The first bill that lawmakers pass every year without delay is the
one that ensures they get paid.

That bill, HB1949 SD1, is the financial appropriation that funds the operation of the House and Senate, and attached legislative agencies, including the state Ethics Commission, the state Legislative Auditor, the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Office of the Ombudsman.

But in the opening weeks of the 2006 Legislative session, an internal
power struggle in the Hawaii State Senate delayed immediate passage
of the bill, leaving some part-time session House staffers without a
paycheck last Friday, and the Senate Democrats and Republican
minority leader arguing over who is to blame.

Some lawmakers say more important in the debate is the fact that the
public is putting out a record $30 million to pay the 76 lawmakers
and their staffers — all who received pay raises and a 50 percent
increase in office allowance last year — without proper public
scrutiny. The public — and even most lawmakers — do not know where or how the money is being spent.

While the governor, her executives, and public and private
organizations lobbying for funding from the Hawaii State Legislature
are required to make a thorough explanation of the proposed uses of
those funds, lawmakers do not hold themselves to the same standards.
They have not in the past presented a detailed analysis for the
public — or other lawmakers — on how the money they are authorizing
for themselves will be spent.

“Donna Mercado Kim Image”

In June 2005, Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, D-Kalihi, — who is the head of one of two main warring factions in the Hawaii State Senate — began her own campaign to get that information. She wanted Senate expenditures including the details of legislative pay,
Senators’ staff, permanent support staff, Session staff and how much
each receives, as well as details on office allowances.

Since the close of the 2005 legislative session, Kim attempted under
Senate Rule 84 and the Freedom of Information Act to get what should
be easily accessible public information from her own Senate President
about the legislative budget.

“Robert Bunda 2006 Image”

But Senate President Robert Bunda would not release the information
to Kim, who is just one position under him on the Senate hierarchy.

This despite a memo he issued July 14, 2005, to Kim saying, “you
are welcome to call me to discuss any and all parts of the budget at
any time. You are entitled to do this not only in accordance with
Rule 4 of the Senate rules but also in accordance with my personal
policy of openness and equal access to all members of the Senate. To
insure that such inquiries be given the highest priority, I have
asked the clerk and assistant clerk to refer all such calls to me for
my personal attention. I look forward to your call.”

Though nothing was said about this during a series of battles of
words on the Senate floor last week about Bunda’s subsequent refusal
to provide Kim with information, fellow lawmakers speculate Bunda
withheld information because Kim’s faction of 10 Democrats attempted
last year to replace Bunda as president.

The information continued to be withheld by Bunda for several months,
but Kim did not give up her quest.

In a Jan. 27, 2006, memo to fellow colleagues, Kim wrote: “This is to
inform you that our Senate clerk just informed me that he will not
give me the information I requested, nor will he meet with me
tomorrow. I told him I could meet with him any time this weekend and
he refused. Then I said I would come down now (4:30 p.m. today) and
he said ‘no’, he has legislative duties. I reminded him that this is
a legislative matter that relates to the Legislative budget coming
before us on Tuesday and as the clerk for the Senate he works for us
and should be honoring the Senate rules. He has agreed to meet me at
9 a.m. Monday morning.”

Whether it was a personal vendetta against Kim or retaliation against
her faction or another reason not made public, Bunda took no action
on her request until Jan. 30, 2006.

Bunda released the figures Kim requested after she took her request
for public information to the Office of Information Practices. OIP
Director Les Kondo issued a letter to Bunda on Jan. 24, 2006, telling
Bunda that under the FOIA law, he has just 10 business days to
release the information requested by Kim. “In this case, Sen. Kim’s
request is dated June 20, 2005, well over 10 days ago. For that
reason, please provide the records responsive to Senator Kim’s
request by the close of business on Monday, Jan. 30, 2006,” Kondo
says.

The figures Kim finally obtained and shared with her Senate
colleagues enraged some Republicans who said they have confirmed that
Republican staffers and researchers are paid far less than those of
their Democrat staffers who are performing the same job under the
same conditions for the same amount of time.

“Fred Hemmings 2006 Image”

The Senate Republicans had backed Kim in her attempt to get
information on the budget, with Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings
issuing a Jan. 30, 2006, letter to Bunda saying the Republicans “wish
to join the Senate Vice President in this request for many reasons.”

“First,” Hemmings writes, “Minority Senators have suffered
discrimination in resource allocation that puts our constituents at
an unconstitutional disadvantage. Majority party Senators receive
augmented allotments to send additional mailers to constituents and
other district outreach activities. In addition, there is also a
question as to respective levels of miscellaneous resource usage for
travel and other such expenses. Further, our staffs are grossly
underpaid when compared to their Majority counterparts.”

Hemmings continues in his letter to Bunda: “We believe the people
deserve to know where every penny of their money goes. Particularly
when it has a direct impact of their level of representation in the
state government. As we prepare to vote on the legislative budget,
which includes a 50 percent increase in our legislative allowance, I
believe it is necessary that an itemized accounting of the respective
individual allowance expenditures be available for the public’s
viewing.”

But just four days later, on Feb. 3, 2006, Hemmings, who has openly
supported Bunda in the war over Senate leadership, turned on Kim in a
press release blaming Kim for delaying the passage of the bill and
thus delaying payday for House lawmakers and staffers caught in the
crossfire.

“Those state Capitol workers that did not get paid and the rest of
the public need to know that this happened solely because the
Democrats, specifically Senator Donna Mercado Kim, delayed the
Legislature’s budget process to play petty politics,” Hemmings says.

Kim, who spoke out from the Senate floor on Monday, Feb. 6, 2006,
about Hemmings’ press release, says Hemmings isn’t “man enough” to
tell the truth about what really occurred.

The governor signed HB1949 SD1 on Feb. 4, 2006.

”’Malia Zimmerman, editor and president of Hawaii Reporter, can be reached via email at”’ mailto:Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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