Friday’s editorial regarding ethics legislation at the state Capitol was obviously crafted without full knowledge of the research and exchange of ideas that went on before the legislation was introduced for discussion by the Senate Judiciary Committee ("Strengthen state ethics law," Star-Advertiser).
The scenario surrounding Senate Draft 1 of Senate Bill 671 did, in fact, begin with Senate President Shan Tsutsui contacting Les Kondo of the state Ethics Commission. He wanted to hear Kondo’s opinion on the parameters that should be followed regarding the acceptance of gifts, meals or services offered to legislators by constituents or organizations. Kondo came to the Capitol and talked to both the Senate and House on this subject. He felt our accepting free tickets to attend the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs dinner would not comply with the law. But he acknowledged that the law was ambiguous and asked us for "brighter lines" in legislation so the issue would be better understood and everyone would be working from the same page.
Given his request for brighter lines, and not wanting to make a mistake, we decided to evaluate how the other 49 states approach this subject. Rep. Blake Oshiro started this process, doing his own research and concluding that Hawaii should adopt the donation policies as followed by Maryland. Our Senate Research Office then took his findings and evaluated the same question. In the end, it suggested we adopt the policy used by Alabama, which is similar in nature to Maryland. In Alabama, legislators can accept individual donations of up to $200, but there is a cap on all donations from the same donor at $350 per year. A review of Page 1 of Senate Draft 1 shows that we were considering a similar cap on donations, although we felt a specific number should emerge only after hearing from the public.
Only at that point was SD1 written. Even then, just to be certain it was done correctly, we submitted the draft to the state Attorney General’s Office for review. A few changes were suggested but there was not time to include those in SD1 before the hearing convened. Had SD1 been adopted, their changes would certainly have been considered.
Bottom line: This was not a piece of legislation that just came out of my head and was pushed by me. It was not an attempt to introduce "guilt-free influence-peddling," as your paper states, but rather an effort to get the public involved in this topic. We as legislators are representatives of the people in their district. We are often invited to community events throughout the year to meet and hear from our constituents. If we are to be effective legislators, this was a subject that deserved a broader analysis.
Moreover, we knew all along that SB 671, SD1 was just that — a draft. We fully expected that it would be just a starting point for discussion, not a conclusion that all senators would accept. We wanted to hear from Les Kondo and also from other constituents and organizations in our communities to get their input before making a final decision. At the Judiciary hearing a number of people testified and the committee decided to drop SD1 and move forward with the original bill. That was fine with me. I was never in full support of SD1, having my own reservations. But SD1 did its job. That public got involved and we heard from all points of view.
Editor’s note: Read the editorial online at www.staradvertiser.com/editorials/20110304_Strengthen_state_ethics_law.html.