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Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another episode of the Pod Squad, as always Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Joining me today are my colleagues, Nathan Eagle and Nick Grube, to talk about the Hawaii Legislature. It’s now been a month since the Legislature concluded its business. Pretty soon we’ll be seeing what it is that Gov. David Ige will sign into law and what it is he will propose for vetoing. It’s a time to reflect on just exactly how well they did. Or, I guess a better way to put it is, how well they didn’t. This is something that Nick Grube, hello Nick —
Nick Grube: Hi Chad, how are you?
Blair: I’m good.
And Nathan Eagle, my partner at the Legislature.
Nathan Eagle Hey, Chad.
Blair: We’ve talked about this stuff a lot, but it doesn’t really get into our reporting, because we want to be fair and unbiased, but it is something that has been a bit frustrating, and that is — it seems to take so long for what we think are commonsense measures, practical things that would seem to be no-brainers, to get through the legislature, and yet year after year they fall short.
I’m going to ask two specific things that you guys have been covering a lot. Nick, we’ll start with you and police reform measures at the Legislature. How did they do?
Nick: Not so well. So, police reform has been an issue that the Legislature’s been grappling with for several years. As we’ve seen on TV, in the news and on our own site, there have been a lot of cases where police officers have gotten into a lot of trouble. There are some very simple changes that could have been made to Hawaii’s law that would maybe help shore up some of that, one of them being, having a state wide standards and training board that certifies and licenses police officers. Hawaii is the only state in the country without a standards and training board, and one of only a handful, I believe six, that doesn’t certify its police officers. Certifying somebody allows you to take away their license when they’re bad. Think of doctors, lawyers and nurses, you can revoke that license if somebody gets in trouble for some sort of wrongdoing or if they’re just not doing their job.
Blair: It’s violating a level of professionalism, and in the case of police offers, just like doctors and others, it could really harm people.
Nick: Exactly. Sen. Will Espero has been pushing this bill for three years at least, and it made it further than it ever has, but died in conference committee.
Blair: The dark, mysterious period known as conference committee.
Nick: That’s right. There was barely any explanation as to what had happened. That’s actually the case with a lot of these measures. They just go away. But you ask Espero and others: Should Hawaii, the only state without a statewide standards and training board, should we have one of these in place? And most people would say, yeah we should. And yet, we just can’t do it.
Blair: Ok, here’s another example. I’m going to turn to Nathan. An issue that you’ve been covering closely, really nobody else has been looking at inspections of adult care homes in Hawaii; but you’ve been following this very closely. This is another example where something came down to conference committee, is that right?
Eagle: Yeah, that’s right.
Blair: Briefly explain what this legislation would have done.
Eagle: Just for listeners real quick: Conference committee is that time during the last couple of weeks of the legislative session where House and Senate leadership pick a handful of members from each chamber to sit on a committee together and work out the final differences on the bill. It’s a also a time when dozens of these conference committees happening all at once, well not dozens, but several at least.
Blair: And it never gets really clearly decided in front of people. They only come once they have an answer from the leadership, which is, it’s either going to die or we have reached a compromise. In fact, you don’t know what’s going on, these are not public hearings.
Eagle: Exactly. When it comes to adult care home issues, we’re not talking about the nursing homes, those big institutional facilities, but we’re talking about these neighborhood homes where two to six clients that need a nursing home level of care live there and avoid living in these bigger institutions. And more and more people, not just in Hawaii, the fastest aging state, I believe, but all around the country are choosing this and for a lot of obvious reasons. But because this is a relatively new and quickly growing industry, the regulations haven’t kept up as quickly, which is definitely the case here. But there’s some common sense things that could have been done. I think our long term care ombudsmen have been advocating for them since the late 1990s, which started with posting the inspection report for these facilities online instead of having to request those records in writing from the Department of Health, waiting for weeks, then paying for the copies, paying for the time. Why don’t we just use the internet and do that? The legislature eventually did that two or three years ago. Great, so what are these inspections actually worth? Well, it turns out they’re all announced inspections. There’s an unannounced visit, which is just a quick stopping by. But when it comes to relicensing these facilities, the Department of Health inspectors give the operator a heads up. “Hey, were’ going to be here on a Tuesday of this month some time, so go ahead and get ready.”
Blair: And of course, by ready we mean, “Alright, let’s clean the place up and let’s make sure everything looks prim and proper.” I mean, we’re being cynical here, but in fact we’re talking about places that we’re going to put our loved ones, particularly our elderly, frail, sick, into the care of others, and we would love to be able to go online and we would love to have those inspections unannounced so we could catch some wrongdoing.
Eagle: Just as like restaurants do. Just as actually even nursing homes do, because of federal regulations that are all unannounced. If federal can get it done then the states should. But year after year after year, I think over a decade, they’ve been trying and trying and trying. This year it got farther than it ever has, and it actually passed, but at the end, right in conference committee, it was amended so that it doesn’t start until July 2019. So, we’re going to study it and figure out what the department is doing for three years, and then maybe do it.
