outline parental involvement and allows volunteer evaluators to determine whether or not parental contact is advisable.


[1] SB979, SD2 – Relating to Youth; Section 1; pg. 1

[2] SB979, SD2 – Relating to Youth; Section 1; pg. 2

[3] SB979, SD2 – Relating to Youth; Section 1, pg. 3

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