'Embedded lobbyist' business interns out
Criticism of interns from industry leads to Legislature's ban
Businesses and industry representatives will not be allowed to work as interns for legislators, according to new state House and Senate rules.
The rules are being adopted after the practice was criticized last year by citizen groups that dubbed the business interns "embedded lobbyists."
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said the new prohibition is part of a 74-page administrative and financial manual for the Senate.
Senate rewriting rules after 8 years
When the state Senate convenes this week, it is expected to adopt a new administrative and financial manual that new Senate President Colleen Hanabusa says is the first new set of rules for the Senate in more than eight years.
The 74-page manual details how the Senate will order supplies, how it will allocate funds for travel expenses and who will be able to get trips. Some of the details:
» "Public funds for postage and mailing shall be used solely for the mailing of official material such as public notices and official correspondence. The postage ceiling shall be $750 per month during the regular session for the president, vice president and chairs of the Ways and Means, Judiciary and Consumer Protection committees. The majority and minority leader and other committee chairs get $500 a month and other senate members get $250 a month during session and $100 a month when the legislature is not in session.
» Legislators are expected to limit their use of their offices to the conduct of legislative business.
In past years, corporations and other private institutions ranging from Hawaiian Electric Co. to the Hawaii Medical Service Association Foundation placed executives in legislators' offices as interns.
But critics such as Larry Geller, Kokua Council president, said the interns were actually lobbyists who gained inside knowledge of pending legislation or actually had a hand in drafting new laws.
Hanabusa said the concerns had caused the lawmakers to act.
"A lot of it was the concern raised about the lobbyists, even if we don't believe there was any evidence of it -- just the appearance to the public that special-interest groups have had certain access to individuals because they provide them with staff," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
Former Senate President Robert Bunda introduced a resolution last year to prohibit the practice, but it was never approved by the Senate.
"If the public perception is such that a private-sector intern will exert influence over legislation, then it is not in the best interests of the Senate to employ such individuals," said Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Pupukea).
The issue was highlighted last year when Geller asked the Ethics Commission to investigate whether Mark Forman, Hawaii Medical Service Association Foundation executive administrator, should serve as an intern with Rep. Bob Herkes, chairman of the House consumer protection committee. Herkes was then working on a bill that would have required the state insurance commissioner to continue a review of health premium rates charged by firms such as HMSA.
Herkes (D, Volcano-Kainaliu) said he was not in conflict and had avoided using Forman to help with legislation that touches on HMSA.
Yesterday Herkes said that Forman "did a hell of a job for us last year."
"I think we will miss not having the interns, but we were advised that there will be no interns," Herkes said.
Herkes said he had to hire extra workers to take the place of the industry interns.
Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua-Waimanalo), GOP leader, praised the reform.
"It is absolutely wonderful. The lobbyists were writing legislation that would influence their businesses. This is something to be lauded," he said. "This is long overdue."