The purpose of this bill is to allow persons with knowledge and expertise necessary to the State to serve as members of a task force that is convened on a temporary basis by the legislative or executive branch to study an issue, make recommendations, or offer advice on a specific subject, by clarifying that these members are exempt from the requirements, restrictions, and prohibitions of the State’s code of ethics, unless they would be considered a state employee for a reason other than their service with the task force.
HD2, the current draft, deletes the contents of HB 2175 HD1 and, in response to the AG’s request, replaces them with contents almost identical to the narower HB 2455 HD1. The current draft amends HRS §84-3, definitions in the State Ethics Code.
HI State Ethics Commissioner Leslie Kondo testified that the ethics code involves more than just conflicts of interest. Amending the code’s definition of “employee” to exempt task force members will exempt them from ALL ethics code rules, including the gift law. The is a negative result: given the purpose of the ethics code, task force members should not be able to profit from the privilege of serving on a task force. Additionally, the lack of definitions for “task force”, “working group”, or “other similar entity” could result in any legislative group being exempt from the code. HD2 addresses the latter concern because it adequately defines “task force”.
Americans for Democratic Action testified that HB 2175 HD1 is unnecessarily broad in scope: it applies a meat axe where only a scalpel is needed. Exempting task force members from the ethics code means that the members could accept gifts intended to influence their recommendations; disclose confidential information to the public or use it for personal gain; accept a contract with a state agency without going through the bid process, etc. HD2 does not address this concern.
League of Women Voters asked why task force members should be exempted from the conflict of interest law in HRS §84-14 (also part of the Ethics Code). Although HD2 does not amend §84-14 directly, when putting together the bill’s amended definition of “employee” and §84-14, it would appear that HD2 still exempts task force members from the ethics code.
Opponents of HB 2175 HD1: State Ethics Commission, Americans for Democratic Action, League of Women Voters, Choon James of Country Talk Story.
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