HONOLULU - The state House Judiciary Committee is planning to consider a bill today to include all military members when breaking down how Hawaii's Senate and House seats are distributed.
The bill addresses a longstanding controversy over the process known as reapportionment. Reapportionment Project Manager David Rosenbrock says students and military members who haven't declared Hawaii residency aren't counted when determining district representation. The result was that in 2011, more than 100,000 people were excluded.
A lawsuit on the issue is pending before federal court.
Supporters of the bill say existing state law disenfranchises service members in Hawaii and that reapportionment should be based on U.S. Census figures. They say Hawaii is the only state that doesn't consider military personnel when calculating district representation.
Sen. Sam Slom, the Senate's only Republican member, who sponsored the bill, says it's an issue of equal rights.
"Everyone is talking about equality nowadays, but apparently it doesn't apply to the military, and I think that's outrageous," Slom told The Associated Press.
But opponents worry about whether including nonresident military personnel would result in less representation for Neighbor Islands. The majority of the state's military presence is concentrated on Oahu, which already has the lion's share of representation in the Legislature.
The state Senate has 25 members, with 17 representing Oahu and eight from Neighbor Islands. Of the House's 51 members, 35 are from Oahu and 16 represent Neighbor Islands.
Sen. Malama Solomon from the Big Island was the only lawmaker to oppose the bill last week when the Senate voted to send the measure to the House.
Solomon was one of several plaintiffs who successfully sued the state after the 2011 Reapportionment Commission sought to include all military service members in its reapportionment plan, which would have moved a Senate seat from the Big Island to Oahu. The Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the plan last year and ruled that the state constitution limits consideration to permanent residents.
The state attorney general's office says it has concerns about Slom's bill, and the state would need to adopt a constitutional amendment in order to include nonresident service members in the reapportionment process.
But Slom says he is confident that his proposal does the right thing both morally and legally.