By Derrick DePledge
State Senate leaders, who guided a bill to repeal the Public Land Development Corp. through the Senate in February, had privately wanted to send repeal legislation to the governor without going through the potential haggle of a conference committee with the state House.
The Senate version has what many consider a defective title, so Senate leaders thought they could simply accept the House version after hearings and then ship the House bill upstairs to the fifth floor.
Sen. Malama Solomon, the chairwoman of the Senate Water and Land Committee, had different thoughts.
Solomon, who was among the senators behind the original PLDC legislation, insisted on amending the House bill at a hearing Tuesday with language from the Senate version that would transfer three PLDC employees to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Any change to the bill, if not accepted by the House, could trigger conference committee negotiations and prolong the debate over the PLDC.
Solomon discussed her recommendation with other senators on her committee during a recess in the hearing, but within earshot of the public, which included several environmental, conservation and community activists who want the PLDC repealed as soon as possible and view conference committee with suspicion.
Groans came from the audience.
“You know what? You folks don’t like it you can leave the room,” Solomon snapped, explaining that the committee was in recess.
Sen. Laura Thielen, who was among the first to call for a repeal of the PLDC, urged Solomon to move the House version clean. She said the three PLDC positions could be transferred to DLNR as part of the state budget if that is what senators preferred.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, another PLDC critic, said it would be a “breath of fresh air” to avoid conference committee given the contentious history of the PLDC.
Solomon explained that she was merely inserting the Senate’s position into the House bill – a common tactic at this point in the session – and noted that the language regarding the three PLDC employees had originated in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the next stop for the bill.
A frustrated Solomon, declaring that the committee had already spent enough time on the PLDC, slammed the gavel and called the committee back to the hearing.
What followed was a shambolic display of procedure.
Thielen offered a motion to approve the House bill unamended. Ruderman seconded the motion
Solomon, who as the committee chairwoman has the prerogative to set the agenda, said Thielen was asking that the PLDC repeal bill, which was at the end of the agenda, be taken out of order.
Solomon quickly recessed the hearing and demanded that Senate attorneys be consulted to clarify the situation.
Several minutes later, after Solomon had attempted to move forward on other bills, Senate Vice President Ron Kouchi arrived.
Kouchi advised that Solomon, as chairwoman, had the authority over the agenda but that Thielen could appeal the chairwoman’s ruling.
Instead, Thielen waited until the PLDC repeal bill came up in order and asked other senators to support her over Solomon’s recommendation, which she acknowledged was an unusual step.
“The shadow of this PLDC is dominating this Legislature, and we need to be able to move beyond it,” Thielen told her fellow senators. “And I think it’s in the purview of this committee, at this point, to be able to close this issue and focus on the other issues that we have in front of us for the remainder of this session.”
Solomon and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, another original supporter of the PLDC, asked why the committee would second guess the Ways and Committee’s decision and stray from the Senate’s version of the bill.
“I don’t want to prolong the argument, I just would like to take the vote,” Solomon said.
The committee voted 6 to 0 to back Solomon's recommendation, with Thielen and Ruderman voting `yes’ with reservations.