WILL THE LEGISLATURE EXEMPT TASK FORCES FROM ETHICS CODE?
Investigative Reporter Ian Lind published a couple great blog posts on Mar. 5 listing a bunch of state bills that have passed their third readings. Making the list was HB 2175, a dandy of a bill introduced by 14 representatives. The bill’s quite simple, really: it exempts individuals (except those who are already state employees) who get named to special Task Forces by the governor or the Legislature from having to comply with the state Code of Ethics.
Hot damn! And it’s apparently a very popular idea with our own state Attorney General David Louie. According to the written testimony submitted by Louie on Feb. 15 to the House Committee on Legislative Management, the bill is pragmatic and necessary.
“[T]his bill recognizes two realities,” states the testimony. “[F]irst, that with increasing frequency, state officials and agencies need to deal with issues and situations that require technical or experiential information that government does not have and cannot readily obtain; and second, that individuals capable of providing state decision-makers with this knowledge and expertise often have acquired that information and experience by owning or working for businesses or other undertakings that deal with the very issues or situations with which government needs to deal.”
In other words, because smart people are increasingly staying in private industry and away from government in all its forms (a very novel argument indeed for a government official to make), government needs to extend every courtesy and bend every rule possible to make sure the smart people help out government whenever possible. And if that means looking the other way when these smart people might in some way benefit in some small, personal, financial way by the recommendations they report as part of a special task force, then so be it.
If I sound a bit cynical, note that I’m not alone. In fact, JoAnn Maruoka, the Legislative Committee Member for the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, testified to the same committee and on the same day as the Attorney General’s office on the bill, but took a radically different view. According to Maruoka, HB 2175 is a travesty.
“While we understand the need for and certainly encourage participation by citizens in such task forces and working groups, there is no sound reason for such an exemption,” Maruoka said. “We are gravely concerned about the inherent risks of actual or at the least the perception of conflict of interest, including undue influence and use of public office for personal gain. In fact, from a citizen’s perspective, this proposed exemption flies in the face of good sense and simply does not pass the smell test. It would not only set 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 just to make sure the good legislators on the committee understood her point, Maruoka made it as pointed as possible.
“The purpose in having a Code of Ethics is to prevent corruption in government,” Maruoka, testified. “Every step forward in protecting against corruption helps improve public confidence in government… We want all those who participate in the formulation of public policy, laws and rules to be held to a high standard.”
Given the support HB 2175 has gotten so far, it seems the legislators have a different view of the term “high standard.”
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HAWAII FIVE-O STAR HAS DRUG PROBLEM
Should anyone disagree with the notion that Lind is still the best investigative reporter in Hawaii, he also nailed the truth about Hawaii Five-O actor Alex O’Laughlin’s problem with prescription drugs.
“The headline on the Star-Advertiser story today: “‘Five-0′ star taking time off for health,’” Lind blogged on Mar. 3 “Like he’s just overworked and needs a rest. Then there’s a guarded reference to ‘problems with pain medication,’ sounding like perhaps there are problems prescribing the correct dosage or something.”
The problem stemmed from the original statement released by O’Laughlin’s publicist: “Alex is taking a short break from Hawaii Five-0 to receive supervised treatment for prescription pain medication due to a recent shoulder injury.”
Ah, the old shoulder injury line. Sounds pretty harmless. Except that, as Lind (and Hawaii News Now’s Ben Gutierrez) reported, O’Laughlin’s problems stem from “addiction to prescription drugs.”
The AG wants to loosen up the state’s Code of Ethics, and now a popular actor who plays a Honolulu cop on TV is in rehab. And people think nothing happens in Hawaii.
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EMILY SMACKS LINDA OVER ROY
Ok, I’m going to run really quick through some extremely divisive social politics. First, Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri tried to kill the Obama Administration’s controversial rule requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of contraception (this is the so-called Blunt Amendment, which failed).
Then Honolulu Civil Beat reported that former Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Daniel Akaka, would have Blunt appear as a “Special Guest” at a fundraiser for her on Mar. 6 in Washington, D.C.
Then EMILY’s List, the powerful pro-choice political action committee, sent out this press release the day of the fundraiser, smacking Lingle upside the head:
“Linda Lingle’s days of pretending to be a moderate are over,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List. “She may still be dodging questions about whether she supports right-wing Senator Blunt’s infamous proposal to give your boss control of your health care coverage, but she’s telling Hawai’i everything they need to know by highlighting Blunt’s support for her campaign at a Washington DC fundraiser. Let me be clear–in their zeal to deny women access to birth control, Republicans have threatened the health care of every man, woman, and child in Hawai’i by literally placing your medical decisions in the hands of your boss. If your boss thought childhood vaccinations were wrong, he would not have to cover them under Blunt’s proposal. If your boss thought unmarried women shouldn’t have babies, he could deny their maternity care coverage. It’s nothing short of stunning for Linda Lingle to publicly embrace Roy Blunt just days after his radical amendment was defeated in the Senate. And Hawai’i is definitely watching.”
As for how all this turns out, stay tuned for the November elections.