The central ethics battle of the first half of the Hawaii legislative session has been about gifts to lawmakers and state employees.

Some charitable organizations were unhappy with an Ethics Commission opinion that prevented lawmakers from accepting tickets to fundraisers. A bill to make it possible for them to accept tickets to certain charitable events has cleared the Senate.

Only three other ethics bills survive. Sixteen are dead.

On the House side, bills that failed included: a measure to require mandatory ethics training; a measure to strengthen the definition of violations regarding lobbying laws; a bill to tighten financial disclosure rules; a bill to require the ethics commission to keep electronic versions of disclosure statements filed by lawmakers for 10 years; and a measure to require continuing online ethics training.

On the Senate side, bills that failed included: a measure that would have created a constitutional amendment to provide for a citizen’s assembly to authorize revisions of statutory laws governing, among other things, ethics; another bill to require the ethics commission to retain electronic documents for a decade; a measure to continue online ethics training; a bill to provide standards for the selection of county ethics commission members to ensure their impartiality and independence; a bill to further define conflict of interest scenarios; a bill to allow the ethics commission to retain their own attorneys; and other similar bills that also failed in the House. The gifts bill initially was a sweeping reform bill, but those plans were erased and replaced.

You read see the full list of all the ethics legislation introduced here.

Bills that have have passed their respective houses are included below:

Ethics Commission Attorneys

1) HB250

Measure Title: “RELATING TO EMPLOYMENT OF ATTORNEYS”

What It Does: “Allows the state ethics commission to employ or retain its own attorneys.”

Introduced By: House Speaker Calvin Say

The Latest: Two committees – the Legislative Management Committee, the Finance Committee — voted to pass the bill unamended. Only Rep. Rida Cabanilla voted against the measure on floor. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Labor Committee and the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate.

County Ethics Commission

1) HB468

Measure Title: “RELATING TO COUNTY ETHICS COMMISSIONS”

What It Does: “Provides standards for the selection of county ethics commission members to ensure their impartiality and independence.”

Introduced By: Rep. Jessica Wooley

The Latest: The House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to pass the bill with minor changes to its language. The bill passed a floor vote with only Rep. Sharon Har opposed. The Senate will now take up the bill.

Ethics Appropriations

1) HB827

Measure Title: “MAKING APPROPRIATIONS TO PROVIDE FOR THE EXPENSES OF THE LEGISLATURE, THE AUDITOR, THE LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE BUREAU, THE OMBUDSMAN, AND THE ETHICS COMMISSION”

What It Does: “Appropriates funds to provide for the expenses of the Legislature, Auditor, Legislative Reference Bureau, Ombudsman, and Ethics Commission.”

Introduced By: Rep. Marcus Oshiro

The Latest: The bill has been approved by both the House and the Senate. It was transmitted to Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s desk on March 9.

Gift Laws

1) SB671

Measure Title: “RELATING TO ETHICS”

What It Does: Original Intent: “Requires lobbyists and their clients to make monthly disclosures during any month the legislature is in session, and a report for June 1 through December 31. Adds required disclosures regarding lobbying events, contractual relationships with legislators, and campaign contributions. Requires the governor, lieutenant governor, and legislators to file their financial disclosures by January 31 after the beginning of the regular legislative session. Requires certain state employees to disclose contractual relationships with lobbyists and their clients.”

Amended Intent: “Exempts from restrictions on gifts under the ethics code invitations or tickets for a charitable event from a charitable entity, whether or not the charitable entity is the host of the charitable event.”

Introduced By: Sen. Les Ihara and Sen. Sam Slom

The Latest: The bill passed the Judiciary and Labor committee with amendments. It has been drastically altered from its original intent. What started as an ethics reform bill has been watered down to allow lawmakers to accept tickets to charitable events from a charitable entity, as defined by 501(c)(3) in the IRS code. The measure passed unanimously on the Senate floor with Sens. Slom, Ihara and Gabbard voting with reservations.


DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on these measures? Will they ensure a more ethical Legislature? Join the conversation.*