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Judiciary chairs pleased with ethics measures passed during session

File - The Hawaiʻi House of Representatives convenes on the last day of the 2023 legislative session in Honolulu on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
Audrey McAvoy
File - The Hawaiʻi House of Representatives convenes on the last day of the 2023 legislative session in Honolulu on Thursday, May 4, 2023.

The Hawaiʻi State Legislature attempted to make sweeping ethics reforms this session after two former lawmakers faced federal corruption charges, but a handful of measures died behind closed doors.

The Commission to Improve Standards delivered more than 30 recommendations for the state Legislature with ways the body could increase transparency and be tougher on in-house crime.

Twenty of the measures were addressed fully by the Legislature, Rep. David Tarnas of Hawaiʻi Island, who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs, said after the session ended last week.

"Of the 11 that did not pass out of the Legislature as a whole, six of them were passed by the House and Senate, but they died in conference committee," Tarnas explained.

House Bill 717, a formal nepotism bill in state government, was passed out of the session but does not apply to state lawmakers. Instead of passing a nepotism bill applied to the legislative chambers, the House of Representatives adopted a rule against it, similar to one the Senate already imposes for its members.

Another recommendation was to enact term limits, but Tarnas deferred the bill early on in the session.

"This one I didn't think was good policy, and that was the one that was only passed by a 4-3 vote out of the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct," he said.

Sen. Karl Rhoads of Oʻahu, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary, applauded the Legislature’s efforts.

Wayne Yoshioka
Sen. Karl Rhoads of Oʻahu chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

"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 the criminal penalties tougher for those who would do what a couple of our colleagues did a couple of years ago," Rhoads said.

House Bill 719 would have created a cap on some public records and waived the duplication costs on electronic copies.

At the last minute, the Senate proposed a public interest fee waiver standard for commercial entities and a new deliberative process exception. This was seen as a gut-and-replace violation, causing the bill to stall at conference.

"I thought it was some interesting language, but I want to give it the full deliberative process and have hearings on it," Tarnas said.

In a newsletter, the state Office of Information Practices said they were "pleased" with SB1513, which would require boards to report a summary of their discussions and final actions from executive sessions; and HB712, which would "encourage" boards to keep electronic recordings of their meetings posted online after minutes are posted, and gives leeway to those low on storage space to remove older recordings as long as a copy is provided to the State Archives.

Gov. Josh Green still has the final say on whether or not the bills will become acts.

Catch up on past coverage from this session:

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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