The Sunshine Blog: Senate Expense Accounts, A Lack Of Sunshine, Judges Take A Hit - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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.

Following the money: On Wednesday the Hawaii Senate began posting each senator’s 2023 legislative allowance expenditures online via the State Capitol website. Senators are allocated $15,952 yearly.

The online reports are new this year, and the Senate is getting a step ahead of legislation pushed by the state Ethics Commission and the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct that would mandate the reports be posted online. As of Wednesday, House Bill 136 had passed the House and now awaits consideration in the Senate.

The Senate reports show that the biggest spending so far comes from Carol Fukunaga, who reported paying $1,808 for an iPad Pro tablet and keyboard “to conduct legislative business.”

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Lynn DeCoite forked over $1,611 for lei, floral arrangements and food for Opening Day ceremonies on Jan. 18.

Jarrett Keohokalole spent $1,331 on food for a Senate and House Native Hawaiian Caucus lunch meeting on Feb. 21.

And Donovan Dela Cruz plunked down $916 to fly to San Antonio, Texas, for site visits and meetings “with UH regarding the Culinary Institute of America/Culinary Institute of the Pacific workforce training program.”

Several members bought business cards, bottled water, parking permits, coffee filters and creamer, Sticky Notes and face masks.

And a handful of senators haven’t spent a dime of their allowance: Kurt Fevella, Les Ihara, Gil Keith-Agaran, Angus McKelvey and Sharon Moriwaki.

Correction: Allowances are separate from the current $72,348 annual salary for legislators and from per diem and air travel costs for non-Oahu members. (An earlier version listed the figure of $62,604.)

Click here to review all the expenditures from all 25 senators.

The House says it intends to post its legislative allowance expenditure reports but hasn’t yet set it up.

Senate President Ron Kouchi, left, and Vice President Michelle Kidani speak to reporters on the opening day of the Hawaii State Legislature's new session in Honolulu on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)
Senate President Ron Kouchi, left, and Vice President Michelle Kidani speak to reporters on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy/2023)

A day without sunshine: Sunshine bills were not on the agenda Wednesday as Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki joined Star-Advertiser journalists Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji on their thrice weekly “Spotlight Hawaii” online interview show, but the legislative leaders did shed a little light on where things stand regarding proposals for a new stadium and legalization of marijuana.

Both Saiki and Kouchi said Gov. Josh Green needs the stadium project to stay within the $350 million budget already approved for a facility to replace Aloha Stadium. They said the governor has indicated that the cost may exceed that amount.

Regarding recreational marijuana, Kouchi said that while he’s not a huge fan of the concept, prospects are good that a legalization measure — either Senate Bill 375 or SB 669 — will pass this session. Saiki said there are at least 20 votes in the Senate in favor of legalizing marijuana but he anticipates the measure will stall in the House.

They also talked about their relationships with the new governor, green fees for visitors to pay for their impact on natural resources and the Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage tanks.

But the 30-minute interview didn’t include words like “transparency,” “accountability” and “ethics,” which are the subjects of dozens of measures this session that Civil Beat is tracking through its Let The Sunshine In project.

Donovan Dela Cruz v. Hawaii’s judges: Worried about the safety of state and federal judges, the Hawaii Judiciary had been pushing a bill to restrict the publication of personal information along with that of judicial staff including social workers.

A judicial security task force formed last year recommended that — so long as civil liberties aren’t diminished nor government operations hindered — prohibiting internet posting of personal information that could somehow be used against judges and the like was a good idea.

The result: Senate Bill 486, which says that threats and “inappropriate communications” to judges and court personnel “continue to escalate,” and it cited statistics. 

The Hawaii State Bar Association liked SB 486. So did SHOPO, the police union.

“As police officers, we are frequently in the courthouses to testify in cases involving defendants arrested by our officers,” testified President Bobby Cavaco. “Many of these defendants are considered dangerous, possess violent criminal records, and can be very intimidating. Our officers have witnessed defendants become unruly, yell obscenities, and make verbal threats inside of the courthouse.”

Sen. Karl Rhoads unanimously passed the bill last month out of his Senate Judiciary Committee, but on Wednesday Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz snuffed it out. He said he instead wants a bill that covers all three branches of government, not just one.

WAM, like the House Finance Committee, often is the last stop for a majority bills, even if they have little to do with money. That was the case with SB 486, which called for no budget expenditure.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: OHA's Plan To Build High-Rises At Kakaako Makai Stalls In The Senate

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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)

Brenton Awa $203.52 11x14 frames for honorary certificates; computer monitor for legislative office use.Dru Mamo Kahuna $75.87 11x14 frames for honorary certificates Herbert Richards $133.40 11x14 frames for honorary certificates.Glenn Wakai $129.79 11x14 frames for honorary certificates.Over $500 dollars of our tax money so they can frame their personal stuff. That could have helped one teacher prepare her class for the year.Also, collectively they must have spent at least $10,000+ on food and drink. Do they ever pay for their own food and drinks or does the taxpayer always pick up the tab?

nks · 7 months ago

One thing I noticed is why differences in Honolulu Star Advertiser one-year subscription amounts? They range from $97.23 to $592.32.

Nikilani · 7 months ago

Was it just yesterday that Civil Beat reported teachers pay for school supplies out of pocket ("A $500 State Tax Credit For School Supplies? Hawaii Teachers Say That’s A Good Start")? Funny that we ask teachers to pay out of pocket for basic supplies but the senators (and reps in the house?) receive an allowance of $15,952.

Adam · 7 months ago

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