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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Conference negotiations on “Democracy bills” set for this afternoon

April 17th, 2014 · Elections, Legislature, lobbyists, Politics, Sunshine

A series of “democracy” bills identified by the public interest lobby, Common Cause Hawaii, will be considered this afternoon by a House-Senate conference committee in room 325 at the State Capitol.

A legislative alert from CCH provided the following bill digest, including the organization’s positions on each bill.

BILL DIGEST

Below is a digest of “democracy” bills that have been assigned conferees as of April 14, 2014. Note: This list does not include bills that have already been sent to the Governor, and does not include bills we would like to see assigned to conferees. Common Cause Hawaii’s positions are listed below.

HB452 – “Election Fraud; Polling Misinformation; Advertisements”
RELATING TO ELECTION FRAUDS.

Deems any person who provides false information regarding the details of voting to be guilty of election fraud. Makes conforming amendments to clarify that advertisements shall not contain false information about the time, date, place, or means of voting. (SD1)

Introducers: C. LEE, BELATTI, BROWER, MCKELVEY, MIZUNO, MORIKAWA, NAKASHIMA, NISHIMOTO, RHOADS, SAIKI, THIELEN
House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads Chair; Brower, C. Lee, Thielen Members.

Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Shimabukuro Co-Chair; Slom Member.

Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support

Status: Bill scheduled for Conference Committee Meeting on Thursday, 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

HB1604 – “Campaign Spending Commission Package; Elections”
RELATING TO ELECTIONS

Amends and clarifies the requirements upon which certificates of election are delivered. Provides that certificates of election shall be delivered only after the filing of required candidate committee reports and the payment of any fine assessed by the commission. Effective July 1, 2050. (SD1)

Introducer: SOUKI (Introduced by request of another party)
House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads, Ing Co-Chairs; Belatti, Thielen Members.
Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Shimabukuro Co-Chair; Slom Member.
Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support
Status: Bill scheduled for Conference Committee Meeting on Thursday, 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

HB2139 – “Sunshine Law and Public Agency Meetings”
RELATING TO PUBLIC AGENCY MEETINGS

Authorizes a limited meeting where any number of county council members may attend a board’s or community group’s meeting to discuss council business, provided that certain requirements are met. Repeals 6/30/2018. (SD1)

Introducer: YAMASHITA
House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads Chair; Belatti, C. Lee, Thielen Members.
Senate Conferees have not yet been appointed
Common Cause Hawaii Position: Strongly oppose

Status: Bill scheduled for Conference Committee Meeting on Thursday, 04-17-14 3:30PM in conference room 325.

HB2590 – “Voting; Late Registration; Absentee Polling Places”
RELATING TO ELECTIONS

Allows voter registration at absentee polling places beginning in 2016 and late voter registration, including on election day, beginning in 2018. Appropriates funds. Effective 7/1/2050. (SD2)

Introducers: ING, BROWER, FUKUMOTO, KOBAYASHI, C. LEE, LOWEN, MCKELVEY, MIZUNO, OHNO, RHOADS, Choy

House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads; Ing Co-Chairs; Creagan, Thielen Members

Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Ige Co-Chair,; Shimabukuro Member

Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support

Status: Bill scheduled for Conference Committee Meeting on Thursday, 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

SB2629 – “Lobbyists; Statement of Expenditures; Special Session”
RELATING TO LOBBYISTS

Requires lobbyists and specified individuals to report to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, within 30 days of adjournment sine die of a special session of the Legislature, on contributions and expenditures made to lobby on legislative matters considered during that special session. (SD2629 HD1)

Introducer: IHARA

House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads, Ing Co-Chairs; Brower, Thielen Members.

Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Shimabukuro Co-Chair; Galuteria Member.

Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support


Status:Conference committee meeting scheduled for 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

SB2634 – “Lobbyists; Expenditure Reporting”
RELATING TO LOBBYISTS

Requires individuals who spend more than $750 on lobbying during a statement period to itemize each expenditure in certain categories. (SB2634 HD2)

Introducers: IHARA, Ige

House Conferees Appointed: Rhoads, Ing Co-Chairs; Brower, Thielen Members.

Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Shimabukuro Co-Chair; Slom Member.

Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support

Status: Conference committee meeting scheduled for 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

SB2682 – “Financial Disclosures; Public Records”
RELATING TO FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE STATEMENTS

Requires the financial disclosure statements of members of certain boards, commissions, and agencies to be made available for public inspection and duplication. Limits information on the source of income of the spouse and dependent children of those whose financial disclosures are public to the name of the income source. (SB2682 HD2)

Introducer: SHIMABUKURO

House Conferees Appointed: McKelvey, Rhoads Co-Chairs; Kawakami, C. Lee, McDermott

Senate Conferees Appointed: Hee Chair; Shimabukuro Co-Chair; Gabbard, Ihara, Slom

Common Cause Hawaii Position: Support

Status: Conference committee meeting scheduled for 04-17-14 1:30PM in conference room 325.

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State Ethics Commission beefs up online access to lobbyist info, financial disclosures, & other data

April 16th, 2014 · Ethics, lobbyists, Sunshine

The State Ethics Commission has significantly expanded online public access to various disclosure reports filed with the commission by lobbyists, organizations that hire lobbyists, as well as elected and appointed public officials. The much improved access arrived without fanfare as part of the commission’s redesigned website. I’m just exploring the extent of the improvements!

The commission’s redesigned website now utilizes the state’s date portal, data.hawaii.gov, to host its databases. The result is more robust access to data that has previously been available, as well as public access to copies of reports that have not been available online.

For example, while the commission previously scanned and posted copies of expenditure reports filed by organizations that are represented by lobbyists, checking out the expenses reported by lobbyists themselves required a visit to the commission office and a time-consuming search through binders of paper copies.

That’s totally changed. For example, start at the commission’s home page, www.hawaii.gov/ethics, click on “Lobbying” in the categories listed across the top of the page, and select “Lobbyists’ expenditure statements.” This opens a frame that links directly to a database at data.hawaii.gov containing lobbyist expenditure reports filed from 2011 to the present. Each entry includes the name of the lobbyist, the dates included in the reporting period, the total amount spent, and a link to a scanned copy of the lobbyist’s report for the period.

Select the small image of a magnifying glass at the top left of the data window, and you can easily do basic searches.

As with other collections of data available at data.hawaii.gov, the entire database or any subsets can be downloaded to your own computer for further analysis.

I’m still digesting the kinds of new questions that can be asked and answered using this new data resource, but clearly this is a huge step forward.

Here’s another example. In the commission’s former online system, you could view the registration statements filed by lobbyists authorizing them to lobby on behalf of specific clients. But it required digging through layers of prompts. Although I may not recall the specific series of steps correctly, it went something like this. First, you would first select the type of form, in this case lobbyist registration statements. Then, select the year or reporting period, if I recall correctly. After that, you would choose the first letter of the lobbyist’s name, which got you to an alphabetical list of all lobbyists starting with that letter, and finally you would select the person you were interested in.

Jumping around between related lobbyists, or between reporting periods, was incredibly clumsy. Although you could find a specific form, it was almost impossible to get an overview, or see relations. That has all changed for the better.

For reporters who like to use public records, this is a wonderful new world.

Congratulations to the commission, and director Les Kondo, for what must have been a massive job of scanning and uploading years of diverse paper records.

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A bit of morning calm on Tax Day

April 15th, 2014 · Kaaawa, Photographs

Yes, I’m one of those tax procrastinators working madly this morning to double check tax forms, print everything out, then walk down to the little Kaaawa post office to get them in to the mail.

The result–no time right now for a regular post.

Instead, a few calming photos of Kaaawa taken in the past several days.

The sun is now appearing early enough that it’s already breaking the horizon when we first get down to the highway in front of Swanzy Beach Park. Pretty soon the sun will be up before we even leave the house. That’s the part of the year when we see more of our friendly dogs across the neighborhood.

Swanzy

I like this next shot of a puddle on Polinalina Road. It might be called, “the sky below.”

Street scene

Last night’s total lunar eclipse was obscured by clouds in Kaaawa. But this morning’s sunrise displayed a bit of the coppery color we had been hoping for from the eclipse.

Street scene

As usual, click on any photo to see a larger version.

Now, off to finish the taxes.

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More on the question of legislative conflicts

April 14th, 2014 · Ethics, Legislature, Politics

If you keep track of blog comments, you may have noticed that some folks strongly disagreed with my post here on Friday (“Ethics law doesn’t support complaint against Rep. Luke“).

