Ethics bill stirs
partisan debate

The Senate president orders
a recess when a GOP senator
recites lapses by Democrats

Senate debate yesterday over a bill to require top state officials to undergo two hours of training on ethics provoked a partisan exchange over just what would be a good example of the need.

After Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) suggested the bill was an overreaction and something that the public and the voters could handle at the ballot box, Sen. Willie Espero (D, Ewa-Ewa Beach-Lower Waipahu) said such training might have avoided an ethics complaint brought last month against Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

He referred to the complaint filed by longtime Democrat Faith Tomoyasu about Lingle's letting the private nonprofit group formed to push her education reform proposals use her office.

Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) responded that Espero was trying to "skewer" the GOP administration with allegations "that have not born any fruit," and called it "petty partisanship."

Hemmings then said he would enter into the record "why ethics training may be necessary for the majority party," and started to recite a "roll call" of examples.

"Nathan Suzuki, tax fraud; Rene Mansho, two counts of theft; Jon Yo ..." he started before Senate President Robert Bunda suddenly gaveled a recess.

After some private conversation between leaders, Bunda gaveled the Senate back into session.

Hemmings said "in the interest of bipartisan cooperation," he would withdraw his reading of the list of prominent Democrats who have gotten into legal trouble if Espero would withdraw his remarks about the ethics complaint against Lingle.

"So be it," Espero said.

Sen. Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki), who supported the bill, observed that "the value of ethics training at the very least is not that it makes us more honest. It has the same value as just sending people to jail to come out better crooks.

"These two hours of ethics training ought to teach most people how to avoid the most common mistakes that other people make and at least be more subtle," he said. "I don't think it's going to change the nature of the individual at all, but it might save this institution some embarrassment."

The bill, which has yet to face a House vote, would as of Jan. 1 require legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, department heads and their deputies as well as members of the Board of Education and Office of Hawaiian Affairs undergo two hours of ethics training.

The course would cover the state's ethics and lobbying laws, examples of their application and a question-and-answer session on common problems and situations.

Hemmings' abbreviated "roll call" included former Rep. Nathan Suzuki, who faces sentencing in July after pleading guilty to a federal tax conspiracy count, former Honolulu Councilwoman Rene Mansho, who served one year in jail for misusing campaign and city funds, and former Councilman Jon Yoshimura, who was suspended from practicing law for six months for lying about a 1999 traffic accident.


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