The Sunshine Blog: Lawmakers Think They Did Well On Ethics And Accountability Reform This Session - 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.

‘A banner year for ethics’: With the 2023 Hawaii Legislature now over (barring a possible special session), top lawmakers think they did a swell job passing sunshine bills, including many that were put forward by the Foley commission on standards of conduct.

The Sunshine Blog may beg to differ on that conclusion but for now, here’s what key legislators have to say.

Or not. Senate President Ron Kouchi declined to answer the question Thursday following sine die.

He instead punted to Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who heard the lion’s share of sunshine legislation on his side of the Capitol.

“I think when the dust settles and you look at all the stuff that’s gotten through, this was a banner year for ethics, for campaign spending, for making penalties tougher for those who would do what a couple of our colleagues did a couple years ago,” he told reporters at a press conference. “So I think overall it was a very good year for ethics.”

Rhoads singled out bills stopping lawmakers from taking money from lobbyists during session, and forcing lobbyists to report “much more closely” what they’re lobbying on.

Closing day of the 2023 session of the Hawaii State Senate. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

What about Senate Bill 1543, the comprehensive public financing of elections that was coldly snuffed out by the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the session’s final hours?

The primary culprit who did the snuffing, WAM Chair Donovan Dela Cruz, skipped the press conference. But WAM Vice Chair Gil Keith-Agaran recounted how the proposal continued to be discussed between Dela Cruz and Rep. Kyle Yamashita, the House Finance chair.

“And eventually I guess there was no resolution on it. … I think we worked pretty hard on it. I think the position of the Senate was that we wanted some kind of financing, even at the reduced amount at $7.5 (million dollars).”

Will SB 1543 come back next year?

“Oh definitely,” said Keith-Agaran.

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‘Absolutely satisfied’: House leaders held their own press conference after session, and they too expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Foley commission bills.

“I’m absolutely satisfied with the results,” said Speaker Scott Saiki before handing the baton to David Tarnas, chair of the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

Tarnas pointed out that 20 of the 31 bills put forward by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct were passed by the Legislature. Most of the 11 that didn’t make it died in conference committee.

Tarnas, who played a key role in quashing a move toward legislative term limits that was proposed by the commission, said he just didn’t think it was good policy.

Tarnas also defended the House for rejecting two bills on nepotism, one of which would have applied to the Legislature, arguing that House rules were amended during session to incorporate “a nepotism prohibition.”

The Hawaii Constitution says “that the Legislature shall manage and discipline and regulate ourselves,” Tarnas said.

House Speaker Scott Saiki and Judiciary And Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair David Tarnas meeting with reporters after sine die Thursday. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

‘Gut and replace’ violation: Saiki was asked about another controversial bill that died mysteriously late in conference: House Bill 719, which would have capped charges for the reproduction of government records and waived costs altogether when those records could be provided electronically as well as when the public interest was served.

Saiki blamed the bill’s demise on the Senate trying to add in something it shouldn’t have at the last minute. “That was a gut and replace because the Senate added in Part 2, which provided for the deliberative process privilege,” he said.

Now it’s Green’s turn: There were over 200 sunshine bills at the Legislature this session, and Civil Beat tracked them until the very end. Civil Beat’s Bill Tracker For Anti-Corruption And Accountability Proposals has been updated to reflect final actions by lawmakers.

We will keep readers posted on what Gov. Josh Green does with the nearly two dozen sunshine bills sent to him for his consideration. He has until June 26 to tell the Legislature which bills he is thinking of vetoing and why, and until July 11 to sign, veto or let bills pass without his signature.

If the Legislature wants to override any vetos — as it did in the last week of session — it would have to go into special session also on July 11.

How they spent your money: The Hawaii Senate finally got around to updating legislative allowance reports through April. Each of the 25 senators are giving $15,952 to spend on things for their office, duties and district. Some details:

  • Brenton Awa spent $127 for office supplies (lamination of Senate district maps, marker pens ) and footballs and volleyballs for Laie Elementary School student awards presentation.
  • Stanley Chang forked over $94 for a one-year subscription to Pacific Business News.
  • Lynn DeCoite spent $471 for a one-year subscription to a constituent database.
  • Brandon Elefante paid $5.49 for an office can opener.
  • Jarrett Keohokalole plopped down $557 to rent a bus so that District 24 constituents could take a field trip to the Capitol.
  • Donna Mercado Kim used $573 to fly to San Antonio, Texas, $259 for a hotel and $24 for ground transportation for the Culinary Institute of America/Culinary Institute of the Pacific workforce training program site visits and meetings in March.
  • Tim Richards paid $7.18 for a registration fee for Civil Beat’s “Animal Agriculture: By Whom, For Whom and at What Cost?” discussion on March 9.

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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)

cause that's worked so well thus far...

Help.Hawaii · 7 months ago

I wonder how many legislators offered kool-aid for their after-session parties? Did anyone drink the kool-aid?

Rampnt_1 · 7 months ago

Brandon Elefante paid $5.49 for an office can opener. I could get one for a quarter at a thrift store.

TheImpossibleGirl808 · 7 months ago

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