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How to learn more about the legislative process at the Public Access Room

The public access room at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol.
Hawaiʻi State Capitol
The Public Access Room on the fourth floor of the Hawaiʻi State Capitol.

It’s around this time that many of the hundreds of bills introduced this legislative session will die because they have not received a hearing. For those who are new to the process, we take you inside the Hawaiʻi State Capitol.

The Conversation paid a visit to the Public Access Room and the Legislative Reference Bureau. The resource is funded by the Legislature to encourage public participation in Hawaiʻi lawmaking.

It's one of only two full-service public access rooms in the country — Alaska is the other. If you head down to the Capitol, you'll find the PAR in Room 401.

Public access coordinator Virginia Beck walks us through the ropes from drafting a bill to getting it heard.

"We do a lot of teaching about the legislative process. We have handouts that people can take. There's a place for people to come and work here when they're at the Capitol," Beck said.

Public access coordinator Virginia Beck
Public Access Room
Public access coordinator Virginia Beck

Say you're in an organization that wants to champion a new law in Hawaiʻi, how would you start that process?

"We would encourage you to really try to focus yourself, to summarize the problem or the opportunity and what it is you want the law to do," Beck told The Conversation.

The next step is finding a legislator to introduce a bill. It could be your district's representative or senator, but it's not required. It could be the chair of the committee that the bill would likely go through, or someone who's introduced similar legislation in the past, Beck said.

"When you do speak up, the legislators really are happy to hear from you. I would encourage you to remember that these are people just like you that have been elected to office and are trying to work towards the best Hawaiʻi we can come up with," Beck said.

She said you do not have to be of voting age, 18 and over, to get involved or testify at the Capitol.

Did you know Hawaiʻi has a biennial Legislature? If a bill is of interest to you but it died in this session, it may still have a chance.

Keanu Young, assistant coordinator of the Public Access Room
Public Access Room
Keanu Young, assistant coordinator of the Public Access Room

"It's a two-year session starting in an odd-numbered year and ending in an even-numbered year. The significance of that is any bill that doesn't make it this year, automatically carries over to next year and the Legislature could move the bill at that time if they want to," said Keanu Young, assistant coordinator of the Public Access Room.

"Sometimes bills get introduced every year and they die. And I think the trick with those bills is finding out what's wrong with them, and who has control over them," he said. "Talk to them about the concerns they have for either not scheduling the bills for hearing or for scheduling them and deferring them."

This year's legislative session runs through the first week of May. It's never too late to participate in the legislative process and let your voice be heard.

"We don't want the Legislature to have to do it alone. We want them to hear from the public about their experience, about what makes sense in their lives for the different laws that they're considering," Beck said.


Hawaiʻi State Capitol resources:


This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 15, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. This story was adapted for the web by HPR's Sophia McCullough.

Stephanie Han was a producer for The Conversation.
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