During the five years I’ve been a Senator, I’ve surveyed voters each year. My first year we did the traditional mailer survey. But I realized mail was too slow, and too expensive, to get input on bills during Session.
Year two we continued the kick-off mail survey, but also surveyed people through this post at various times during Session.
Years three and four we had you vote on actual bills at three points in the Session, right before we voted; Crossover (5 Senate Bills); Third Reading (5 House Bills); and Final Reading (5 mixed Bills). Each time we posted your votes, along with the Legislature’s and mine, and I explained why I voted the way I did.
This past year, my fifth, we replaced the Final Reading survey with a survey asking how you would distribute the state budget, which was really interesting.
The surveys are two-way. They help me understand how people feel about certain issues (your comments especially). But they also help you understand how legislators only have two choices at the end of the day: yes, or no. Before the votes we can argue, cajole, whine, and propose amendments. But the bill is what it is when we get to the vote, and the vote is up or down.*
I’ve received a LOT of feedback from people about these surveys. Most like being included; some Lead to detailed discussion about a particular bill. But each time a few people say they don’t know enough to vote on a bill.
Which made me start to think, what could we do to involve you in creating a bill?
So we’re going to try something new this year. In between now and August I’ll be working with several groups on a couple problems, to see if we can come up with ideas for bills, or focus on funding for programs.
I’m going to share information with you through this blog and my newsletters. You can put comments on the blog, send me an email, call or write a letter with your two cents. Or you can just follow and see how a bill or budget item is born.
The two topics are (1) How to to best help people with lower-income service jobs deal with Hawaii’s high cost of living, and (2) How can we reduce the chronic levels of violence against women, specifically domestic violence and sexual assault.
I’m not going to get into detailed information on each topic, because not everyone will be interested in them. Instead I’m going to share highlights, give you a chance to weigh in where you like, and show you how a bill is created.
Our target schedule is to have narrowed the range of ideas by September, start drafting and circulating for comments October-November, and have final bills drafted by January.
Of course a “final” bill is just the starting point for the four-month, multi-hearing legislative process. But the idea for these two topics is to get enough groups in agreement prior to Session to have something that can move forward, and not just die at the starting gate.
I hope you enjoy this. As always, comments are welcome. I will be linking the posts, so people can move back and forth over time.
* We can vote “yes, with reservations,” but it’s like being a little bit pregnant. It’s “yes.” I’ve started using it only before final reading, when I’m arguing for the bill to be amended, and I’ll use floor remarks to put my concern before my colleagues. But I try to vote just yes or no on the final reading, because it makes me focus more on the gravity of the final decision.