The public may get to see the financial disclosures statements of certain state board members a year earlier than expected.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission agreed Wednesday to send a memo out to board members later this week letting them know that their financial disclosure statements for 2014 will be released if they file a short-form report this year.

Alternatively, the board members will have the option of filing a new long-form disclosure statement for 2015. The reports are due by June 1.

Either way, the Ethics Commission’s decision should lead to more timely disclosures for board members affected by a law the Hawaii Legislature passed unanimously last year. Earlier commission decisions had clouded the issue of when the disclosures would be required.

Ethics Commission meeting

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission discusses financial disclosures Wednesday morning.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Long-form reports are due on even-numbered years. These more-detailed financial disclosure statements identify in broad monetary ranges how much the person earns each year and the source of that income; property and business interests; stocks; memberships on outside boards or trusts; and creditors among other information.

Short-form reports, allowed during odd-numbered years, allow the board member to simply disclose what has changed from the previous filing or check a box indicating everything remains the same.

The commission’s decision to make public the 2014 long-form reports for board members who file a short-form report this year probably won’t matter to the vast majority of state employees who are required to publicly disclose their financial interests. This includes the governor, department heads, lawmakers and members of certain boards and commissions.

But it will likely concern some of the members of 15 state boards who last year were added to the list of those who must make their disclosure statements public.

The change in the law, which the Legislature approved in April 2014, led to more than two dozen members across 10 state boards quitting before it took effect July 8.

The Ethics Commission, on the advice of the Attorney General’s office, decided it would not release the financial disclosures statements for current members of the affected boards who filed before the law took effect.

The five-member commission’s executive director, Les Kondo, disagreed with the decision but has supported the policy nonetheless.

The Ethics Commission had advocated for this type of legislation for years, believing the public’s help is necessary to identify potential conflicts of interest among powerful state board members.

“It’s great that the commission is taking affirmative steps to ensure that this financial disclosure information is going to be released.” — Brian Black, Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest

But last September, the commission reaffirmed its decision to withhold the financial disclosure statements of roughly 140 current state board members who filed before the law took effect. Kondo said at the time that he was concerned it would be 20 months before the public got to see those records because 2015 was a “short form” year and the next deadline for a long-form report wasn’t until May 31, 2016.

Following the commission’s decision at its September meeting, Civil Beat filed a complaint in court. Civil Beat is being represented by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.

First Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura in November granted Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction to force the commission to release the records immediately.

The Attorney General’s office appealed the decision, delaying the release. The matter is currently before the state Supreme Court.

But the issue could be moot after June 1 if the commission chooses to release the 2014 financial disclosure statements or let the members file a new long-form report for 2015.

Kondo told the commission Wednesday that he ran a draft of the memo by the AG’s office and the attorneys there only suggested minor edits.

That’s surprising considering how much of an issue releasing the records was to them just a few months ago.

The Attorney General’s office told the Supreme Court in January that granting its request for a stay “would prevent the irreversible release of these sensitive documents, so that an appeal may be filed and resolved in the ordinary course.”

Brian Black, the law center’s executive director, supported the Ethics Commission’s move Wednesday.

“It’s great that the commission is taking affirmative steps to ensure that this financial disclosure information is going to be released,” he said.

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