The Hawaii State Ethics Commission has advised state employees and lawmakers that they can accept free passes to a major environmental conference Sept. 1-10 in Honolulu.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress is set to hold its quadrennial meeting for the first time ever in the United States.

The state has put millions of dollars toward hosting the event, which is considered the Olympics of conservation events.

State Ethics Commission meeting. 11 aug 2016
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission, seen here meeting last week, says there’s a beneficial interest to the state for its employees and lawmakers to attend the IUCN event next month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Tim Johns and Randall Tanaka of the World Conservation Congress National Host Committee asked Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Gluck last week if it would be OK ethically to offer complimentary passes to certain state employees and legislators.

The passes range from $75 for a one-day pass to $900 to attend all 10 days.

Nancy Neuffer, staff attorney for the Ethics Commission, responded Monday in a letter saying the commission does not believe the acceptance of such passes would violate the state Ethics Code, which prescribes rules for the acceptance of certain gifts of a particular value.

“The Hawaii State Ethics Commission recognizes the importance to the State in hosting the WCC,” she wrote. “The Commission views the attendance by the legislators and state officials and employees described above as beneficial to the interests of the State.”

Read the full letter, along with the request from the WCC Host Committee members seeking the opinion, below.

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