The Sunshine Blog: Reform Bills Head To Gov, And Carrots And Sticks For Counties - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered? Ethics reform measures on campaign contributions, lobbying and gifts have passed both the House and Senate and now head to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.

House Bill 99 limits the total amount of cash a candidate, candidate committee or noncandidate committee may accept from a single person during each election period. The bill’s intent is to make cash contributions easier to trace, and to put an end to campaign law violations with cash.

The legislation is part of the package from the Campaign Spending Commission, which says HB 99 will make it easier to detect and prevent some finance law violations. A similar measure was also part of the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct’s comprehensive package.

House Bill 137 sets a requirement that — beginning Jan. 1, 2025 — lobbyists who file a statement of expenditures report must also include information on the identity of the legislative or administrative action that was “commented on, supported by, or opposed” by the lobbyist.

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The measure is part of the package from the State Ethics Commission, which believes HB 137 will provide detailed information about interests being represented and issues being influenced.

And House Bill 142 prevents lobbyists from making gifts that are prohibited under state ethics law to legislators.

“It doesn’t alter Hawaii’s existing gift law but by imposing a gifting restriction on lobbyists, we fully support furthering transparency in the legislative process,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a press release.

No carrots for the counties: The Legislature wasn’t the only thing on the minds of members of the Commission To Improve Standards of Conduct when they worked last year to come up with recommendations to improve accountability and ethics in Hawaii government.

They also were concerned about the four county governments and especially the condition of their ethics commissions — woefully understaffed on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Commission members proposed one-time state grants to the counties, which took the form of House Bill 134. Robert Harris, executive director of the State Ethics Commission and a member of the panel as well, testified in favor of the bill when it was heard by the House Judiciary Committee last month.

“This measure is intended to create a one-time spark or incentive to ramp up efforts rapidly,” Harris said. “Once additional capacity is added, the burden will be on the counties to support these efforts over time.”

Robert Harris, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, testified before the House Judiciary Committee last month. (Screenshot/2023)

But the burden is already on the counties — they’re just not shouldering it very well on the neighbor islands.

“I’m baffled as to why we should spend state money for the counties to do what they’re supposed to do,” said Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Chair David Tarnas.

Harris replied that the state could basically take a “carrot or stick” approach to push the counties toward adequately funding their ethics commissions. The one-time grants, he said, might total $200,000 per county.

That’s a lot of carrots.

The “stick,” Harris said, would be for the Legislature to simply adopt a resolution “urging the counties to look at this more aggressively.”

That’s what appears to be happening. Even though the skeptical Judiciary Committee sent HB 134 ahead to the Finance Committee, it has stagnated there. Meanwhile, House Concurrent Resolution 11, which strongly suggests the counties start taking their ethics commissions seriously without offering any money, is scheduled to be heard by Judiciary at 2 p.m. Thursday.

A related resolution, HCR 8, is on the same agenda. It notes that not all the recent public scandals have emanated from the Legislature — some have ensnared county officials across the state — and calls on the counties to review their governments “including identifying problems and developing systematic improvements that will prevent future situations involving corruption and ethical violations.”

Back to the future: Kauai County Council meetings are returning to in-person only status, but unlike other public bodies that are meeting in person after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, Kauai will no longer allow remote testimony via an online service. You can still testify at the meeting or submit testimony in writing, but not via the internet.

The Kauai County Council will no longer accept remote testimony. You must show up in person or submit written testimony to make your voice heard. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2022)

Here’s why, as stated in a Kauai County press release:

“This change was prompted by State statutes, which impose potentially disruptive requirements on (interactive conference technology) meetings, even if no one is logged in to testify via the ICT and all Councilmembers are present at the meeting in-person. If connection to the ICT is interrupted or lost, the meeting must be recessed and possibly terminated, which would then void any agenda items that were pending prior to the ICT interruption, resulting in delays necessary to post a new meeting agenda.  Additionally, any technical issues with the ICT link stated on the agenda cannot be cured and would also invalidate the meeting and require a new agenda posting.”

That seems a throwback to the dark ages of public meetings when state and county officials couldn’t seem to figure out how to make it easier for people to weigh in on important issues without trekking to the State Capitol or county seat. We like to think one good thing that came out of the pandemic was bringing Hawaii into the modern age, and certainly it’s become routine for testifiers at the Legislature to weigh in from their homes, offices and even their cars.

Kauai says the council and committee meetings will continue to be livestreamed.

Read this next:

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

It sure looks like Kauai should advocate a little bit of money for an IT technician who knows what they're doing if they're huge excuse is that the ICT may not work. They sure use a lot of words to show the incompetence of not allowing testimony via the Internet in this day and age.

Scotty_Poppins · 8 months ago

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