Here’s a comment that came in yesterday:

Ian, please take a look at the House Rules, pages 49-51 (rules 60.2, 60.4(1) and (6), 60.5, 60.6.

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2013/docs/2013HouseRules.pdf

Fair enough. Rule 60.5 seems to be the most directly on point. It reads:

60.5. If the member has a conflict of interest in legislation, the member shall disclose to the presiding officer (the committee chair or the Speaker, depending on where the vote is taking place) the conflict of interest prior to voting on that legislation. For the purposes of this rule, a “conflict of interest” means that the legislation affects the member’s direct personal, familial, or financial interest except if the member, or the member’s relative, is part of a class of people affected by the legislation.

The caveat is important. Interests are unavoidable and obviously not undesirable. We typically gravitate towards elected officials who share our own interests, and we hope–sometimes demand–that they represent those interests. On the other hand, we oppose those who reflect different interests. That doesn’t make their interests illegal.

What creates a conflict of interest between for a legislator is when he or she takes action on matters that impacts a private financial interest in a manner more direct than its effect on others in similar positions. So legislators don’t face conflicts when considering tax legislation simply because they are taxpayers. However, if they were considering a tax break that would benefit only a specific company in which they have a financial interest, that would be a different story.

This is a common way of looking at conflict of interest. The conflict must be direct and not simply the result of being part of a class of people or businesses that are impacted.

Here’s a table showing the definitions of conflict of interest in the 50 states.

No, I haven’t read and digested all of them. But I started at the top, and it’s clear that the House rules are right in the mainstream.

For example, Alabama:

A conflict of interest involves any action, inaction, or decision by a public official or public employee in the discharge of his or her official duties which would materially affect his or her financial interest or those of his or her family members or any business with which the person is associated in a manner different from the manner it affects the other members of the class to which he or she belongs.

Alaska:

Unless required by the Uniform Rules of the Alaska State Legislature, a legislator may not vote on a question if the legislator has an equity or ownership interest in a business, investment, real property, lease, or other enterprise if the interest is substantial and the effect on that interest of the action to be voted on is greater than the effect on a substantial class of persons to which the legislator belongs as a member of a profession, occupation, industry, or region…

Arizona is much the same.

A personal financial interest exists if it is reasonably foreseeable that an action in the discharge of his official duties will have a material financial benefit or detriment either directly or indirectly on the member, his spouse or any minor child of whom he has legal custody, except that no personal financial interest exists if the legislator or such member of his household is a member of a class of persons and it reasonably appears that a majority of the total membership of that class is to be affected by such action.

As I said earlier, I haven’t seen the actual complaint filed against Rep. Luke, so don’t know the specific allegations except as reported in the news. Those reports have pointed to her private employment as a personal injury attorney, but have not alleged that her practice would be impacted differently than all the other personal interest lawyers practicing in Hawaii. Hence, no conflict as defined by House rules.

I have to repeat the underlying point that it’s a mistake to view legislation as tainted if it reflects interests of particular legislators short of the direct conflicts that would set them apart from the “class” of people impacted by the legislation. It’s not illegitimate for legislators to see things from their own experience, colored by their education, training, work experience, neighborhood, voluntary associations, etc. We may oppose them because our interests are different. Sorting out those differences is what politics is all about, isn’t it?

And it should not be forgotten that strange things happen to bills heading into conference for various reasons. Sometimes its a matter of bargaining. A chair might take a bill with lots of support, and make it a bargaining chip in conference, something to be threatened in order to gain leverage on another bill, for example. Just a thought, although I don’t have any insider knowledge about the specific bill at issue.

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Bills that survived the 2nd Crossover deadline

April 13th, 2014 · Legislature, Politics

There’s less than two weeks before the legislature’s April 24 final decking deadline for most bills, which have to be in their final forms and ready for the last up-or-down votes by the full House and Senate. Joint conference committees are hard at work trying to hammer out remaining differences between House and Senate versions of bills that met the 2nd Crossover deadline and still have hopes of final passage.

Here’s a digest of all house and senate bills that crossed back to the originating body in time to beat that deadline. They are sorted by bill numbers, which link to status page for each bill. This digest was prepared by the Senate.

It provides a very good review of what’s still to be decided in the final two weeks of this 2014 legislative session.

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