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Drafted bill aims to address nepotism between state Legislature, local businesses

Audrey McAvoy

There are laws in place prohibiting unfair treatment within the state Legislature, but the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct is going further to define nepotism.

Robert Harris, executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Ethics Commission, has drafted a bill that would bar legislators from employing or doing business with family members.

The draft explicitly prohibits a lawmaker from awarding contracts or taking action with businesses where a relative has substantial ownership.

"The intent with this nepotism bill is to create a bright line about the hiring and supervising of family members. Currently, there is already some level of restrictions under the fair treatment, you can't give unwarranted privileges or something to someone special," Harris said.

"So if there's some level of ability to capture this, by creating a bright line, it really does sort of give clear direction, and sort of takes away some of the ambiguity behind this. The intent is to not stop existing relationships that may already be in place, it's a going forward," he added.

The Legislature created the commission to make recommendations on topics from lobbying to campaign finance laws after two former lawmakers admitted to taking bribes.

The group is preparing a final report due by December. The report will have specific bills, rule changes and recommendations to the Legislature to increase transparency and the legislative process.

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