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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 17, 2008

Emergency powers bill a political pawn

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What constitutes a public emergency? If you want an honest answer, you won't find it in Senate Bill 2828.

It's a politically motivated broadside, targeting the governor's use of emergency powers by limiting them to certain civil defense situations, such as the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

The bill would amend the current statute, restricting her power to provide emergency relief to only those situations that "could not otherwise be achieved through legislation" enacted in a regular or special session of the Legislature.

In other words, it's designed to keep the governor tugging on a short leash held by the Democratic majority.

The bill is a response, in part, to Gov. Linda Lingle's emergency proclamations in 2006 and 2007 to build transitional shelters for the homeless on the Wai'anae Coast.

There's no doubt she used the proclamations to make some political hay, embarrassing the Legislature and city officials who watched passively as the homeless problem along the coast grew so large that it came to symbolize the shameful inability of government to help those most in need.

Democratic lawmakers complain that her expansive use of emergency powers which allow state agencies to bypass certain state and county zoning and land use regulations and procurement laws should not be a tool to address long-term problems.

The Democrats have a point; problems like the homeless in Wai'anae should have been addressed long ago through the coordinated efforts of state and city officials, working together for the common good. Certainly both the Legislature and Lingle, who was elected in 2002, share some responsibility for the homeless situation.

But the relentless political bickering between the legislative and administrative branches has created such a poisonous political atmosphere that honest cooperation seems next to impossible.

Instead, we get a time-wasting battle over a bill that Lingle will surely veto.

Of course, if lawmakers want to prove their sincerity, no doubt they will have to reject two resolutions now pending in both the House and Senate, SCR 159 and HCR 268.

They urge Lingle to use you guessed it, her emergency powers to install air conditioning at the long-suffering James Campbell High School.

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