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Panel mulls reforms to improve state Legislature conduct

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AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy, File
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HONOLULU — A Hawaiʻi commission formed to improve standards of conduct for elected officials after a bribery scandal rocked the Legislature this year met Wednesday to discuss ethics-related reform proposals.

Robert Harris, a panel member who is also the executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Ethics Commission, introduced proposals including requiring training for lobbyists and making it illegal for lobbyists to give gifts.

Legislators and state employees are prohibited from accepting gifts above a certain dollar value, or gifts that aren't reported.

The state could create exceptions for items like lei, in the same way state employees are allowed to accept the garlands.

Other ideas included strengthening conflict of interest rules, for example, by making it standard practice for lawmakers to recuse themselves from a vote on a bill if they have a conflict instead of merely disclosing their conflict.

The panel didn't make any final decisions on the proposals.

The seven-member Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct plans to meet every two weeks until Dec. 1, when it is due to submit a final report with recommendations to the state House of Representatives.

The next meeting on June 15 will focus on election law. Two weeks later, the panel will discuss campaign finance. Retired state Judge Daniel Foley chairs the panel.

The House created the panel in February after former state Rep. Ty Cullen and former state Sen. Kalani English pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud.

They admitted accepting envelopes of cash and other bribes from a business owner in exchange for shaping cesspool legislation while in office.

They are scheduled to be sentenced on July 5.

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