Oahu legislators stand to gain if a Senate bill calling for a major change in the state’s reapportionment process becomes law.
SB286, introduced by Sam Slom, the Senate’s lone Republican, would define “permanent resident” as “any individual counted as a usual resident in the last preceding U.S. census within the State of Hawaii.”
Currently, Hawaii does not count military personnel, dependents, and students who do not choose to become Hawaii residents for purposes of defining legislative districts. This practice has prevented districts from being skewed by the presence of large numbers of people who do not vote in Hawaii and consider themselves residents of another state. It was upheld by the Hawaii Supreme Court in a challenge to the latest reapportionment maps used for the 2012 elections.
However, it is also the subject of a pending federal lawsuit which alleges the exclusion of military and other non-residents violates the U.S. Constitution.
I’m told the bill appears to have the backing of other senators, reps and perhaps the AG’s office as part of a deal with the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against the reapportionment plan. There are apparently negotiations going on behind the scenes to have the plaintiffs withdraw their suit in exchange for a promise all future reapportionments will be based upon total population, including non-resident military, their dependents and out-of-state students.
Dropping the lawsuit would also mean the ban on canoe districts would remain in place.
Bart Dame, who has been an active observer of the election process for years, offered this observation:
Oahu-based legislators, who benefit from the inflated power given to Oahu if non-resident military are counted, are trying to accomplish through legislation what should be changed through a constitutional amendment. They are playing word games. While the term “permanent resident,” which appears in the state constitution, has often been a source of contention, it is established law that it means, and was intended to mean, Hawaii residents minus military and students who decline to establish residency here.
If the Oahu legislators want to change the law, they should seek a constitutional amendment. Not because all questions should be decided by a constitutional amendment, but because attempts to amend the state constitution, or how it has been consistently interpreted, should be subject to approval by the voters of the whole state. Not by a legislative body which has an inherent, structural bias in favor of Oahu County.