Former regent sues Hawaii over university board’s downsizing

HONOLULU — A former University of Hawaii Board of Regents member has sued the state over a bill that reduced the size of the board.

Jeff Portnoy filed a lawsuit over the bill signed earlier this year by Democratic by Gov. David Ige to reduce the board from 15 to 11 members, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

Portnoy’s complaint argued passage of the measure was unconstitutional because it did not receive three readings in the state House and Senate as required by the Hawaii Constitution.

The bill underwent what is referred to as a “gut and replace” process late in this year’s legislative session. The tactic, which some consider controversial but is not unusual, is used to replace the original content of a bill with new language, officials said.

The bill dictating the size of the Board of Regents was stripped 48 hours before passage, officials said.

“Deceptive practices that radically change bills before the final vote deny the public any meaningful voice in the legislative process and reflect a fundamentally undemocratic disregard for citizen voters,” Portnoy’s complaint said.

The gut and replace tactic is a “legislative shell game that confounds the public,” the complaint said.

Portnoy’s court filing also argued the measure overstepped the autonomy of the University of Hawaii.

The Legislature has a long history of attacking the independence of the university and he repeatedly spoke about its undue influence during his five years as a regent, he said.

Portnoy sought reappointment before the new law decreasing the number of unpaid regents eliminated the seat he was seeking. But he does not expect to return to the board through the lawsuit, he said.

“My chances of the governor nominating me and the Legislature approving me are less than zero,” he said.

Leaders in the state Senate, where the bill underwent the gut and replace process, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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