Saturday, February 25, 2023

Hawaii Super Tuesday Primary Bill Stymied in House Committee

The Hawaii state House version of legislation to create a presidential primary and schedule it for Super Tuesday met a roadblock in the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee (JHA) on Friday, February 24. 

Testimony was taken in a hearing on HB 1485, and unlike the committee discussion on the Senate companion, the House bill revealed an internal squabble among the Hawaii Democratic Party over the potential change. While the state party supports the transition from a party-run process to a state-run primary -- both the state party chair and national committeeman spoke in favor of the move in the hearing -- the Stonewall Caucus within the party objected. At issue was not the party-run to state-run change, but rather, the possible shift from a closed caucus or party-run primary process to the open primary called for in the Hawaii constitution. That constitutional provision conflicts with a stated preference for a closed process in the Hawaii Democratic Party constitution. 

But that intra-party disagreement was not what derailed HB 1485 in committee. After all, all Hawaii officials are nominated in the very same open primaries. No, instead it was a technical issue that will bottle the legislation up in committee on the House side and likely kill it. 

On the recommendation of committee chair, Rep. David Tarnas (D-8th, Hawi), JHA deferred the measure because it missed a just-passed deadline for bills to have been moved out of their initial committees. HB 1485 came to the panel with no stated appropriation, but the Hawaii Office of Elections estimated the cost to the state at $2.7 million, something that would cause it to be re-referred to the Finance Committee. That need for a secondary committee referral triggered the lateral deadline.

However, HB 1485 being blocked does not kill the effort to create a presidential primary election in Hawaii this session. It just kills the House version. The Senate companion legislation, the amended SB 1005, made it through its first committee ahead of the deadline and will move to Ways and Means where the price tag of the proposed stand-alone primary will be debated. It is that bill -- the Senate companion -- that will now become the vehicle for the Super Tuesday presidential primary effort. 

No hearing has been scheduled for SB 1005 in Senate Ways and Means as of now.

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