Chair Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair Rhoads, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii cannot support HB 2175 HD1 to exempt from the conflict of interest law under the state ethics code a person serving on a task force or working group established by the legislature for the purpose of recommending possible legislation. The bill amends the definition of “employee” in the state ethics code to exclude members of groups established by the legislature to recommend possible legislation and amends the definition of “state agency” to exclude “task forces, working groups, or other similar entities.”
We understand the need for and certainly encourage participation by citizens in such task forces and working groups. We do not understand the need to exclude from the conflict of interest law those who provide the legislature with advice and especially who formulate recommendations on possible legislation. It is not sound. As we testified on the original bill, we are gravely concerned about the inherent risks of actual or at the least the perception of conflict of interest, including undue influence. We want all those who participate in the formulation of public policy, laws and rules to be held to a high standard.
In these times of badly-eroded public trust in government, it does not make sense to build in loopholes counter to openness and transparency. We also caution that while the stated purpose is to exempt those on a task force or working group from the conflict of interest law, such an exemption may have unintended consequences, such as totally excluding them from the state ethics code.
The purpose in having a Code of Ethics is to prevent corruption in government. Every step forward in protecting against corruption helps improve public confidence in government. For government to work people must have faith in the integrity of its elected officials and the culture of honesty. We urge you to hold the bill in committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.