About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

The Senate has committed to livestreaming hearings while the House looks to clarify conflicts of interest for its members.

The blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the Hawaii House of Representatives last year identified 31 proposals on how to improve transparency and accountability in local government.

The Legislature is now considering those measures along with another 170-plus bills from various lawmakers, agencies and others.

But not all of the ideas to improve governance require statutory or constitutional changes. Instead, some can be made administratively through changes to rules that guide the House and Senate.

The Senate on Jan. 19 adopted new rules to allow for more remote testimony and to provide livestreaming and archiving for committee meetings and floor sessions “to the extent practicable.”

Where public testimony will be received at a meeting, testifiers “shall be allowed the option to testify remotely” via Senate-provided telecommunications, digital, or video conferencing technology. 

By placing new language on streaming and testifying into its rules, the Senate appears to recognize much of this has become standard operating procedure at the Legislature because of the pandemic — and that it has been embraced by the public.

At a Civil Beat Civil Cafe on Jan. 24, Senate President Ron Kouchi also said the Senate would also post legislative allowances for public view. In an email Tuesday, he said he anticipated that the members’ spending figures will be posted beginning March 1.

As for the House, which is still operating under its 2021-2022 rules, Speaker Scott Saiki said his chamber is reviewing a 56-page draft copy of new rules for the current biennium. The focus is on clarifying a representative’s potential conflict of interests when voting on bills.

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Here’s an excerpt from the draft: “A member may be recused or excused from voting when the member has a conflict of interest. A ‘conflict of interest’ arises when the standards herein are impacted and includes, but is not limited to, situations when the measure affects the member’s direct personal, familial, or financial interest; provided that a conflict does not arise where the measure applies to a broader class.

“We have received some feedback and are taking that into consideration,” Saiki said Tuesday.

The draft copy begins with a new preamble that reads, “It is the policy of the House of Representatives to provide the general public with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the legislative process. Public participation is a basic tenet of our democratic process. Public participation is vital to maintaining a check on the legislative process and legislative decisions.” 

Saiki said he expected any revised rules would be introduced next week. But he also said he believed the existing section of House rules on standards of conduct — referred to as Rule 62 — “are pretty encompassing of what was recommended by the Foley commission.”

The Foley commission is the blue-ribbon panel mentioned above, formally known as the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct.

Asked to comment on the House draft, retired Judge Dan Foley said via email, “There seems to be some movement towards greater transparency and opportunity for the public to participate, as stated in the amended preamble, by provided testimony to the public in advance of committee hearings, greater clarity on conflicts of interest of House members and more transparency in committee decision making. All this is good.”

But Foley also expressed concern that two of the bills supported by the commission — one establishing a bill of rights for citizens and hiring a public advocate, the other prohibiting a legislator or public employee from appointing or hiring a relative for public employment — have already been killed by a House committee.

“Little of those two bills is being incorporated into the proposed rules,” said Foley. “It would be my hope that as these draft rules are circulated nepotism will be addressed and more of the proposed citizens’ bill of rights will be incorporated.”

The Legislature is not obligated to adopt new rules as the state constitution gives them the authority to decided how they operate.

But a string of high-profile corruption cases prompted the House to form the standards of conduct commission to help straighten the house.

On that point, Foley expressed optimism that needed discussions were happening.

“It has not been the practice of the Legislature to open rule making to the public, but how refreshing it would be to do so now and solicit public input on these draft rules,” he said. “That would certainly go a long way in increasing transparency and public participation in decision making and restoring trust in the Legislature. I know from the Commission’s public hearings, the public would have a lot to contribute and would welcome the opportunity.”

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

Prior to all these Legislators being elected to office, they were normal citizens going about their business, whose daily decisions had very little impact on society except those of their families, neighbors, and co-workers. However, as elected officials their sphere of influence has grown exponentially, as a result, their decision- making process must reflect this change. As elected officials, they operate under a microscope(rightly so). They must adhere to a higher accountability standard, and the highest level of this standard is Public participation/ Transparency. What is troublesome, is that here we are- in 2023, and we are still debating the degrees of allowable Public participation, as well as, Conflict-of-Interest, that our elected officials seem to want to clarify... one sentence at a time!

Citizenkane · 1 year ago

I'm concerned that this will be a smoke screen that will obscure the failure to pass meaningful anti-corruption legislation that has teeth. And these rules appear not to have any teeth. The conflict of interest rule reads: "A member may be recused or excused from voting when the member has a conflict of interest..." Why doesn't it say "shall be recused"? Does this mean that the member has the option of choosing not to be recused or excused despite having a conflict of interest? By what means can the legislature force a member's recusal if he or she has a conflict of interest yet refuses voluntary recusal?

Surf_For_Truth · 1 year ago

All of the Foley commission recommendations should have been put in one bill so that it would be an all or nothing deal for the Legislature. With individual bills, the Legislature can pick and choose, and they will choose only the ones that they least dislike.

sleepingdog · 1 year ago

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