The Sunshine Blog: Senators Freak Out Over Nepotism Bill, And No Presidential Primary For Hawaii - 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.

Not quite pau: Thursday is the last day of the 2023 Hawaii Legislature, and Tuesday saw a penultimate round of votes on a range of bills. One of the oddest came on House Bill 717, where 19 of Hawaii’s 25 senators voted “aye with reservations” on a bill prohibiting nepotism for employees working in the executive branch.

The reason?

“I support the measure, except that I think exempting the Legislature from this measure is the wrong move,” Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole said on the floor. Many of his colleagues agreed, stating that they wanted Keohokalole’s words inserted into the Senate journal “as if they were my own.”

House Bill 717’s first iteration was pretty straightforward. Neither legislators nor employees of the state could “appoint, hire, or promote … or demote, discharge, or terminate a relative or household member” from paid positions in their agencies or offices. The word “retain” was later added to the bill.

The state Senate voting on the nepotism bill Tuesday. (Screenshot/2023)

Rep. David Tarnas struck out the prohibition for legislators, who, according to Hawaii Revised Statutes, are technically not classified as state employees. He also made sure the judicial branch was not covered. With mere hours before Friday’s drop deadline, Sen. Sharon Moriwaki agreed to the change.

Senate rules place some restrictions on hiring close relatives including requiring a notice be sent to the Senate President if such a hire is in the works. But astute readers who have been following the sunshine efforts this session will recall that when the state Ethics Commission and Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct proposed the crackdown on nepotism early on, legislative leaders deflected by pointing to the already existing rules, which the Senate barely tweaked this year, and in particular that the House had already without prompting significantly beefed up its rules on nepotism.

Truth be told, The Sunshine Blog has always had a hard time figuring out what was so different.

That said, the 19 senators who think HB 717 should apply to the Legislature must know something their leaders aren’t telling the rest of us.

Senators who voted yes but without reservations were Moriwaki, Senate President Ron Kouchi and Sens. Karl Rhoads, Glenn Wakai, Tim Richards, Les Ihara and Brenton Awa. Since “WR” votes still count as ayes, however, the bill passed unanimously.

Hawaii is the only state that uses WR. Why is beyond the reasoning power of Your Sunshine Bloggers.

More bills for Josh Green to sign: The House and Senate on Tuesday agreed to pass out several sunshine bills, which will soon land on the fifth floor for the governor’s consideration.

They include Senate Bill 203 which gives the Campaign Spending Commission more flexibility in pursuing campaign spending violations, Senate Bill 1189 adding a Feb. 28 preliminary campaign finance report in election years, House Bill 986 creating a new class C felony involving official misconduct, House Bill 710 adding intentional obstruction of justice by means of fraud or coercion to the list of class B felonies, Senate Bill 1493 banning lobbyist contributions and expenditures before, during and after sessions, and Senate Bill 19 ensuring that a voter who votes and then dies will have their vote counted.

Also heading to Green are Senate Bill 141 punishing unfaithful presidential electors, House Bill 463 lowering the threshold  for disclosure of campaign expenditures for noncandidate committees to $500, House Bill 1294 requiring the disclosure of the real names of candidates (three Republicans voted no on that one), and House Bill 1502 limiting the disclosure of news sources.

Rep. David Tarnas urging the House to postpone indefinitely House Bill 732, which he said was not necessary as its provision were covered under Senate Bill 203. (Screenshot/2023)

Deferred until Thursday in both chambers: Senate Bill 1076, the digital voter information guide.

Postponed indefinitely: The House saw 50 of its 51 members (Sean Quinlan was excused) vote in the affirmative to take no action on House Bill 732, which would have allowed the Campaign Spending Commission more flexibility in pursuing campaign spending violations.

As Rep. David Tarnas explained on the floor Tuesday, HB 732 is — or was — “substantially similar” to SB 203, which as noted above awaits the governor’s consideration. Tarnas called HB 732 “redundant” and asked his colleagues to vote to postpone it indefinitely. They did.

The bills came from the Foley commission and the Campaign Spending Commission. But that’s redundant.

  • A Special Commentary Project

It could have been so cool: Among the many bills going down in flames with no explanation during the crazy “cattle call” in conference committee last week was Senate Bill 1005, which would have led to Hawaii having a Democratic Party presidential primary. We are one of only six states that do not have a state-run primary or caucus, and the other five are red states.

Like so many bills that died in the waning hours, SB 1005 did not have “release” from the money committees. No final figure was listed for the expenses that would be incurred by the state Office of Elections and the county clerks to run the primary. Like so many bills late in session, the dollar figures were intentionally left blank in the bill.

But estimates were that state and county costs would exceed $4 million per presidential preference primary, as it is called in the bill. Election officials were uncomfortable taking on the added election — which might have been held for the first time in April 2028 — in addition to the regular primary and general.

Hawaii has the same four electoral votes as New Hampshire, so having a presidential primary would hardly impact the nominating process let alone the Electoral College unless a presidential election was super close. But it would no doubt have attracted national campaigns and media coverage.

“Our vote will help to decide who shall be our President,” Democratic Party of Hawaii Chair Dennis Jung argued in his testimony. “How cool is that? How important is that? It is very cool. It is very important.”

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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)

Wow, in regards to Sunshine bills, it seems like nothing of any real substance passed. The bills that did seem to all be watered down, and won't really have much of an effect. The big Sunshine bills were shot down for one reason or another. Things are going to keep going as usual in our legislature.

Scotty_Poppins · 7 months ago

"Why is beyond the reasoning power of Your Sunshine Bloggers"When logic and proportion fail to a sloppy dead end, I suggest a tin foil hat. Maybe the White Rabbit metaphor isn't enough, because this account of the legislature reads like a fast paced Blazing-Saddles-"cattle call"-stampede, a Abbot and Castillo Who's on First skit, or the madcap antics of Marx Brothers Duck Soup All kidding aside, amusing as it was reading this account, it's serious political business that eventually effects all of us, so therefor, the legislators get a rotten tomatoes review.

Joseppi · 7 months ago

So the usual shenanigans by the money committee racketeers stopped many important changes.

karangurallaz · 7 months ago

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