Cleanse intern program of special interests
Business officials get paid leaves from their jobs to be interns for Hawaii lawmakers.
THE State Ethics Commission has begun to examine an internship program in the Legislature to determine whether business executives are using it to gain inside influence. The program operates in a way that invites abuse and should be either drastically altered or eliminated.
The commission appears to be focused on Mark Forman, executive administrator of the Hawaii Medical Service Association Foundation, the charitable arm of the state's largest health insurer. Forman is taking paid leave from his job to intern for Rep. Bob Herkes, chairman of the House Consumer Protection Committee, which handled a bill related to health premium rates.
State law forbids interns from taking any action on a bill that would directly affect their companies. Herkes maintains that Forman has not worked on legislation that would affect HMSA but is helping to "find some way to provide medical coverage in rural areas."
Forman is among nine business executives on loan to the Legislature as interns, including four from Hawaiian Electric Co., Pacific Business News reported recently. People from businesses, unions and other special interest groups have been using the program for decades.
Governor Lingle stopped lending people to the Legislature from executive agencies three years ago. Sen. Clayton Hee's improper use of a part-time staffer on loan from the University of Hawaii to solicit political contributions from UH regents and regent nominees last year led to a similar policy at the university.
Conflicts of interest abound in part-time legislatures, with lawyers gravitating to judiciary committees, doctors to health committees and business people to commerce committees. Those conflicts are to be expected.
However, use of business executives and people from other special-interest organizations is more blatant. Internships should be restricted to college students with sincere goals of learning about the legislative process, not influencing it for the benefit of their real employers.
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