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Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct discusses legislative term limits

Casey Harlow / HPR
Hawaiʻi State Capitol

At a Wednesday meeting, the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct heard from several state lawmakers and the public on the legislative process in its mission to make recommendations on topics from lobbying to campaign finance laws.

State Sen. Chris Lee made the case against term limits, which state legislators in Hawaiʻi have avoided. Lee said new lawmakers often don’t know enough about the legislative process to effectively introduce bills and get them passed.

“It's very simple when you watch ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ and you think, ‘Oh, the bill just goes into marches up the stairs, and then all of a sudden, it's a law,” Lee said. “But the fact of the matter is, it takes enormous effort to organize in the community, to get experts, stakeholders to weigh in on stuff, to turn that into something which is functionally a good bill that can pass legal muster, and then run it through the process."

"That, in and of itself, was probably like a six to eight-year learning process for me, before I felt actually comfortable,” Lee said.

But in states where elected officials are barred from running too many times consecutively, there may be more influence from lobbyists.

“If you're a lobbyist, and this is where the rubber meets the road, you're just waiting for that person to term out, and you just fund all the elections for everybody coming in, and are able to control it that way,” Lee said. “And that's part of the challenge that in a lot of states, these legislators have seen is that you end up with a sort of revolving door of elected officials who come and go.”

The commission will reconvene next week to continue the discussion on the legislative process, and discuss a draft bill regarding nepotism.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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