Power to fine will be useful to state ethics panel
The state Ethics Commission has new power to levy fines against state employees engaged in unethical behavior.
NEW powers given the state Ethics Commission to fine violators
came too late to be used against egregious conduct by a senator who has announced his retirement from the seat. It does provide the commission with teeth to pursue other violators and impose suitable fines.
A law enacted during this year's legislative session allows the commission to levy a $500 fine for each ethics violation. Dan Mollway, the commission's executive director, points out that violators may be fined large amounts when considering that a single, continuing transgression might involve several violations and multiply as they are repeated day after day.
Previously, the Ethics Commission had no power to take disciplinary action against violators, although it has used public pressure to achieve its ends. For example, state Sen. J. Kalani English of Maui agreed last year to pay $1,000 into the state general fund to end an investigation into his taking free Hawaii Air Ambulance flights while also accepting state-funded air coupons for interisland trips. He denied wrongdoing.
A 15-year state employee also agreed last year to settle charges that she made and sold crafts while on the job by paying the state $500. Neither the offender nor her department were disclosed.
Governor Lingle acknowledged a "technical violation" of ethics rules when she provided state office space for a lobby she created for education reform two years ago. The commission found the arrangement in violation, and the lobby wrote a $29,843 check to the state, essentially for back rent.
The most blatant breach of ethics in recent years occurred when Sen. Brian Kanno used strong-arm tactics last year on behalf of a man who had been fired by Norwegian Cruise Line for alleged sexual harassment of male cruise employees. Kanno introduced a resolution inquiring about Norwegian's personnel policies and directing the state Tax Department to determine whether the cruise line should have to pay the state's hotel room tax. The resolution was obviously meant as intimidation and was not acted upon.
The commission had scheduled a June 7 hearing to determine whether Kanno had used his office to coerce Norwegian but canceled it after Kanno announced he would retire from the Senate. Mollway explained that pursuing the case would be a waste of time and money when Kanno would not be sanctioned regardless of the commission's decision because his actions came prior to its new authority to levy fines.
That authority will be useful in the future by reining in lawmakers and other state employees who choose to abuse their positions.
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