Nick, you did a pretty thoughtful story about why these measures, and in your case, police reform measures didn’t pass. There were body and dashboard cameras for police officers, there was an independent review board which did pass but was really watered down and not very effective.
Nick: It passed, depending on how you read and interpret the law. It could be a good thing.
Blair: Well, how do you read it?
Nick: Well, we are going to have some oversight of police killing and in-custody deaths that we don’t have.
Blair: OK, that’s positive.
Nick: But the problem is that we might not understand what this oversight agency determined for several years, because it might be subjected to lawsuits and litigation and criminal charges if those things move forward in these cases, which they often do. That could delay getting a determination of whether or not a killing or in-custody death was justified for years.
Blair: After the case had already gone through trial, we’ve reported on it and so forth.
Blair: Well, you outlined a couple of reasons, having to talked to a couple of lawmakers, as to why things don’t make it out, can you give us two or three that rise to the top?
Nick: Political pressure from the police union.
Blair: There’s political pressure at the legislature?
Nick: I know it’s shocking, Chad.
Blair: OK, political pressure, sure we understand that, union influence from the police union; what else reasons that are obstacles for reform?
Nick: It could be anything. Maybe there’s not enough money in the budget this year, let’s say if a measure has an appropriation attached to it. It could just be that the other lawmakers that are reading the bill don’t quite understand it, nor do they want to put in the time and effort to understand it. At the end of session when every bill is before them, flying through their hands, they’re just going to leave it aside and say, “That one’s too complicated. It’s not a priority.”
Eagle: Or the bill itself could be written so poorly that it’s like, “Wow, what a train wreck. Let’s just back away from this, we’re better with no law.”
Nick: And I think that’s the case with one of the police reform measures. Will Espero introduced a measure that only would have set bare minimal training standards for police officers that any state agency could use. It was voluntary, so it didn’t really matter; and it didn’t include a certification, which is the most important part of his previous measures, so it was kind of meaningless, ultimately.
Quickly, Nathan, what happened with the bill delaying these inspections of adult care homes until 2019? Just in delaying the bill getting passed in the first place, what were some of the obstacles that have kept the bill from moving?
Eagle: Well, you don’t hear very many specifics at all. Like with Nick with the police reform bills, you can sort of read between the lines. You can look at who’s coming out. Obviously the care home operators, they’re a strong lobbying group. They’re there meeting after meeting. You can see them with a group of 20 to 30 going to certain lawmaker’s doors with huge gift baskets in the week or two leading up. There’s no rules against that, but it’s obviously currying favor. You can also look at their campaign filings, their campaign finance reports and see the donations to certain law makers. It didn’t happen as much during this session that I noticed, but sessions before, absolutely.
Blair: You’re so cynical.
Well, OK, here’s my beef, speaking of fundraising: Why should law makers be allowed to raise campaign money during the 60 day session, which is mid-January to early May? There have actually been bills proposed, that never got anywhere, saying, look guys, raise the money at another time. Just don’t do it at the same time you’re hearing bills from lobbyist who want to get things passed or interest groups. Well, this session I’m happy to say a good many of the lawmakers did not raise money during session, but a whole heck of a lot did. And it just frustrates me that that’s the case. I had one lawmaker come up to me and say, “I’m so mad. You published that I held a fundraiser. I held it the day before session.” Isn’t that kind of the same thing? That’s a real fine line there. They don’t seem to see the perception problem that you’re taking money at the same time that you are making very big decisions with our money. That’s my little beef.
Nick: I think you’re absolutely correct that it is a perception problem; but at the same time, just because you announce you’re having a fundraiser, or if you don’t announce that you’re having a fundraiser, doesn’t mean that somebody can’t give you a political contribution when they want. So if I’m a politician and I’m not hosting a fund raiser but if lobbyist or some other interested party comes up to and gives me a $4,000 donation for my campaign during the middle of session, am I going to say no to it?
Blair: The day before hypothetically you’re going to vote on that very same legislation. You’ll hear lawmakers say, “That doesn’t influence my decision making.” Ha!
A final word from you Nathan?
Eagle: I’m just going to be hoping and rooting for more reforms next year.
Blair: Yeah, we hope they will come back. I heard talk that the police camera bill might come back, is that right?
Nick: Yeah, I mean you’re going to see police cams. You’re going to see standards and training board, you’re probably going to see all sorts of other police reform measures that we’ve seen year after year after year, and I will continue to write many of the same articles year after year after year.
Blair: Alright gang, we’re going to have to stop that there. For Honolulu Civil Beat, it’s Chad Blair with this installment of the Pod Squad, take care and aloha.