Judge upholds Legislature’s ‘gut and replace’ tactics

  • FILE - This Jan. 16, 2019 file photo shows Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi speaking on the opening day of the state Legislature in Honolulu. A Hawaii judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the state Legislature’s “gut and replace” tactic of passing bills that have been stripped of their original content and replaced with entirely different details. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy, File)

HONOLULU — A judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit challenging the state Legislature’s “gut and replace” tactic of passing bills that were stripped of their original content and replaced with entirely different details.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state last month, saying the practice didn’t give the public a proper chance to weigh in on legislation.

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The lawsuit specifically challenged a new law that started out as a bill about recidivism but ended up being about building hurricane-resistant schools.

Circuit Court Judge Gary W. B. Chang ruled the Legislature didn’t violate the state constitution, saying the bill underwent three readings in both the House and Senate. He said the bill’s contents were still germane to the legislation’s broad title of “Relating to Public Safety” even though its details had significantly changed.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said his clients plan to appeal.

Colleen Hanabusa, the former congresswoman and Senate president who was retained by the Legislature to represent it in court, said she was pleased the judge vindicated the Legislature’s process and found it constitutional.

She said technology now allows people to sign up online to receive notices whenever bills are amended and voted on. She said this is how the Legislature makes sure the public can participate.

She earlier told the judge the lawsuit put at risk the Legislature’s ability to “manage its own affairs.”

Hawaii isn’t the only state where lawmakers use this tactic. In other states, the maneuver is known as “gut and stuff” or “gut and amend.”

Critics say the move confuses, frustrates and disappoints the public.

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Nancy Davlantes, president of the League of Women Voters of Honolulu, said the Legislature’s website is “wonderful” but questioned how many people use it to follow bills.

She said “gut and replace” puts transparency and the legislative process “up for grabs.”

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