A primer on how Hawai‘i’s state legislature works
Maui County has a local council, and we also elect two Senators and one member of the U.S. House to represent us in Washington, D.C. But what about the folks we send to Oahu? How does that work?
As at the national level, our legislature is bicameral, meaning it’s divided into two bodies: the state House and the state Senate. In Hawai‘i, the House has 51 members and the Senate has 25. Members of the House are elected to two-year terms; members of the Senate are elected to four-year terms. No one has term limits, meaning every member can (if they get enough votes) serve for life.
Per the state Constitution, House and Senate candidates are required to have been a resident of Hawai‘i for at least three years, and must live in the district from which they’re running.
Per the state Constitution, any redistricting must follow these eight criteria:
- No district shall extend beyond the boundaries of any basic island unit.
- No district shall be so drawn as to unduly favor a person or political faction.
- Except in the case of districts encompassing more than one island, districts shall be contiguous.
- Insofar as practicable, districts shall be compact.
- Where possible, district lines shall follow permanent and easily recognized features, such as streets, streams and clear geographical features, and, when practicable, shall coincide with census tract boundaries.
- Where practicable, representative districts shall be wholly included within senatorial districts.
- Not more than four members shall be elected from any district.
- Where practicable, submergence of an area in a larger district wherein substantially different socio-economic interests predominate shall be avoided.
Maui County is allotted three Senators and six House members, which is based on population. They join their colleagues at the state Capitol in Honolulu to meet in committees and, ultimately, write, debate, and pass legislation, which then goes to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto.
Speaking of the governor, he or she can be impeached by the House and removed from office with a two-thirds vote of conviction from the Senate. (No Hawai‘i governor has ever been impeached.)
Essentially, the state legislature acts somewhere between the County Council and our federal officials. We send our state representatives off-island, but not nearly as far away as Washington. The decisions they make don’t always impact us as immediately as those made by the Council or local commissions, but you’re probably going to feel them a lot faster and more directly than any law passed on the U.S. Mainland.
The state legislature accepts written, videoconference, and in-person testimony at public hearings and the state Capitol building in Honolulu is open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Visit capitol.hawaii.gov for more information.