Chair Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair Rhoads, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii cannot support HB 2455 as written, which exempts certain “limited-use” members of groups convened solely to provide comments, share technical knowledge or expertise, or assist in formulating recommendations to, with or for the legislature, governor, or other state departments, agencies, or boards, from the state code of ethics.
We understand the need for and certainly encourage participation by citizens in such groups. However, as we testified on the companion SB 2240, our concern is that this exemption not only sets a bad tone, it could well start things down a slippery slope. In these times of badly-eroded public trust in government, it does not make sense to build in loopholes that are counter to openness and transparency and could hide conflicts of interest, even if unintentionally. The Senate bill is to be amended with language proposed by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission; we believe we will be able to support that amendment. We recommend that the House bill be likewise amended, or else held.
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. Excluding those who provide advice or comments to, or formulate recommendations for the legislature, the governor, or a state department, agency, or officer sends a mixed message about our laws designed to make ethics a shining principle of an incorruptible government. We want all those who participate in the formulation of public policy, laws and rules to be held to a high standard.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.