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Hawaii panel promotes steps to improve public officials’ conduct

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — A Hawaii commission formed after two former lawmakers from Maui and Oahu were arrested in connection with taking bribes on Thursday recommended boosting the state attorney general’s capacity to prosecute white collar crime and public corruption.

The panel included the guidance in an interim report on ways the Legislature could improve behavior in government. It focused its recommendations on measures the Legislature could pass before the current session ends May 5.

Its final report, due on Dec. 1, may address other topics such as term limits, the public funding of elections and lobbyist reforms.

“The Commission seeks to improve standards of conduct among elected officials and employees as safeguards against the further erosion of public trust and confidence in government,” the panel said in the report posted online.

Here is some of the legislation it recommended passing:

• Senate Bill 555 would prohibit holding fundraisers during the legislative session. One panel member suggested amending the measure to prohibit the receipt of any campaign contributions during the session.

• SB 2930 would fund new state attorney general staff to help investigate and prosecute fraud, white collar crime and public corruption.

• House Bill 1423 would increase, from $1,000 to $5,000, the fine imposed on a super PAC that receives more than $10,000 from one person or that spends more than $10,000 in an election period. The fine would be paid from the personal funds of the super PAC’s officers.

• SB 212 would allow the Campaign Spending Commission to refer a complaint to the attorney general or county prosecutor, in addition to assessing administrative finds.

The panel also recommended changing administrative rules to require House and Senate members to post all their legislative allowance expense reimbursements online. This would increase transparency and accountability, it said.

The state House of Representatives created the panel in February after former state Rep. Ty Cullen and former state Sen. Kalani English pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud. They admitted accepting envelopes of cash and other bribes from a business owner in exchange for shaping legislation while in office. They are scheduled to be sentenced on July 5.

English had represented East Maui, Molokai and Lanai for more than two decades before announcing his retirement last year due to long-term COVID-19.

House Speaker Scott Saiki, a Democrat, expressed his appreciation to the panel for their work.

“I want to thank the commission members for the diligent effort, especially in the short time frame that the interim report allowed. The interim report is very focused and identifies reforms that the Legislature can address in this regular session,” Saiki said in a statement.

Retired state Judge Daniel Foley serves as the chairperson of the seven-member commission. Other members include Robert Harris, the executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, and Kristin Izumi-Nitao, the executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission.

Former Republican state Rep. Barbara Marumoto and Florence Nakakuni, the retired U.S. attorney for Hawaii, sit on the commission.

Leading public interest advocates Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, and Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, are also members.