Ethics panel afoot
The House will have a committee to probe complaints against members
Behavior of House lawmakers both on and off the job could come under scrutiny by a new committee being formed to police ethics and standards of conduct among the 51 members of the chamber.
The six-member committee, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, would have the authority to investigate any complaint filed against a member of the House and determine punishment.
Only House members can file complaints, but members of the public would be able to ask a representative to file a complaint on their behalf.
Discipline could range from a letter of reprimand to expulsion, subject to a vote of the full House, in the most egregious cases.
"It is a major departure from the past," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley). "In the past it was the speaker's office conferring with staff attorneys and the chief clerk in determining if a complaint should go further.
"A lot of times it just was resolved within the speaker's office."
Ethics complaints still can be filed with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission against a lawmaker's behavior, and in some cases the efforts could be duplicative, said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa).
The House committee would be able to investigate a broader spectrum of complaints, he said.
"For example, if there was a domestic abuse situation, the Ethics Commission would not get that, but that would be something we could look at if the complaint was made to the committee," Caldwell said.
Members of the committee have not yet been selected. The duty of naming all six members falls to the speaker.
Complaints would be made to the chairman and vice chairman of the committee, who both would be from the majority party, and then referred to the full committee upon merit.
"All things come in steps, and this is a huge step for us," said House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village).
A complaint would be made public only if the committee decides that a full investigation is required. Lawmakers said privacy is needed to guard against the potential for baseless claims being reported on publicly before any facts can be verified.
"We see a lot of room for mischief," said Rep. Colleen Meyer (R, Laie-Kahuku).
A handful of House members have run afoul of the law in recent years, most recently Democratic Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, who resigned as vice speaker last month after his conviction on a drunken driving charge. He was sentenced to 72 hours of community service and a $750 fine. He remains a member of the House, and no further disciplinary action has been taken.
In 2005 then-GOP House leader Galen Fox resigned after being charged with sexual misconduct for groping a sleeping woman on a flight from Hawaii to California. He was convicted in a nonjury trial and sentenced to three years' probation and three months of home confinement.