If You Care About Ethics Reform, You Better Speak Up - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Janet Mason

Janet Mason is a community volunteer and civic activist. She worked for more than 17 years as an insurance risk manager for local publicly traded firms, and later had a small business consulting practice. She lives in Niu Valley.

Hawaii lawmakers need to hear from the public on hundreds of bills intended to restore the public’s trust on government. 

I’ve already seen “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which is leading in Oscar nominations. But the catchy title is a little like my experience serving on the House Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct established in February 2022.

The charge to this commission was to review ethics, campaign spending and lobbying laws, adding any other topics we thought best (everything). At first I thought this work was to counter two bribery incidents arising from the 2022 Legislature, but later the media was filled with stories of other Hawaii public officials behaving badly (everywhere?).

No, it’s not everywhere. But we were supposed to provide a March 2022 interim report, with a final report due nine months later in December 2022 (all at once). We’ll see what happens when the Academy Awards are announced. We’ll also soon see whether the public joins Gov. Josh Green, House Speaker Scott Saiki and a growing number of legislators to promote these changes. I hope they do.

My fellow commissioners are knowledgeable and experienced in their subject areas, and I relied on their expertise, even in a couple of instances — like mandatory minimum sentences for new fraud laws —when I didn’t agree completely with them.

Some of the bills that came out of the work of the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct.

Strengthening fraud laws as proposed in House Bill 711 is especially important: mandatory minimum sentences set by the Legislature — required in that bill — well, no, that should be a judge’s decision, don’t you think?

Though our commission wasn’t subject to the Sunshine Law because we were a House committee, early on I said, “Why not?” and helped craft a plan to publish meeting agendas and minutes, have public testimony, etc. We made decisions in public, and it turned out the most popular issue among testifiers was open government.

This experience informed us later when we endorsed a Citizen’s Bill of Rights, crafted by Jim Shon and now introduced as Senate Bill 1423 and House Bill 725. I think this is an innovative way to make democracy work a little better, don’t you?

We wanted to expand open meetings at the Legislature, so we suggested that task forces, working groups, and special committees be subject to the Sunshine Law (see House Bill 723 and Senate Bill 1427).

We stopped short of recommending the Sunshine Law be extended to the Legislature itself because it’s a part-time legislature with more than 2,000 bills to consider. What do you think?

I was always sure why I agreed to do this work. It was just a personal conviction that we could help restore the public’s trust in the Legislature’s work, especially if we tackled things without delay.

I recognize the scope of our package is a “big ask” of the Legislature, especially proposed term limits of 16 years’ service as in House Bill 831. Even though I don’t support this, there’s ample evidence the public does. Will the Legislature propose a constitutional amendment to do this? If you care, better speak up.

  • A Special Commentary Project

I think each of the proposals we suggested contributes to improvement in our public life; together it’s a formidable package of 28 bills and three resolutions. Here’s a link to the specific measures we sponsored. 

You can send email to legislators, but most of them receive so much email they don’t have time to read it all. You can telephone, but often they are in a hearing or floor session. 

I think each of the proposals we suggested contributes to improvement in our public life.

The best way to take part in discussion of the Commission’s work and any other bills before the Legislature is to testify through the excellent, free Capitol website.

All you need is a user ID and password, both of which are well protected. After logging in you can submit testimony here.

If you want help, there’s a Public Access Room — similar to a library — where you can find professional help on the legislative process, how to use the website, or write your testimony on a personal computer — all free. Visit in person in Room 401 of the State Capitol, call (808) 587-0478 or contact them at par@capitol.hawaii.gov.

And then there’s our public library system, where librarians and other staff can also help you with questions about the legislative process and use of the Capitol website. Our Public Access Room and public libraries — together with the Capitol website itself, they’re crown jewels of Hawaii’s public service. 

Who opposes corruption? Everyone I know, but without help from you the commission’s package may flounder. That would be too bad because we can improve how we govern ourselves in 31 ways (at least).

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Neal Milner: Don't Mistake Incompetence For Corruption

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About the Author

Janet Mason

Janet Mason is a community volunteer and civic activist. She worked for more than 17 years as an insurance risk manager for local publicly traded firms, and later had a small business consulting practice. She lives in Niu Valley.

Latest Comments (0)

Being able to watch and monitor legislative hearings and submit testimony virtually is one of the fundamental cornerstones to open government. Hearing notices that summarize the meeting agenda and measures being heard, as well as links to watch the meetings are posted on the legislature website. This ability to be aware of, and participate, in the process should be supported and advertised, so that more of us can be informed and get involved. It also allows you to see your legislators in action and have a better insight as to who that person is come time to vote.

Overtaxed · 7 months ago

Letting the Legislature know your thoughts and opinions is critical. We have to keep the pressure on otherwise they will not act. Unless they believe their electoral future is on the line, this too will pass. We need to make sure to force votes on each recommendation and keep a record of who voted for and against so when they run again, the public can be reminded how they responded to these measures. Your opinion truly matters, don't let people convince you otherwise or democracy dies.

InTheKnow · 7 months ago

We're surely not the most secretive and corrupt state in the union but by golly it seems the legislature sure is working hard to make us so!

WhatMeWorry · 7 months ago

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