Reluctant standards commission proposes term limits for Hawaii lawmakers
A measure that would impose a 16-year term limit on serving state lawmakers narrowly cleared the Commission for Improving Standards of Conduct on Wednesday, though members who drafted the proposal raised concerns about possible impacts negative about policymaking in Hawaii.
The proposed bill was approved by a 4 to 3 vote of the committee members. Nikos Leverenz, Ethics Committee Director Robert Harris and Janet Mason voted “no”. Retired Judge Dan Foley, commission chairman, former lawmaker Barbara Marumoto, Honolulu Assistant District Attorney Flo Nakakuni voted “yes.”
The measure still needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly next year and approved by a majority of voters the following year.
Campaign Expenses Committee Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao broke the tie and voted yes, saying she did so “only because I think we owe it to the public to get things done and to hear what people have to say about it. If he dies, he dies.
Under the proposed measure, state lawmakers could serve no more than 16 years in their lifetime in the House or Senate. This represents an increase from the eight-year total originally proposed in the bills earlier this week.
Four years ago, a Civil Beat poll found that 70% of those polled favored term limits for lawmakers. Term limits have also been proposed by several gubernatorial candidates and other candidates for elective office. However, there is little evidence that term limits prevent political corruption, the commission members said.
“There is no correlation between tenure and public corruption,” said Marumoto, a former Republican lawmaker. “Most people I’ve served with are honest.”
The commission was formed in February after two former lawmakers were accused of accepting bribes to influence sewage legislation. Mason said she had reviewed academic research in the area of political science and found nothing to suggest term limits could prevent the kind of corruption the commission was set up against.
Mason also studied the changing seats in the Legislative Assembly. Between 2012 and 2017, 36% of Senate seats and 47% of House seats changed hands. And between 2012 and 2022, 56% of Senate seats and 65% of House seats had different legislators, according to Mason’s study.
Nationally, Mason said 15 states have term limits, while six others implemented the idea but later scrapped it.
Harris worried that the term limit proposal would end up distracting from other topics the commission is tackling on ethics, elections and campaign finance reform.
Shorter-term limits could mean lawmakers start looking for their next job while still in office, or further strengthen the revolving door in politics where lawmakers turn to lobbying soon after taking office. .
Others have expressed concern that new legislators may be more susceptible to being unduly influenced by lobbyists and legislative or government staff who have been in their positions for years and have the institutional knowledge that the legislator lacks. .
“And there’s less accountability for those guys,” Nakakuni said. “You don’t know who they are, what they are.”
Bills proposing term limits have not been granted committee hearings in recent years. Even if the Legislative Assembly approves the commissions’ proposal next year, voters would not be able to weigh in until the 2024 general election. Even then, the 16-year limit would not begin until 2026.
The commission also recommended a bill requiring certain legislative groups to follow state open meeting laws. Members promised to make recommendations on House and Senate house rules that align more closely with those laws later this month.
More work to do
In the State Capitol, deferring a measurement is usually a password to killing it.
But in the case of the standards commission, the postponement of proposals means the commission will resume drafting legislation in early November.
Such is the case with bills dealing with public records and meeting records that were similar to bills passed by the 2021 legislature but vetoed by Gov. David Ige earlier this year. The commission postponed them to address some concerns previously raised by state agencies.
The commission also postponed a vote on a bill that would require the state Board of Elections to produce a voter guide. Mason still needed to contact the office for advice.
The commission plans to meet at least twice more this month and several times in November to consider proposals on ethics laws, campaign finance and Hawaii’s criminal code.
A final report with all the commission’s recommendations is expected in December