The Sunshine Blog: Sunshine And Silver Linings As Bills Become Law Or Keep Moving Forward - 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.

But did they get the official pens?: With state House and Senate leaders in tow for the obligatory photo ops, Gov. Josh Green on Friday signed off on seven good-government bills addressing ethics, lobbying and campaign spending law.

Green noted that it was just last session that state government “was rocked by ethics violations of grave concern. This shook our faith statewide in government and created a dark cloud over our state.” The silver lining, however, was that the Legislature was forced to take a “hard look” at reforms.

The seven bills are, arguably, low-hanging fruit and are mostly the measures that were fairly easy to deal with. Still, at least one — House Bill 137 requiring lobbyists to disclose what they are lobbying on — does move the needle forward substantially on disclosure of who is angling for what at the Legislatire.

The other six bills that are now law are these: House Bill 90 clarifying and expanding what it means to hold a fundraiser, House Bill 93 making campaign organization reports more transparent, House Bill 99 capping at $100 the cash a candidate may accept from a single donor during an election cycle, House Bill 130 shortening the deadline for validating ballots after elections, House Bill 140 allowing the State Ethics Commission to decide how long to maintain financial records before destroying them, and House Bill 142 banning lobbyists from making gifts that are already banned under state ethics law.

Gov. Josh Green, resting his arm on Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, posed with members of the Foley commission including retired Judge Dan Foley, at far left. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads singled out HB 137 as a “significant change in the way we do business” and gave props as well to HB 142, explaining, “Currently, lobbyists are legally allowed to offer gifts to legislators and staffs that we’re not legally allowed to take. This bill makes gifts that are illegal for us to take illegal for them to give — a small but important distinction and will be a good thing in the future.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki was on hand for the bill signings. Green said Senate President Ron Kouchi had a family obligation.

The government reform bills join the abortion-provider protection bill and another making it easier for prosecutors to bring felony charges that were signed just last week. It’s unusual for the governor to sign bills with the Legislature only at the two-thirds mark in its calendar. But Green said that only showed how important the measures are and how serious he is about improving accountability and transparency in his administration.

The bill signings Friday came days ahead of the scheduled sentencing next week of Ty Cullen, the former House representative whose guilty plea to bribery just a year ago set off the drive for reform. The other lawmaker convicted in the public corruption case, former Sen. J. Kalani English, has already been sentenced and is serving more than three years in federal prison.

Complicating matters: Several more government reform bills passed their final committees on Thursday and Friday and are headed to floor votes and then to the black hole known as the Secret Land of Conference Committees.

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We have been a big fan of House Bill 1294, an idea that has seemed like such a no-brainer we have been puzzled as to why it has been held up until the last minute. This is the bill that requires a candidate to use their legal name when running for office.

The Senate Judiciary passed it out with amendments on Thursday, but not before Sen. Karl Rhoads remarked: “This is a surprisingly complicated bill.”

The problem, Rhoads told us later, is that the bill as written doesn’t allow candidates to also include reference to a nickname or other name by which they might be more commonly known.

For instance, he said, his own committee vice chair is Sen. Mike Gabbard whose legal name is Gerald Michael Gabbard and the bill as written wouldn’t allow Gerald Michael “Mike” Gabbard and definitely not “Mike Gabbard” to appear on the ballot as he has for years.

Rhoads noted that under current law candidates have to use their legal name on nominating papers when they file for office so the real name is available to the public. However, that info appears to be buried in the Office of Elections and not easily available to an interested voter. We searched the elections website to try to find the real legal name of a particular candidate we’ve written about before and turned up … nothing.

Rhoads says lawmakers will try to come up with an amendment that would allow candidates to appear on the ballot with their commonly known name and still provide enough information for voters to research them.

Election illustration of a ballot
Illustration by Kalany Omengkar/Civil Beat

House Bill 92 is another one that has gone down to the wire. It increases the penalties on super PACs that violate campaign contribution and expenditure restrictions. The bill, as passed by Senate Judiciary on Thursday, also makes it clear that the people behind the super PAC will be personally responsible for paying fines if the PAC runs out of money. It is also headed to conference committee where things are done in secret (we just can’t say this enough because it is so wrong.)

The Senate committee also approved without comment House Bill 1502, which resurrects the journalist shield law that expired a decade ago. The law would protect journalists from having to disclose confidential information including the name of a source except in certain circumstances, such as if the journalist witnesses a crime. The amended bill makes it clear it is the journalist who gets the privilege, not the source.

Another bill we are rooting for — House Bill 724 — has finally been kicked loose and appears headed for the Secret Land of Conference Committees. This is the bill also being tagged as the “anti pay-to-play” measure that would prohibit campaign contributions from government contractors and organizations that receive government grants as well as their principals, officers and immediate family members for the duration of the contract or grant.

The House and the Senate have agreed they disagree about it so it will be worked out behind closed doors later in April. We’re really hoping that this year — with all the sunlight be directed at transparency and disclosure — legislative leaders will be open to explaining what is happening with these and all other measures. We also take leaks (see shield law above).

Someone was paying attention: And just a quick update on a Sunshine Story that ran a couple weeks ago in which we looked at lawmakers’ legislative webpages only to discover that many of them are either blank or woefully out of date thus kind of subverting the public’s ability to find out basic information about their legislators.


Rep. Mark Hashem had fallen behind more than most. Elected in 2010, it looked like he hadn’t updated his biographical section much since then. The writeup listed him on committees that he hadn’t been on in years. At least one committee doesn’t even exist anymore.

We’re happy to see that he must have read our story because he’s now updated his written bio to reflect the committees he currently sits on, including the very recently formed special committee on Red Hill.

Unfortunately, he didn’t bother to fix his “news” section which still points constituents to a health and wellness event at the Kahala Mall — in October 2011. His “links” section also dates to a newsletter from 2016 and even earlier.

But hey, it’s something, right?

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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)

I'm not sure why there's any hoopla over the 7 innocuous bills which got passed. Typical of lege, those bills don't carry any real punch in terms of making headway in regard to stopping the embedded corruption and abuses of power that routinely take place, IMO, and in that respect they should all be ashamed and embarrassed of themselves. Look at what the Commission was able to accomplish in terms of their many recommendations within such a short time. The hard work has already been done for lege, and yet they're unable to simple vote them into law. They're making it hard to even call into question the fact that they're only looking out for themselves and the longevity of their own political careers rather than the welfare and wishes of the general public.

KeepingItReal · 1 month ago

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