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Watchdog groups eye lawmakers after Hawaiʻi Supreme Court rules 'gut and replace' bills unconstitutional

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With the 2022 legislative session a little more than a month away, watchdog groups will have their eye on lawmakers after the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court recently ruled the "gut and replace" process violates the state constitution.

The supreme court decision issued in November found lawmakers violated the state constitution when they stripped a bill of its original content and substituted it with something entirely different — and afterward failed to hold a sufficient number of readings for the amended measure.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that specifically challenged a 2018 law that started out as a bill requiring the state to make annual reports on recidivism.

The state Senate passed the legislation. But when it got to the House, lawmakers changed it to be about hurricane shelter space at public schools. The court said the Hawaiʻi Constitution requires that a measure have three readings in each chamber of the Legislature before it is passed and signed into law. The hurricane shelter bill only received one reading in the Senate before it became law.

State Attorney General Clare Connors said in oral arguments before the court last year that the Legislature needed flexibility to be able to substitute bill content to allow it to respond to unforeseen emergencies, like when it passed legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said he told his chairs before the ruling was handed down that he would not advance bills to the floor that were gutted and replaced. The Senate was still reviewing the supreme court ruling.

Civil Beat Law Center's Brian Black, who helped bring the suit to court, and Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause, shared with The Conversation the most egregious "gut and replace" bills from the last year — and what they'll be looking for this upcoming legislative session.

The issue will be the subject of a Common Cause webinar Thursday at 4 p.m. This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 7, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
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