Monday | June 26, 2017
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Lines in the sand: Lawmakers may move more power to Oahu

Lawmakers are considering a bill that could move the balance of power in the state Legislature even more toward Oahu.

Last year, the state excluded nonresident military personnel and students from population counts when drafting district lines, helping the Big Island secure a fourth Senate seat.

Critics say that method of counting constituents, which is being challenged in U.S. District Court, robs those not counted of proper representation.

The move, the result of lawsuit in the state Supreme Court, prevented the state’s Reapportionment Commission from counting 42,332 active duty military personnel who listed another state as their usual residence and 53,115 military dependents as state residents. Another 13,320 students paying nonresident tuition were also removed from tallies.

Republican state Sen. Sam Slom of Oahu is tackling the issue from the legislative side. He has introduced a bill to to require any “usual resident” counted in the last U.S. Census to be considered when drawing district lines.

That would include anyone who resides most of the time in the state, allowing more military personnel and out-of-state students to be counted.

Slom’s legislation, Senate Bill 286, passed out of the Senate’s Judiciary and Labor Committee on Wednesday.

Slom couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

The bill has gained an unlikely supporter.

State Sen. Malama Solomon, D-North Hawaii, was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged the counting of nonpermanent residents by the Reapportionment Commission, responsible for drawing district lines.

But she said Thursday that said she is supporting the bill because she believes the Big Island’s population would justify the extra seat anyway.

It also wouldn’t have an impact until after the 2020 Census, Solomon said.

“It gives everyone a lot of time to study it,” she said.

“The bottom line, with sequester, we don’t know where our military population will be.”

The Big Island had the largest population spike in the last census. It was up 24.5 percent.

A lawsuit filed by Oahu residents challenging the current district lines is being considered by a three-judge panel in federal court.

The panel heard motions for summary judgment from the plaintiffs and state Attorney General’s Office last month.

Lawyers in the case are awaiting a decision but it’s unclear when that will be made. The judges are not bound by a deadline to provide a ruling.

Honolulu attorney Robert Thomas, who represents the plaintiffs, has said that district lines would have to be redrawn for the 2016 elections if his lawsuit is successful.

The state Attorney General’s office has written testimony against Slom’s bill, saying it is inconsistent with the state’s Constitution, which requires only permanent residents to be counted, and the 2012 Supreme Court ruling.