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The Sunshine Blog: House Chairs Talk Transparency, and Patsy Mink Gets Beaten

Vaseline 2 months ago

Short takes, outtakes, our recordings and other things you need to know about public information, government responsibility and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Open house: Hawaii’s legislature is now in the conference committee phase, with senators and representatives trying to resolve their respective differences in dozens of bills. It can be a very difficult time for the public to understand what is happening because most of the heavy lifting is done behind closed doors and proposed drafts are rarely posted online.

This week, however, the House took a step to lift the veil of secrecy. Speaker Scott Saiki informed all members via a memo that when a conference committee votes on a bill in conference committee, the lead Speaker of the House is required to “clearly summarize the purpose and content of the bill before voting on it.

The disclosure obligation applies to both bills from the House of Representatives and the Senate. If the Senate President does not summarize the contents of an agreed-upon Senate bill before the vote, “then the Speaker of the House should do so.”

A conference committee meeting at the Capitol. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The reason for the procedural change, Saiki wrote, “is to reasonably inform conference committee members and the general public of the substance of the measure being voted on.

The change allows for some exceptions. For example, the chairman of the House Finance Committee does not have to repeat all amendments to the budget bill before the conference committee vote. That’s understandable, since House Bill 1800 (which was still being negotiated Thursday afternoon) is currently more than 28,000 words long.

It is unclear whether the presidents of the Senate will do the same as the House of Representatives. Saiki copied the memo to Senate President Ron Kouchi, but Senate spokespeople did not respond to questions from The Blog.

Thanks for reading Civil Beat: The Hawaii State Ethics Commission recently introduced a new feature to its meeting agendas where commissioners discuss media reports about ethics or the commission since their last meeting.

On Wednesday, commissioners and staff discussed “Inside the Late-Night Parties Where Hawaiian Politicians Raised Money,” a story reported by Civil Beat and the New York Times. The extensively researched piece explains how state contractors have given tens of millions of dollars to elected officials’ political campaigns over the past decade.

The State of Hawaii Ethics Commission Wednesday. (Screenshot/2024)

“I would urge everyone to read today’s Civil Beat article and see where there might be an area where we should intervene or at least support legislation that could address the problems,” said Commissioner Cynthia Thielen, a former lawmaker, who added she was deeply disturbed by the report.

Thielen’s colleagues agreed and instructed the commission’s executive director, Robert Harris, to send copies of the story to staff. And Committee Chairman Wesley Fong asked Harris to put the story and possible legislative solutions to the issues it raised on the committee agenda next month.

“That sounds great,” Harris replied.

The article also reports that for years, lawmakers have rejected bills that would ban corporate officials, executives and their family members from contributing to campaigns during the term of the contract. A similar bill didn’t even get a hearing this year.

Still reeling it in: Three of the four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation are up for re-election this year, but none of them face a serious competitor, at least not yet. And each of them continues to steadily build their campaign war chests.

The latest filings with the Federal Election Commission show:

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono has $2 million in cash on hand after raking in $357,000 in the first three months of the year. Major donor: Musician Keola Beamer of Lahaina, who added $5 to the $240 he previously contributed.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case has $761,000 in cash, helped by donations totaling $115,000. Major donors: Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Air Group political action committees, which raised $2,500 each.

And U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, who has about $381,000 in cash and brought in $176,000 last quarter. Major donor: Los Angeles actor George Takei, who donated $500.

Speaking of Ed and Jill: Hawaii has historically favored Democrats in DC, but that doesn’t mean they agree on all issues.

While Case and Tokuda representatives agreed earlier this week to pass the Hold Iranian Leaders Accountable Act of 2023 and the Strengthening Tools to Counter the Use of Human Shields Act, they were divided over a House resolution titled “Expressing of the House of Representatives’ sentiment that the slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is anti-Semitic and its use should be condemned.”

The resolution passed with a majority of Democrats and Republicans, but not with Tokuda’s vote. She and 42 other Dems and one GOPer rejected the reso.

And speaking of Mazie: This week, the senator celebrated the release of the Patsy Takemoto Mink district in honor of the late Hawaiian congresswoman and champion of Title IX legislation. Case and Tokuda were also present.

That’s Patsy’s daughter Gwendolyn standing next to Rep. Nancy Pelosi in the photo below and in the photo at the top of our page.