And Now the Big Guns Come Out

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Those of you who like to watch the legislative process unfold have probably wandered through (virtually, perhaps) a number of committee hearings.  Seeing these, you have probably gotten a taste of the power that legislative committee chairs wield.  The more bills that need to go through the committee, the more powerful that committee is.  For that reason, the Senate Ways & Means Committee and the House Finance Committee are usually held out as two of the most powerful committees in our Legislature.

The House Finance Committee heard and passed out SB 3289, relating to the estate tax.  We recently profiled three bills that would fundamentally change how our estate tax works.  This bill was one of them. 


SB 3289 was placed on the calendar for Third Reading on April 9.  The House Order of the Day, summarizing which bills were up for vote, listed that the bill would be up for passage on Third Reading.

But then something else happened.

When the bill number was called, Rep. Nadine Nakamura, House Majority Leader, moved to recommit the bill to the Finance Committee, essentially killing it.  The motion was seconded by Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who happens to be chairman of the Finance Committee.  A voice vote was taken on the motion (although the House Republicans asked for a roll call vote, which would result in a list of all members and how they voted, there were not sufficient votes to order a roll call) and the motion passed without further discussion or comment.  The bill’s status on the Legislature’s website was then updated to add the line:  “Recommitted to FIN with none voting no and none excused.”  (This seems a tad misleading because there were indeed some “No” voices when the vote was taken, as one lawmaker pointed out immediately after the vote.)

Although the nature of the vote was somewhat unusual, nobody at all seemed surprised, especially the Finance Committee chair, even though his committee’s approval was being swatted down.  After watching the drama, or lack thereof, play out on YouTube, I became convinced that the proceedings, or at least this part of them, were prearranged.

What was shown here, ladies and gentlemen, were the big guns — a shadowy cabal known as “leadership” — making their presence known.  The House Finance committee is one of the most powerful committees at the legislature, but its work can be quietly and efficiently undone, as we’ve just seen. When the big guns come out, even the mighty submit.

In this part of the legislative session, where no public sessions are held except perhaps to announce the resolution agreed upon, the influence of the big guns is outsized. Conferees who are appointed by the House Speaker or the Senate President to work out differences with the other house can be discharged without notice or explanation, immediately catapulting the bill involved to its death.

We bring up these considerations not because we like SB 3289 (actually, we have concerns with it because it would essentially wipe out the estate tax) but because we wanted to illustrate how “leadership” works its magic in a way that is very difficult for the public to see and to hold any specific people accountable. 




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