Lawmakers draft ethics regulations
A proposed code of conduct for the state House would establish a new six-member committee of its own members that would be charged with investigating and ruling on alleged ethics violations.
New rules for legislative conduct are being drafted by an interim task force charged with studying the issue of ethics and making recommendations for legislation next session. The task force was established in lieu of a broad ethics reform bill that died near the end of the 2007 session.
The six-member committee, which would be the first of its kind in Hawaii, would have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, all appointed by the House Speaker. Earlier versions of the proposed rules had given greater weight to Democrats.
"I think for the most part the majority and the minority have been on the same page," said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa). "We both agree that there should be a freestanding code of conduct committee composed of three Democrats and three Republicans."
The committee would work independently from the state Ethics Commission, with the aim of ruling on a complaint in a shorter amount of time, Caldwell said. The committee would be able to revisit a decision if the state agency ruled differently.
The code of conduct would be included in the House rules, which would have to be approved by a majority of members on the opening day of the 2008 Legislature. It would apply only to the House. Senate members could take similar measures if they felt it was needed.
"We're making significant strides," said House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village). "There's still a lot of work to do, but we're moving in the right direction."
The task force also is studying the issue of gifts and honoraria received by lawmakers for travel related to legislative work.
"We're making it clear what you can accept in terms of reasonable travel expenses," Caldwell said. "We didn't want to prohibit members from being asked to go to a conference or something to give a speech and have them receive reasonable travel, meals and lodging."