A Very Different Special Session

There usually is a lot of excitement on all four floors of the Capitol. But when the Hawaii State Legislature shuts down, the Capitol becomes a big, scary, silent place. Most of the legislators move on to other chores around the state – important things, like attending re-election strategies, fundraising and traveling. It’s a break they well deserve after 90 days of intense negotiations over thousands of bills that require public hearings and a lot of lobbying.

This routine was drastically altered when the governor called a surprise special session to discuss whether the state should legalize gay marriage.

There are few issues at the Legislature that generate more verbosity than same-sex marriage. It would seem that everyone has an opinion on gay rights, whether they are gay or not.

This is nothing new to Hawaii’s taxpayers. The discussion always seems to begin with heated debate over individual rights and quickly escalates to what the Bible says about husbands and wives, then the clergy and churches join the discussion. They hope to clarify what God has to say on the matter and how his “flock” is supposed to behave.

It’s quite boring, to tell you the honest truth. Over and over, year after year, the same arguments for and against same-sex marriage. A special session doesn’t seem to fit the issue, because a special session is usually cut and dried. Legislators are supposed to know what the bill they are going to discuss says, and they count the votes way ahead of time to make sure they get in and out of the Capitol in the quickest possible time. So they probably already know the destiny of the same sex-marriage bill. It’s a done deal. They already know how many votes they have in the Senate and House and how they will maneuver the bill through committees.

Unlike other special sessions, this time Gov. Abercrombie has decided to add a twist. He is asking lawmakers to discuss three additional measures – all of which involve funding of big-money issues. It seems a little curious that legislators are being asked to discuss the funding of collective bargaining agreements recently reached with the units of Hawaii Government Employee Association (HGEA) and United Public Workers (UPW). Now the special session becomes political in a hurry, and with a big election coming up soon, it’s a good bet that most legislators would rather spend time on their district and re-election activities.