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Hawaiʻi panel discusses proposals for legislative term limits

Casey Harlow / HPR

HONOLULU — A panel created by the state House of Representatives to recommend reforms after two former lawmakers admitted taking bribes discussed proposals to establish term limits for legislators at a meeting Wednesday.

The Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct is meeting every two weeks through Dec. 1 when it is expected to submit a report to the House.

It didn't reach any final decisions.

Commission member Barbara Marumoto represented Kaimuki and Kahala as a Republican in the state House for more than three decades until 2012. She said capping time in the state Legislature to eight, 10 or 12 years would be better than six years.

“I think I’ve finally come around to the position where I think term limits would kind of shake up the process a little bit,” Marumoto said during the meeting which was streamed online.

In the 1990s, California limited its state Assembly members to six years and its state Senate members to eight years in office. A referendum in 2012 changed the limit to 12 years for either chamber or a combination of the two houses.

Marumoto said California's experience showed the shorter six-year limit gave key legislative staff and lobbyists “an inordinate amount of power.”

Former state Sen. Gary Hooser, a Democrat who spoke as a member of the public during the public testimony portion of the meeting, said new candidates face excessively high barriers to challenging incumbents.

Those in office have an advantage in terms of campaign funds, name recognition and the way they can use their legislative expense account to mail fliers to constituents, Hooser said.

A new candidate needs to raise $30,000 to $40,000 just to mount a campaign, which intimidates people, he said.

“Without term limits, in my opinion, I’ve seen legislator after legislator become complacent. They just need to stay there and protect themselves and every year they get stronger,” Hooser said.

The panel also discussed voter referendums and ranked-choice voting. The only proposal to get a clear thumbs down was establishing a unicameral legislature.

The commission meets next on June 29, when members will discuss campaign finance reform.

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