2020 active legislative session is almost here! Wednesday, January 15 is opening day and always a blast to attend. We urge you to meet the Representatives, Senators, and staff. (PS there is a ton of FREE FOOD). Opening day makes the first day when floor sessions begin and the legislature is actively reviewing bills for the year in order to create new laws for Hawai'i. Session only lasts until the second week of May!
Most legislators have a pretty open door policy. If you are following any bills or have concerns in your community, it helps to voice your opinion and let your elected officials know what their constituents want and how they will be effected in real life.
Step 1: Know your elected officials
Find your legislator online. The windward legislators include: Senator Keohokalole, Representative Kitagawa, Representative Lee, Representative Matayoshi, Sentator Riviere, Senator Thielen, and Representative Thielen, Your representative is likely open to meeting and will respond to emails. Make sure if you reach out that you are clear about your issue and the reasoning behind your concerns.
Step 2: Track bills and testify
The state's legislative website has a lot of great tools to help you stay on track of things you are interested in. You can look up bills, set up automatic email reminder tracking, and submit written testimony. If you hear of something you are concerned about, it's a good idea to set up measure tracking. Hearing notices are usually at least 48 hours in advance and once a hearing is scheduled, you can submit written testimony. You will have to sign up on the website with your email but you are not required to attend the hearings in person. However, just remember that your testimony is public. If you want to attend the hearing, you can either stand on your testimony (literally just stand when they call your name), or you can go up front and say your piece. Legislators are not allowed to answer any questions when you are testifying, though after all the testimonies are given, they make ask you to come back up and answer some of their questions.
Step 3: Set up a meeting
If your concerns are not related to an active bill or you want to make a more personal impact, you can make a meeting with your legislator through their office. Personal meetings are also a great field trip for kids, nonprofits, and active community members. Remember to be personable. Finding a connection will help leave a lasting impression and ask questions. Legislators and staff are also very responsive to email if you don't have the time to come downtown.
It is often hard for us to see how we can make a difference. I want to assure you that I have seen bills become law or die in session because of single testimonies from constituents. Session is fast paced and it's own world. Legislators need constituents and professionals at times to act as advisers and law out the impacts of proposed legislation outside the confines of the capitol building. Your voice really can make a difference.
Also keep in mind that the legislature can recognize people and entities that have made significant contributions to the state and community during session. You can nominate individuals and entities by suggesting them to your legislature throughout session. Your voice can not only change the law, but also recognize the pillars and shining stars in your communities.
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