The Sunshine Blog: Some Government Reform Measures Are Emerging From The Darkness - Honolulu Civil Beat

Power local, independent journalism with a gift today and help us reach our goal of $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 738 donors, we've raised $108,000 so far!


Power local, independent journalism with a gift today and help us reach our goal of $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 738 donors, we've raised $108,000 so far!


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.

‘We have a bill’: The very first piece of legislation to pass out of conference committee at the 2023 Legislature was a sunshine bill, a possible good portent for fans of government reform.

Judiciary chairs David Tarnas and Karl Rhoads agreed to give Senate Bill 228 an effective date, meaning the measure will become law if Gov. Josh Green signs it.

Tarnas, the House chair, called SB 228 an “important measure” that takes into account the “public outrage” over the recent corruption within the Legislature and also in the counties.

It creates the offense of fraud as a class B felony and makes the offense of making a false, fictitious or fraudulent claim against the state or a county a class C felony.

“We have a bill,” Rhoads said after the agreement was reached.

The first of many conference committee meetings took place Thursday at the State Capitol. The Senate Judiciary Committee conferees, on the left, finalized a deal with their House counterparts, on the right.(David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

SB 228’s passage meant that two other felony and fraud measures, House Bill 707 and House Bill 711, were unnecessary, as Tarnas explained, because the Senate bill incorporated the same language as the two House bills.

One thing that the Senate bill did not include that HB 711 called for was to disqualify a person charged with fraud from holding elected office for 10 years. The reason why, Tarnas explained after the hearing, is that that is already covered in law – specifically, HRS 831-2, which states that a person convicted of a felony cannot become a candidate or hold public office “until the person’s final discharge” – that is, once the sentence is served.

The other conference committee action Thursday was over House Bill 727, a bill on how campaign funds can be used that has gone through several drafts and currently does not look much like the original. It began as a measure to prohibit candidates from regifting campaign donations to other candidates or community groups, but currently keeps those practices in place and allows a candidate to make contributions to another candidate of up to $2,000 per election period.

  • A Special Commentary Project

Rhoads, an attorney who crafted the latest draft, said it was perfectly legit under HRS 11-381. It sets rules on excess campaign funds and the purchase of campaign fundraiser tickets.

But Tarnas, who is not a lawyer, said some of his colleagues thought another statute – HRS 11-382 – did not allow for such use of funds. Tarnas told Rhoads he needed to get back with his colleagues to see if he could gain support for the draft and to better understand how the law works.

One other thing: Republican Brenton Awa is a Senate conferee on HB 727, even though he voted against the bill on its third reading during session. Awa said he had been told that senators that vote “no” can’t serve on a conference committee, which is a reason many vote “WR” – with reservations, which amounts to a yes vote. Turns out, he said, that that is not the case.

Has leadership reached out to him on this?

“Nobody has said anything yet,” he said after the hearing, suggesting that the prohibition was a myth, at least in the Senate.

Shining some light on deaths: Gov. Josh Green signed into law three more sunshine bills Wednesday, including one that expands reporting requirements for inmates and correctional employees who die in state prisons.

House Bill 823, now also known as Act 22, also applies to inmates in the Hawaii justice system who are housed on the mainland.

Those deaths must now be posted online a week after the Department of Public Safety director reports the information to the governor and Legislature. The details — as long as they do not imperil an active criminal investigation or conflict with federal or state disclosure laws — would include the name, gender and age of the deceased, where and when they died, and from what causes.

Kulani Correctional Facility.
Deaths in prisons and jails such as Hilo’s Kulani Correctional Facility will now have to be reported more widely. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

“Individuals should not die mysteriously in the custody of the state,” Rep. Sonny Ganaden, the author of the bill, told Civil Beat in January.

Up until 2020, prison officials did not announce prisoner deaths publicly, but would confirm a death and identify the deceased inmate if the media inquired about a specific case. That changed in late 2020, when corrections officials stopped identifying any deceased prisoners, and announced only the deaths related to Covid-19 infections.

Civil Beat sued the state over the new policy in the fall of 2021, and Honolulu Circuit Judge John Tonaki ruled last year the department must release the names of inmates who die in state custody.

Also on Wednesday, the governor signed House Bill 138, now known as Act 20, which requires the State Ethics Commission to establish and administer a mandatory training course for all lobbyists.

The other new sunshine law signed by Green is SB 1513, now known as Act 19, which requires a public agency board to report any discussion or final action taken during a closed-door executive meeting when it reconvenes in open session, but gives the board discretion to maintain confidentiality.

All politics is local: U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and some of his colleagues have introduced a resolution designating April 2023 “Preserving and Protecting Local News Month.”

Schatz’s office says overall employment in newspaper, television, radio and digital newsrooms in the United States fell by 26% – that is, 30,000 jobs – from 2008 to 2020. More than 100 local newsrooms were forced to close during the Covid pandemic, with 30% of local TV stations reporting budget cuts and staff reductions.

“People across the country rely on local news to stay informed, fight disinformation, and strengthen their communities,” Schatz said in his press release. “As the industry continues to face newsroom closures and budget cuts, it’s critical that we support and recognize the irreplaceable public service local news provides.”

Thirteen of Schatz’s colleagues, including Mazie Hirono, co-sponsored the reso. None of them are Republicans.

Read this next:

Jonathan Okamura: Asian Settler Colonialism Explains Why OHA Should Be Allowed To Develop Kakaako Makai

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


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)

Anyone convicted of ethics violations should never be able to run for public office and should have 100% of their pension pulled. this would be a deterrant or at least give the temptation a pause.

Concernedtaxpayer · 7 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.