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We the powerful

Former president John Adams said that liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people. Through its Public Access Room at the state capitol, the state of Hawaii is working to help residents interested in engaging in legislative government at the state level. PAR is a division of the State of Hawaii’s non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

On Dec. 17, Suzanne Marinelli, coordinator for the Hawaii State Legislature’s Public Access Room, presented the workshop, “We the Powerful,” at the Thelma Parker Memorial Library in Waimea to educate community members on how they can become more civically involved in state government.

“This is our government,” said Marinelli. “We are the authorities in our own lives; we know what works for us. There are thousands of bills under consideration each session and they (legislators) cannot be authorities on all of them, so they turn to the citizens who do know about specific topics as part of the public hearings process. And more fundamentally, if our citizens cease to participate in our democracy, it will cease to be a democracy.”

PAR offers free workshops statewide with hopes of inspiring citizens to become active participants in their government. These meetings are designed to demystify the state lawmaking process, and demonstrate ways that citizens can speak out at the legislature.

“The legislators are just regular people, even when they have specific areas of expertise,” said Marinelli. “So speaking to them conversationally and respectfully is the absolute best approach. Legislators are very busy people who have great demands on their time. So if their constituents (or others) are going to meet with them, they should be well-prepared, brief, and on time.”

The workshops are useful to both newcomers and veterans of the legislative process. Covered topics included an overview of the Legislature’s newly redesigned website, understanding the legislative process, delivering effective testimony, and making sense of the calendar and deadlines. A complete videos of the workshop “We the Powerful” is also available online.

While many citizens choose not participate in government, other people believe that citizens have a responsibility to participate. According to political science experts, strengthening citizen involvement in the legislative process is one of the goals of democracy. Civil engagement improves the quality of legislative decision-making, and creates legitimacy in the democratic process.

PAR helps Hawaii residents navigate the governmental maze by providing facilities, services and equipment to increase the efficacy by which people participate in the legislative process. Residents can access PAR to track and affect legislation pending before the Hawaii Legislature. Staff assistance is available in person, by telephone and by email.

“In this physical space, we have public computers and tables for work space,” said Marinelli. “We can make photocopies of people’s testimony. They can read the statutes and we have various reference materials as well, which would be helpful to them. We are completely ADA-compliant with one public workstation that is designed to ADA specifications for wheelchairs and another with software that will read websites to people who are blind or visually impaired. We have a TTY phone for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

For additional information or to arrange for individual tutorials or group workshops, residents can contact the Public Access Room toll free from Hawaii Island at 974-4000, ext. 70478, or via email at par@capitol.hawaii.gov. Contact PAR directly and well in advance to make arrangements if special assistance or services such as sign language interpreters are needed. To access the online video of the workshops, visit www.http://hawaii.gov/lbr/par.