Ethics reform proposals up for debate in wake of high-profile bribery scandals
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following a host of high-profile public corruption scandals, there are growing demands for openness from lawmakers and lobbyists.
The state Ethics Commission wants more information than ever about who is pulling the strings of power and it passed a package of proposed bills and reforms Wednesday.
But some of the ideas are being described as impractical.
The Ethics Commission’s batch of proposals includes strict conflict of interest rules that would force more lawmakers to declare if they or family members might financially or professionally benefit from a vote.
Ethics Commissioner Renaldo Graulty, a former state senator and Circuit Court judge, strongly endorsed the proposal.
“It’s a step forward from where we were I am in favor of it,” Graulty said. “We will never eliminate conflicts of interest and people will close their eyes to it but this is as good as we can do.”
Other proposals would ban nepotism and require legislators to disclose any ties to lobbyists.
Ethics Director Robert Harris said the overall thrust of the reforms is to make public the ties between lawmakers, lobbyists and the legislation they are trying to influence.
“The intent here is that if they are more public about the lobbying organization or lobbyists that they interact with is also going to help identify future conflicts of interest,” Harris said.
The ideas are getting a mixed reaction among lawmakers.
New state Sen. Brenton Awa ran on an anti-corruption platform.
“We want to take down corruption ... and I am glad we are talking about it,” he said.
But his senior Republican colleague, Minority Leader Kurt Favella, said he is skeptical of more ethics rules.
“It’s not like there’s more corruption. It’s not like more illegal activities being done by elected officials or non-elected officials,” Favella said. “It’s just being more broadcast, being more aware.”
Even though former Sen. Kalani English took bribes to kill legislation, Favella particularly disagrees that every decision to kill a bill should be explained.
Favella said explaining thousands of individual decisions to kill or defer legislation would be a burden that would lead to fewer bills being introduced.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are promising to hear the ethics proposals but not promising to pass them.
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