Here’s an email I received from a reader over the weekend with questions about the legislative process.
First off , thanks for your fine blogging!
Was wondering if you could help me to understand something about our local political process: the rules that govern changes in the language of bills at the ninth hour?
My own limited understanding is that any given piece of legislation can pass through multiple committees and at the last minute, behind closed doors have its contents radically altered, even to the point of the intent being diametrically opposed to the original language?
Is that so?
What rules govern this?
What do sunshine laws mean when a small group can make all the most important decisions at the ninth hour?
What can we as citizens do to rectify this mess?
Let’s look at the first question: What rules govern the legislative process?
The most basic reference is the State Constitution, which spells out certain parameters. Basically, the constitution leaves internal rules and procedures up to the legislature itself, with minimal constitutional constraints. And internal rules, like most rules, can be suspended when it’s considered necessary.
I actually don’t view the somewhat fluid and meandering path a bill takes to be “a mess”. The ability to amend bills, sometimes radically, cuts both ways. It can produce dramatically improved bills, or it can run over the public interest. Such is politics. Remedies are political as well.
Okay, on to the constitution.
Article 3, Section 12:
Section 12. Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members and shall have, for misconduct, disorderly behavior or neglect of duty of any member, power to punish such member by censure or, upon a two-thirds vote of all the members to which such house is entitled, by suspension or expulsion of such member. Each house shall choose its own officers, determine the rules of its proceedings and keep a journal. The ayes and noes of the members on any question shall, at the desire of one-fifth of the members present, be entered upon the journal.
Twenty days after a bill has been referred to a committee in either house, the bill may be recalled from such committee by the affirmative vote of one-third of the members to which such house is entitled.
Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members from both houses held for the purpose of making decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.
By rule of its proceedings, applicable to both houses, each house shall provide for the date by which all bills to be considered in a regular session shall be introduced. [Ren and am Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978; am HB 1947 (1984) and election Nov 6, 1984]
There’s a relevant case note referenced below:
Violation of own rules by legislature will not be inquired into in absence of a constitutional mandate or unless it constitutes a deprivation of constitutionally guaranteed rights. 58 H. 25, 564 P.2d 135.
Sections 14 and 15 deal with passing bills. Note that although bills can be amended, even at the last minute. But the bill cannot get a final vote of either house until it has been available for review “for at least forty-eight hours.”
Section 14. No law shall be passed except by bill. Each law shall embrace but one subject, which shall be expressed in its title. The enacting clause of each law shall be, “Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of Hawaii.” [Ren Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]
Section 15. No bill shall become law unless it shall pass three readings in each house on separate days. No bill shall pass third or final reading in either house unless printed copies of the bill in the form to be passed shall have been made available to the members of that house for at least forty-eight hours.
Every bill when passed by the house in which it originated, or in which amendments thereto shall have originated, shall immediately be certified by the presiding officer and clerk and sent to the other house for consideration.
Any bill pending at the final adjournment of a regular session in an odd-numbered year shall carry over with the same status to the next regular session. Before the carried-over bill is enacted, it shall pass at least one reading in the house in which the bill originated. [Am Const Con 1968 and election Nov 5, 1968; ren and am Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]
There are, again, a number of case notes reporting on legal decisions involving this provision.
For annotations relating to similar provisions of prior law, see notes to Organic Act, §45.
Provision pertaining to subject is to be liberally construed. 58 H. 25, 564 P.2d 135.
Purposes of one-subject requirement are to prevent logrolling legislation, to prevent surprise or fraud upon the legislature, to apprise the people. 58 H. 25, 564 P.2d 135.
Section is mandatory and a violation would render an enactment nugatory, but an enactment is presumptively constitutional. 58 H. 25, 564 P.2d 135.
Prohibition against legislation with more than one subject does not apply to constitutional amendments. 60 H. 324, 590 P.2d 543.
This article and article XVII of the Hawaii constitution require that (1) a proposal to amend the constitution must be reflected in the title of the bill and (2) a proposed constitutional amendment must be read three times in each house of the legislature to be validly adopted; where bill failed to fulfill these requirements, it was not constitutionally adopted. 108 H. 245, 118 P.3d 1188.
Cited: 48 H. 152, 160, 397 P.2d 593; 53 H. 327, 493 P.2d 306.
Both House and Senate adopt their own internal rules. More on those later.