Editor’s note: This is the part of a Civil Beat series exploring conflicts of interest in the Hawaii Legislature.

The Hawaii Senate is justly proud of the strides it’s made to become a paperless operation.

It’s way ahead of the Hawaii House on that front.

But in researching how the Hawaii Legislature handles potential conflicts of interest, Civil Beat made a disturbing discovery.

And that is that the Senate does not produce an online journal chronicling what happens on the floor during the legislative session. This record is important for a number of reasons, including that it reports the times when lawmakers stood up and asked the chair for a ruling on whether a potential conflict of interest meant they couldn’t vote on an issue.

The House has one. It’s not entirely up-to-date, but when we began our research in the past week or so it was complete up to Day 49 of the 60-day session. As for the “paperless” Senate, it doesn’t post its journal online, instead producing bound print volumes long after the session is over that are placed in just a few locations in the state.

In other words, in an era when public information can be made widely available cheaply and easily over the Internet, the Hawaii Senate is making it unnecessarily difficult for the public to learn what it actually did. This is just the latest example unearthed by Civil Beat of a lack of transparency in the way lawmakers here go about their business.

The Senate clerk, Carol Taniguchi, acknowledged that the Senate could be doing better, and said it would try to take steps to make the record of its day-to-day action more public. It has produced journals in the past. Here’s a link to one from 2007. But the effort appears to have fallen by the wayside.

To her credit, Taniguchi worked with a Civil Beat reporter to help make it possible for him to review the internal, unofficial record to determine how many times a lawmaker asked for a ruling on a potential conflict of interest. But as much as we appreciate her help, a citizen shouldn’t have to ask for special consideration to understand the public actions of elected officials.

The reality is that the public in Hawaii cannot easily review what happened on the Senate floor over the course of a legislative session. It’s limited to a cursory list of official actions, with no mention of the debate that occurred or the ethical questions that were raised.

Sure, there are reasons why it’s complicated to produce such a journal. For example, it’s important to make sure that the transcript is accurate and that statements made by some senators in the Hawaiian language are accurately reproduced. 
But it’s hard to imagine what Senate leaders are thinking. Every Hawaii politician I meet seems to say how important transparency is, but then they bring on the caveats. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. It gets in the way of our important business. Etc.

The House has found a way to keep the public informed. Here’s an example of what it provided this year. If you skim to Page 4, you’ll even find an example of a lawmaker rising to request a ruling on a potential conflict of interest.

It’s time the Senate does the same. The Hawaii Legislature can justly claim it has done much to make it possible to track the public’s business online. But the lack of a Senate journal raises the question whether it’s still more committed to making lawmakers happy than helping the public become involved.

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