Monday, November 1, 1999

State ethics code
should be expanded

Bullet The issue: Recent cases involving the state transportation director focused attention on the state ethics code.

Bullet Our view: The code should be expanded to include public officials' adult children, parents, brothers and sisters, even roommates.

STATE Transportation Director Kazu Hayashida recently found himself embroiled in two situations with ethical implications. He approved a state contract with a company headed by his son and another with a company that employs his wife, who also owned shares in the concern.

Because the state ethics code covers only dependent children, the contract with Hayashida's son was not a violation. However, Attorney General Earl Anzai refused to approve the contract because it would have been perceived as a conflict of interest.

The contract with the company that employed Hayashida's wife was a violation of the ethics code. Hayashida said he did not realize that the code covered such situations and he was not aware that his wife owned shares in the company.

Hayashida's actions may have been totally innocent and without harm to the state, but they focus attention on what the ethics code covers and what it does not. The Ethics Commission's executive director, Dan Mollway, contends that the law should be expanded.

The law now prohibits officials from acting on matters in which the official, a spouse or dependent children have a "substantial financial interest." Mollway wants the law to include all children -- adult as well as dependent -- parents, brothers and sisters, even roommates, of public officials.

Governor Cayetano wants the law to cover grown children of officials. "The criticism that has come has come about because most people out in the community understand that whether your kid is 10 or 35, people are still close," he explained.

True enough. The same may be said of officials' parents, brothers and sisters, even roommates. Unless all of these people are included, the code simply is inadequate.

Patients’ privacy

Bullet The issue: President Clinton has proposed regulations to protect patients' privacy.

Bullet Our view: A national standard is worthwhile, even though Hawaii and other states have stronger safeguards.

IN the absence of congressional consensus, President Clinton has proposed rules to protect patients' privacy of their electronic medical records. The federal regulation will be used as a minimum national standard and not interfere with states such as Hawaii that have taken more aggressive approaches. Time will tell whether the state and federal laws provide a proper balance between patients' privacy and the need of information to ensure quality care, prevent fraud and abuse and contain costs.

Governor Cayetano earlier this year signed into law restrictions on the information that can be shared for treatment, payments and health-care operations, and who can see it. For example, medical information about a patient can be denied to relatives, florists and the news media unless the patient consents. Under the new law, even health insurers are regulated in how and under what circumstances they may gain access to patients' medical records.

Federal legislation in 1996 gave Clinton the authority to regulate medical privacy unless Congress acted on the issue before Aug. 21 of this year. Congress failed to meet that deadline. The regulations proposed by Clinton will become law in February and be enforced starting in 2002.

According to a congressional study, as many as 400 people may see at least part of a patient's medical record. The federal regulations are limited to protecting privacy of electronic records, while most medical information remains on paper. However, computers have made records available to insurance companies, self-insured employers, state bureaus of vital statistics, managed-care organizations, hospital accrediting organizations and medical researchers.

Although weaker than many state laws, the federal regulation will require patients for the first time to be guaranteed access throughout the country to their own medical records and give them the right to demand that mistakes be corrected. This minimal standard should not discourage other states from adopting broader safeguards.

Marcos’ stolen wealth

Bullet The issue: Philippine President Joseph Estrada has ruled out settlements with the Marcos family to recover the wealth stolen by the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

Bullet Our view: The decision could mean years more of delay in the government's efforts to recover the fortune.

PHILIPPINE President Joseph Estrada says his government will not enter any out-of-court settlements to recover the stolen wealth of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Estrada had previously said he favored a settlement because 13 years of legal battles have been unsuccessful.

Estrada's statement indicates that cases pending in court will be allowed to go through the full judicial process until final decisions are reached. Criminal convictions of Marcos' relatives or close associates are possible.

A ruling last year by the Philippine Supreme Court could make it difficult for the government to get court approval for any settlements in connection with the Marcos cases.

In that ruling, the Supreme Court said a settlement providing criminal immunities, tax exemptions or sharing of money suspected of having been illegally acquired was void because it was contrary to laws and public morals. The ruling could apply to any deals between the government and the Marcoses.

Estrada's statement may be welcome to those opposing any deal with the Marcos family. But it could mean years more of frustration for the government's attempts to acquire the stolen wealth, estimated in the billions of dollars. It could also mean further delays in compensating victims of the Marcos regime's violations of human rights.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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