A proposed law that would make it illegal for state employees to take any official action that might directly affect a business that their extended family has a financial interest in will have a tough time clearing the House.

Senate Bill 451, which cleared the Senate last week, has been referred to four committees in the House as of Monday.

It’s a triple referral that starts with the Legislative Management Committee, then goes to a joint hearing before Consumer Protection and Judiciary, and finally on to Finance.

Hawaii State Capitol wide fisheye

State lawmakers are considering legislation to broaden the conflicts-of-interest section of the Ethics Code.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

By comparison, when the bill was in the Senate it only had to clear the Judiciary and Labor Committee, a single referral, before moving to a vote before the full Senate.

Civil Beat reported in February how lawmakers can use the referral process to kill a bill by throwing multiple hurdles in its path. Sometimes a measure is rightfully referred to more than one subject-matter committee, sometimes it’s legislative maneuvering done quietly by a handful of lawmakers in leadership positions to derail a measure.

The state Ethics Commission has tried for years to expand a provision in the Ethics Code to prohibit state employees from taking official action directly affecting a business or undertaking in which an employee knows a parent, sibling or adult child has a substantial financial interest.

It’s a move supported by good-government groups like Common Cause Hawaii, whose executive director, Carmille Lim, testified that it will “take a step toward mitigating citizen concerns of conflicts of interests and potential corruption within government.”

The Ethics Commission noted as an example how under current law, an employee cannot award a state contract to a business owned by the employee’s spouse but it can award a state contract to a business owned by the employee’s parent, brother, sister or emancipated son or daughter.

“Such actions clearly create the appearance of a conflict of interest and undermine public confidence in government,” Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo said in his testimony earlier this month.

You can track the bill’s progress here.

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