House Public Safety Committee wins Rusty Scalpel award for hurricane Frankenbill

The committee voted to gut a criminal justice reform bill and replace it with a bill looking at hurricane-resistant school structures with no input from advocates or the community.

News Report
Will Caron

On March 15, 2018, criminal justice reform advocates discovered, with shock, that the House Public Safety Committee had taken a rusty scalpel to a Senate bill they had high hopes for and gutted it, turning it into an entirely different creature.

SB2858 SD2, the version of the bill that the House received after crossover from the Senate, would have required the Department of Public Safety to “establish key performance indicators” to track the success of the department’s inmate reentry system. The department would have had to file reports using these performance indicators to the legislature, including an annual “corrections and program report” as a consolidation of these other reports. This is pretty basic, but important, data that advocates were hoping would help to inform a more intelligent approach to corrections that relies less on incarceration and more on community rehabilitation.

But by the time the PBS committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Takayama, was done with its Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley operation, the newly stitched SB2858 SD2 HD1 had an entirely different purpose: requiring the State of Hawaii to consider hurricane resistant criteria when designing and constructing new public schools for the capability of providing shelter refuge. The language for this new version came from HB2452, a dead bill that failed to be scheduled by the Senate. SB2858 SD2 HD1 was later approved, with minor amendments, by a conference committee and is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

Don’t get me wrong, hurricane-resistant schools doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard. But criminal justice reform advocates were really hoping to score a basic win with the original version of this bill. And with no input or oversight from the public, the PBS committee stopped that from happening. Reps. Takayama, Gates, Creagan, Say and Thielen all voted aye on the Frankenbill (the other two committee members, Reps. Ing and DeCiote, were excused).

That’s why SB2858 SD2 HD1 CD1 has been selected by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii and Common Cause Hawaii as the 2018 Rusty Scalpel “winner.”

The Rusty Scalpel award is a tradition that recognizes passage of a bill whose subject has been substantially amended without opportunity for adequate legislative review as required by the Hawaii Constitution. Article Ill, Section 15 of the Hawaii State Constitution provides that, “No bill shall become law unless it shall pass three readings in each house on separate days.” SB 2858 CD1 failed to meet this requirement, as the content was not considered in the Senate.

“The point of the legislative process as laid out in our Constitution is to ensure proposals are properly vetted and discussed before passage. Maneuvers like those used with SB2858 cut out both legislators and the public,” said Corie Tanida, Executive Director, Common Cause Hawaii. “Coupled with the high number of bills in 2018 that were subject to the ‘gut and replace’ practice, it’s no wonder people are feeling disillusioned and discouraged from participating in government. We expect everyone, especially our elected officials, to respect and abide by our laws and Constitution.”

“Apparently, some House members thought it was fine to use an overly generic title like “Relating to Public Safety” to deceive their Senate colleagues about what topic was under consideration,” said Ann Shaver of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii. “The Legislature has failed to stop the use of shortcuts even though all legislators took an oath to uphold the Constitution.”

A resolution that would seek to prohibit the practice has been introduced to, and will be discussed at, the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s state convention this weekend.