Thursday, April 27, 2006


Yet another conflict of interest in the Hawaii Legislature

Rep. Sylvia Luke has become another poster child for conflict of interest accusations in the Hawaii state legislature. Today's Star-Bulletin editorial discusses the medical malpractice bill and ends by concluding:
Luke is vulnerable to allegations that she is merely acting for the benefit of Cronin Fried Sekiya Kekina & Fairbanks, where she is an attorney. The firm is perhaps the most prominent in the state in handling personal injury cases. She should step aside from deciding by herself whether to consider this issue.
Others may have reasons for objecting to this bill (my own preference would be to have the Insurance Commissioner regulate premiums, which has worked very well in other areas of insurance), but Rep. Luke is the one with a clear conflict of interest.

It's one thing to holding an opinion on a matter, but if it happens that someone has a conflict of interest in it, the right thing to do is to step aside and let others act on it. Having a conflict of interest is not a crime, but one's actions become questionable if one doesn't both disclose it and remove one's influence on the matter at hand.

Luke also continues to sit on SB1061, the bill that would prohibit lobbyist contributions during session. Here again, she has a clear conflict of interest. According to data available, she has been the largest recipient of lobbyist largess in the House for the last (2004) election cycle. So here again, she should not be the one blocking this bill.

In both cases, Luke's refusal to hear these bills appears to be self-serving. When there is a conflict, the honorable thing to do is to step aside and have confidence in the wisdom of the committee members to do the right thing whatever that may be. A committee chair in her circumstances should also refrain from making a recommendation to the committee on how to vote, because quite often the "recommendation" is taken as direction from the leadership on how the member is expected to vote.

A resolution, SCR216 Creating a legislative task force to make recommendations for statutory enactment to enhance transparency in legislative proceedings has passed through the House Legislative Management Committee, but its next stop is guess where: Sylvia Luke's Judiciary Committee.

That task force could recommend rule changes or statutory measures to improve openness in Hawaii's government, including disclosures of conflict of interest.

I wonder if Luke will hear that resolution.


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