They never wanted to hear from us

In the “Hawaii” section of the Star-Advertiser on Saturday, March 13, an article came up that asked a very important question. That question was “Should Oahu’s Tiered Opening Plan Receive a Public Hearing?”

In other words, should the people get a say as to how or what gets closed or opened as we go through the 12th month of this COVID saga? It was a question I believe many people in Hawai‘i have longed to ask.

All of Our Grievances Are Connected
A hearing on COVID 19 issues would not be a one-subject hearing, people would demand that everything be put on the table. That is probably the reason why we haven’t had a hearing on things in Hawaii.
PC: “All of Our Grievances Are Connected” by cool revolution is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

While it might be nice to have the people have, maybe, a say as to how their government has been dealing with this saga, the article revealed that, more or less, the people have and will continue to have very little say as to how things proceed forward.

In other words, no hearings.

But this story bypassed a series of discussions that happened late last year that may have allowed public hearings to happen. We have to go back to around October when Oahu was reopening (again) after being shut down (again) due to COVID cases in September.

At the time, tens of thousands of individuals were being cited for lockdown violations. These violations were a blanket misdemeanor, with an imposed fine and possible jail time. The only way to get this taken care of is to attend a court hearing and plead your case. In most instances, these violations were thrown out. Judges saw that people, by and large, were not overtly violating the laws for an infraction on rules that seemed to be confusing upon implementation, and ham-handed in being imposed.

When asked if there can be any relaxation of the rules, the Governor said that the Legislature is the only body that can change the law. Provided he was interested in seeing the law changed, but in the end, he tossed the issue to the Legislature.

To change a law like this in the legislature, what needs to be done after the session starts is for a bill to be introduced. The bill would be assigned to committees, heard on the floors of both houses – the Senate and House – and then when it goes through final reading and passed, it would be sent up to the governor for it to be signed into an act.

The key to this process is that of the public hearing that has to be held on bills in committee. Even if it was assigned to one committee for the sake of time, that bill would still need to be heard and testified by the public.

And there is where the bright idea of changing the law died.

Complain Box
While political leaders might say they are “listening” like how Mayor Rick Blangiardi of Honolulu told the Star-Advertiser, it feels more like you put your complaints on paper, and put it into the box never to be heard from again. Especially during COVID.
PC: “Complain Box” by Wootang01 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Knowing full well that any public hearing on the matter would turn that hearing into an elongated version of the Seinfeld episode on the “Airing of Grievances” during Festivus, the discussion about changing the law seemed to cease as fast as it started.

So, no hearings. No ability for the people, again, to say what Frank Costanza said to start the airing: “The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!”

Maybe it would be better to have a session where people air their grievances, to get the issues out in the open in a much more public forum. The risk our government leaders are imposing on themselves could lead, at its logical conclusion, a real question of this government’s legitimacy in ruling over the residents of Hawai‘i.

Don’t think that is possible? I refer you to the ongoing issues between the state and anti-Thirty Meter Telescope advocates. That discussion has also gone in the direction of questioning government legitimacy.

The fact that government leaders are either ignoring the idea of having a public hearing on any of this or maybe trying to kick the can on it down to a future administration to deal with, is not good policy. Have the hearing, hear everyone out, and then as a bonus, level with everyone as to a way forward.

That is good policy.