Time for legislators to back off on ethics loopholes
One of the most specious arguments in the debate over SB 671 is the one offered by House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro that rules governing the gifts public officials can receive from special interests need to be loosened because Hawai‘i’s ethics law hasn’t been updated in 39 years.
For one thing, Hawai‘i’s law is viewed as one of the more lenient and would likely have to be tightened — not loosened — if a serious review were undertaken in line with common understandings about official propriety that have evolved in the last 39 years.
The coverage of this bill around the world, documented by Larry Geller in Disappeared News, is because it’s a “man bites dog” story in which the Hawai‘i Legislature is headed in the opposite direction of public sensibilities here and elsewhere.
The other reason the Oshiro argument lacks merit is that basic ethics are pretty much timeless. How often do the Ten Commandments, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism or The Five Pillars of Islam need tweaking? When was the last time the Golden Rule was updated?
Our current law is based on the simple and sound ethic that public officials should not solicit or accept gifts intended to influence or reward them in the performance of their duties.
In an ideal world, that would say it all and lawmakers would exercise common sense in erring on the side of good ethics.
That they instead feel entitled to create loopholes that render the law meaningless in order to feed their hunger for freebies tells us that the Ethics Commission is exactly right about the need to get more specific in spelling out what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Suggestions that Ethics Commission executive director Les Kondo could be a target of retaliation by lawmakers for not playing ball are alarming.
After numerous failed attempts to finesse the wording, legislators need to recognize that what they want to do isn’t going to fly and back off.