Tuesday, December 21, 1999

State of Hawaii

haggling over

By Eloise Aguiar


Key lawmakers are skeptical about a proposed bill from the state Ethics Commission that would broaden Hawaii's conflict-of-interest law to prohibit state employees from acting on matters involving their parents, siblings, grown children and "significant others."

The proposal, which is still being worked on by the commission, was prompted by the recent controversy involving contracts awarded to the son of state Transportation Director Kazu Hayashida and to a civil engineering company employing Hayashida's wife.

Lawmakers said the initiative isn't necessary, and state Rep. Eric Hamakawa, interim chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said an expansion of the present law could eliminate qualified contractors.

"Where the bidder is the most qualified, you shouldn't be excluding him just because he's a family member," Hamakawa (D, Hilo) said.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Daniel Mollway said public confidence in state officials must be strengthened. He said the controversy over the contract awarded to Hayashida's son might have been avoided if disclosure laws were tougher.

"The whole purpose of the Ethics Commission is to enhance public confidence in government," Mollway said.

But Hamakawa said the Hayashida controversy came about because the Transportation Department didn't follow the proper procedures.

"I'm not sure you need stricter ethic laws, as opposed to stricter adherence to the rules," he said. "I don't think we should overreact just because of this one case. The laws that we have would have covered that case if followed correctly."

Mollway disagreed and so did the commission, which unanimously approved drafting the proposed measure last week. However, while the commission wants to expand the conflict-of-interest law, it will not move to require financial disclosure of family members, Mollway said.

The expanded law will require state officials and employees to excuse themselves from making decisions that affect their family members, but there is no violation if the official or employee isn't aware that the family member is involved, he said.

State Sen. Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei), co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he'll hold a hearing on the bill, but questioned its broadness, saying legislators will have to decide if an amendment to the bill is even necessary.

"The first thing we'd want to do is analyze the situation and determine if this is a reaction to a perceived conflict or if it is actually a quantifiable conflict that is taking place," he said.

State Sen. Matt Matsunaga, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said a hearing on the issue would be worthwhile, but the commission would have to demonstrate a need before he approved any amendment.

In a related action, the commission decided to introduce a resolution asking legislators to adopt stronger conflict-of-interest laws for themselves.

Chumbley said he supports stronger rules for legislators, who are now exempt from the law but govern themselves through guidelines.

In other action, the commission agreed to send to the Legislature the following proposals:

Bullet A bill that would require financial disclosures by members of boards that run departments.
Bullet A bill that would make into law a policy that prohibits using Washington Place for campaign fund-raisers.
Bullet A measure that explicitly prohibits campaigning in state facilities, during state time, with the use of state equipment or with the use of state personnel.

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