Editor’s note: This is part of a Civil Beat series exploring conflicts of interest in the Hawaii Legislature.
We kicked off our “No conflict?” series Thursday by telling you about four Hawaii House representatives who asked for rulings on whether they could vote on a bill that could benefit them personally.
Numerous lawmakers asked similar questions throughout the session, although we discovered that the Senate doesn’t make available transcripts of floor action online the way the House does.
We’ve reviewed the available record for both chambers and now we’re asking you to weigh in on some representative examples of conflict questions that occurred this session. It’s your turn to play the part of House speaker or Senate president and make the call.
Soon, we’ll share the results of how Civil Beat readers voted on these potential conflicts and we’ll tell you what happened in real life.
Here are the first situations for you to consider:
As you work through these issues, you might wonder how House leadership decides and what factors you should weigh. The House Rules [pdf] that were approved for this legislative session are the most instructive about how to evaluate a conflict of interest question.
The pertinent sections are found in Rule 60, “Standards of Conduct.” The following passages are taken directly from the rules, and you can click the link above to read them in their entirety.
60.4. The legislative duties of members, as prescribed by law and these Rules, should take precedence over all of their other business or professional activities. Members should freely and willingly accept certain restrictions on their business activities and professional conduct that might be considered burdensome by an ordinary private citizen, and should perform the duties of
elected office impartially and diligently. To the greatest extent reasonably possible, members should:
(1) Refrain from allowing family, social, business, or other relationships to unduly influence the member’s legislative conduct or judgment;
(2) Refrain from showing bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based on political or religious beliefs, age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or physical disability, in the performance of their official duties;
(3) Exercise patience, tolerance, and courtesy to all those with whom they deal with in an official capacity, and require staff and others subject to their direction and control to maintain similar standards of conduct, fidelity, and diligence inherent in public service;
(4) Exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit, refraining from making unnecessary appointments and
approving compensation of appointees beyond the fair value of services rendered;
(5) Afford to every person who wishes to participate in the legislative process the opportunity to be heard according to established procedures;
(6) Consider at all times whether their conduct would create in reasonable minds the perception that their ability to carry out
legislative responsibilities with integrity and independence is either questionable or impaired;
(7) Manage their personal interests and obligations so as to minimize the number of votes in which they are in, or may reasonably be perceived to be in, potential conflict;
(8) Refrain from using, or permitting the use of, the privileges and prestige of their public office to derive undue personal,
professional, or financial benefits for themselves, members of their family, or others with whom they maintain personal, business, or professional relationships;
(9) Refrain from engaging in financial and business dealings that involve them in frequent transactions, or continuing business or professional relationships, with those persons likely to derive benefits from public financial matters either pending or already deliberated and voted upon by the House, to the extent that such conduct may reasonably be perceived as personal exploitation of their public office; and
(10) Refrain from membership in an organization that practices invidious discrimination and gives rise to perceptions that one’s impartiality and ability to serve as a representative are unduly compromised.
60.5. If the member has a conflict of interest in legislation, the member shall disclose to the presiding officer (the committee chair or the Speaker, depending on where the vote is taking place) the conflict of interest prior to voting on that legislation. For the purposes of this rule, a “conflict of interest” means that the legislation affects the member’s direct personal, familial, or financial interest except if the member, or the member’s relative, is part of a class of people affected by the legislation.
60.6. If a member is uncertain as to whether a conflict of interest exists, the member may request a ruling from the presiding officer by giving notice and disclosing the direct financial interest to the presiding officer prior to voting. When making a determination in cases where a portion of a measure may place a member in a conflict of interest, the presiding officer shall give due consideration to the context of that portion as it relates to the overall purpose of the measure. If the presiding officer determines that a conflict exists, the presiding officer shall recognize the conflict and honor the member’s request to be excused from discussion, debate, and voting.