The Sunshine Blog: Senate Scores On Sunshine, Takeaways From Last Week's Event, An Updated Tracker - 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.

Sunshine in the Senate: The Senate Judiciary Committee has picked up the sunshine ball and is moving it down the field. On Thursday, the committee led by Sen. Karl Rhoads passed 10 government reform bills that had been sent over from the House as Hawaii’s legislative session enters its second half.

The bills were mainly small fixes to campaign finance and ethics laws. But it’s a good start for the Senate.

The measures involve reforms proposed by the state Campaign Spending Commission and state Ethics Commission that mirrored bills proposed by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, a special House panel that included the directors of the ethics and campaign spending commissions among other experts.

The Senate committee agreed, mostly unanimously, to require more details from lobbyists about what they are lobbying on, require mandatory training for lobbyists and allow the ethics commission to keep financial disclosure forms filed by public officials longer than six years (which is when they are now required to be shredded).

Several bills aimed at giving the campaign spending commission more flexibility in dealing with candidates who violate campaign finance laws as well as requirements for fundraisers raised some objections from Sen. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna. She worried that mail service is so slow on the Big Island that notices of violation and judgments being served by mail might not reach candidates in the time frame set out by the bills. The committee adjusted some of those deadlines and passed the bills with amendments.

Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads efficiently moved 10 ethics and campaign finance reform bills through his committee Thursday (Screenshot/2023)

“Strike while the iron is hot”: If you missed Wednesday’s Civil Cafe on “The Sunshine Bills,” no worries — we will post all 90 minutes online early next week on our “Let The Sunshine In” landing page. But here are a few takeaways from the guests.

Karl Rhoads and David Tarnas, the chairs of the judiciary committees in the Senate and House, respectively, expressed optimism that a good many of the sunshine bills will make it out of session by May and go to the governor for his consideration.

“I think we are at a moment of change that a lot of us have been looking for for a lot of years,” said Rhoads. “So I’m guardedly optimistic that you’ll see something really good come out of this session.”

Rhoads admitted that by nature he is “not a particularly optimistic person.” 

Civil Cafe Legislative Update Sunshine
From left: Robert Harris, Kristin Izumi-Nitao, Chad Blair, David Tarnas and Karl Rhoads. (Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2023)

“I don’t want to oversell it,” he explained but added, “I think we have a real chance of passing a number of bills that will that will result in meaningful reform.”

The reason?

“There’s been a whole litany in the last few years of people in positions in high places that have done just completely unethical and illegal things. And I think that has brought us to a moment.”

Tarnas agreed that the Legislature has “a great opportunity” to “strike while the iron is hot.”

“I think there’s support within the House membership, within leadership, to move out a whole number of these bills that would help to improve government accountability and improve public trust in our institution. We know that that’s a critical need right now. There’s outrage in the public and it hasn’t lessened with time.”

Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said she does not personally believe that there is “a magic bullet” to deter the kind of conduct that led to the call for reform. But she did say that bills strengthening criminal laws might be among the most effective ways to address political corruption.

“I think that’s the strongest deterrent and certainly there are things that we can do in campaign finance to help that,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think there is a magic bullet. I think it lies within the person and what their moral compass is.”

  • A Special Commentary Project

Tracker back on track: Now that we’re getting a clearer picture of which bills are still alive — and which have died — we’ve updated our Sunshine Bill Tracker to make it easier to follow those still under consideration.

Click here to go to the tracker.

The page is now organized into three sections:

• the measures that came from the so-called Foley commission, the blue-ribbon panel of experts led by retired Judge Dan Foley

• dozens of other bills relating to transparency, accountability and ethics involving a number of different issues

• and the bills that are in all likelihood dead — “deferred” — for the 2023 session that concludes May 4.

Let us know if this has been a useful tool for you and what we can do to make it even better as the session plays out.

Read this next:

John Pritchett: Joint Referral

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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)

There need to be a bill banning all lobbyist from the political area. Only then will the sun shine in. Lobbyist money is the root of all evil and many have gone to jail recently because of it.

kealoha1938 · 8 months ago

There is one Bill I don't see listed is the one regarding recreational Marijuana, I thought it had passed the Senate and was heading to the House, But I want to use this example to why it seems so far that the session is going so good, The old saying "if you build it they will come" is now " if you voice your opinion as taxpayers, the Politicians will attempt to hear it out" and its no knock to the voters by any means' its' more like if the Politician sees what is of interest to the taxpayer then it should be heard type theory.

unclebob61 · 8 months ago

Thank you. This session gave us hope for real change. However, certain legislators know how to skirt the rules, throwing a fundraiser the day before the rule sets in, etc. Hopefully this will positively deter the play to pay campaign donors.

Concernedtaxpayer · 8 months ago

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