Not all resolutions hit the mark
The state Capitol is the people's house, where ideas become the law of the land. But, when those ideas take the form of a resolution, a good many of them might seem a little peculiar.
Unlike bills, resolutions don't carry the weight of law if adopted. Sen. Sam Slom, a Republican who has served 19 years, says some resolutions have unintended consequences, like the one passed by lawmakers in 2003 before the outbreak of war between the U.S. and Iraq.
"It was urging the president of the United States not to take any harsh action against Saddam Hussein and the regime over there," said Slom. "I think the invasion took place two weeks later."
Yet another resolution passed in 2009 and proclaimed Sept. 24 as Islam Day. Some lawmakers and members of the public felt it was inappropriate to commemorate a religion connected to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Sometimes I think that people should read some of these things better and think about them more," said Slom.
So far in the current legislative session, lawmakers have introduced 76 resolutions or concurrent resolutions, which signify a measure is up for adoption in both chambers. However, the deadline to introduce a "reso" is March 6, and it's likely the number will grow exponentially.
"We can spend our time probably more productively doing some of the other things that the people really send us here to do and they count on us to do it," said Slom.
This year, lawmakers are tackling a bevy of subject matter through the resolution process. There's a request to provide locally-grown produce to salad bars at all public schools, studying the potential benefits of teledentistry, and examining the effects of a mobile slaughterhouse.
However, two resolutions heard Wednesday drew the ire of ethnic Armenians like Ani Martirosian Menon, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University. One resolution urges President Barack Obama's administration to facilitate a political settlement to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while the other recognizes the anniversary of the Khojaly Tragedy. Both resolutions were deferred after overwhelming negative testimony.
"I was dumbfounded," said Menon. "I didn't understand why this piece of legislation would be even heard by our state House (of) Representatives. It's always a head scratcher; I never really understand quite where these resolutions are founded."
In 2013, the House introduced 460 resolutions, the Senate 356. Of the 816 that were considered, 271 were passed, or 33 percent.
Vice Speaker John Mizuno says House members are counseled at times on whether a resolution should be introduced, and at times a representative will back down.
"If we can catch it in time, we will talk to the member and say, 'You know it might not be in your best interest. It may not make you look that good as well as our caucus and the entire Legislature,'" said Mizuno.
Still, some resolutions become precursors to actual bills, or initiate studies that lawmakers use at a later date to vote on important issues.
"Some of our resolutions have been just great, (and) they've done great things for the state of Hawaii," said Mizuno. "Keep in mind the John Burns School of Medicine came out through a resolution, (and) that started the bill."
A sure way to tell if a resolution is controversial is to check how many committees it's referred to. If it's more than one, there's sure to be controversy. Many times, senators and representatives introduce resolutions on behalf of constituents, which may be noted in the measure by the phrase, "Introduced by request of another party."
Although resolutions cause controversy at times and perhaps even a good chuckle, Mizuno says the Legislature is a marketplace of ideas where issues should be debated.
"The intentions are pure from our members and so I'm fine with the process," he said.
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