Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair San Buenaventura and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii supports HB 813, HD2 which clarifies that legislators are not prohibited by the State Ethics Code from taking action in the exercise of the legislator’s functions. The bill also proposes to amend the Ethics Code to require that a state Task Force member should file a full and complete public disclosure of the nature and extent of interests or transactions which the task force member believes may be affected by the task force member’s official actions. We suggest a further amendment to the bill.
In 2012 the Legislature passed a bill amending our State Ethics Code to exempt members of temporary task forces (except those who are already state employees) from sections of the Code. But Act 208 -- in seeking to create an exemption for task force members -- inadvertently created a loophole which “exempted legislators from section 84-13, Hawaii Revised Statutes, allowing legislators, in their official capacity, to use their position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages, or treatment for themselves or others….” Act 208 created a broad exemption to the fair treatment law for legislators. HB813 makes it clear that legislators are exempt from the fair treatment law “only in the exercise of the legislator’s functions.” It is certainly in the public interest to make this change.
Regarding task force members in 2012 the League of Women Voters strongly opposed and continues to oppose giving task force members certain exemptions from the State Ethics Code. We understand that citizens with the expertise that gets them appointed to a task force to begin with usually acquire knowledge and experience by working in the private sector on issues which the public sector needs to address.
We do not believe the exemption is necessary to attract people to serve on Task Forces, as the 2010 "Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force" that gave rise to this special exmption showed. We conclude and it remains our position there is no reason for the task force exemption.
In contrast to voluntary service on task forces, voluntary service on Boards and Commissions is longer-term and authority for decision-making is part of the job. Yet a private sector-individual lending their best professional advice to the State by serving on a Task Force faces similar ethical choices because of his or her “dual capacity” situation. Such considerations as “what is my duty of loyalty to my employer compared with my duty to the State,” or “how much care should I take in my voluntary service compared with the care I exercise in my professional employment” apply to both types of service. In an ethics context service on a Board or Commission is not substantially different from that provided on a Task Force, and last year the legislature unanimously passed Act 230, requiring financial disclosure for members of 15 State Boards and Commissions.
The language of the bill needs to be clarified to make it clear whether the “complete public disclosure required” of task force members is referring to financial disclosure statements. Fixing the errors and the task force loophole in our ethics law would clear up any uncertainty about what’s expected from our legislators and task force members when it comes to the State Ethics Code.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.
opportunity to submit testimony.