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SB2219: Don’t define civically active citizens as lobbyists

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Jan. 26, 2024.
_____________

Jan. 26, 2024
9:30 a.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 016 & Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Judiciary
      Sen. Karl Rhoads, Chair
      Sen. Mike Gabbard, Vice-Chair

From: Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns
          Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

RE: SB2219 — RELATING TO LOBBYING

Comments only

Aloha Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair Gabbard and other members of the Committee,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB2219, which would amend the current definition of lobbyist to include an individual who, “for pay or other consideration, on behalf of another person … submits testimony ten or more times during any calendar year.”

We applaud the bill’s aim of cleaning up government and stopping corruption, but we are concerned that the current wording of this provision might unintentionally sweep civically active citizens into the lobbying category.

Because the term “consideration” can be interpreted as any benefit — financial or otherwise — and the term “person” includes organizations and businesses, it could be broadly applied to people who would not generally be considered lobbyists. 

For example, this phrasing could arguably apply to a business owner testifying about the impact of proposed tax increases on his business, a translator submitting comments for a marginalized group, or the head of a parents organization testifying about changes to schools. 

Under the current law, the time commitment involved in the lobbyist definition is five hours in one reporting period or 10 hours in a calendar year. This is a relatively small amount of time, but because it is focused on activities that are defined by communications with specific public officials, it is clearly intended to exclude those who are simply deeply involved in a specific issue. However, by expanding the law to make a lobbyist out of a mere 10 testimonies, the bill significantly expands the definition of lobbying. 

Consider that a single bill in the state Legislature may occasion six separate opportunities for testimony. If there is a companion bill, an individual may exceed the 10-testimonies limit without ever speaking on more than one proposal.

Broadening the definition of lobbyist in this way could discourage citizen participation in the legislative process. 

It also could increase the administrative burden on the departments that oversee lobbyist registration and run lobbyist training. 

The time-based measures focused on communications rather than testimonies that can be found in the current law make a simpler distinction between professional lobbyists and active citizens. However, if the Committee wishes to address the issue of lobbyists who evade registration requirements but are highly active in submitting testimony, we suggest a substantial increase in the testimony count, or adjusting the language to reflect a testimony threshold based on the number of different proposals — such as bills or resolutions — testified on.   

Otherwise, given that testimony is a direct expression of free speech in its purest form, using testimony limits to define lobbying appears unnecessary and undemocratic.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.

Sincerely,

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

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