Four years ago lawmakers unanimously voted to make public the financial disclosures of certain volunteers serving on some of the state’s most powerful boards and commissions.

The Legislature appeared poised to walk some of that information back until, in a surprise move Thursday, House leaders deferred a bill that would have obscured more information from the public.

Senate Bill 2609 would have allowed unpaid members of 14 boards and commissions to conceal certain information on their financial disclosure forms. The public would have been able to see a board member held stock in a particular company, for example, but not the dollar amount.

House Chair Aaron Johanson conference committee.
Rep. Scott Nishimoto, left, and Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, right, were the House’s lead conference committee negotiators on SB 2609. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Some of these volunteers oversee multi-million-dollar state budgets. The Board of Land and Natural Resources, the state Land Use Commission and the Public Utilities Commission are among those that would have been affected.

Supporters said the state has had a hard time filling board posts and the bill would allow the government to recruit highly qualified volunteers who have privacy concerns. They pointed to the well-publicized departures of a few members on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents after the law changed to make their financial disclosures public.

Opponents said the change would have meant less transparency in government and current volunteers are already qualified.

SB 2609 was introduced by Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Its companion measure, House Bill 2192, was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki.

The bill made it to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers attempt to work out differences between drafts. But in this case, the House and Senate drafts were almost exactly the same.

The bill was discussed in conference committee less than two hours before a potential floor vote. Bills that don’t require a financial appropriation, such as SB 2609, must be finalized Thursday. Many bills die around this time.

House lawmakers told senators they didn’t think they would be able to come to an agreement in such a short time period.

Previous floor votes indicated the bill would have passed both chambers.

Join the conversation in-person at Civil Beat’s Civil Cafe event, “Legislative Wrap-up 2018,” on Wednesday, May 2, at noon at the Capitol. Go to our RSVP page to register and get more information.

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