Saturday, June 03, 2006


Pacific Business News urges "Ditch the interns"

With the legislative session over (unless there is some action to override any vetoes), attention is moving toward the November elections. At the same time, driven to a large extent by advocates equipped with computers and a passion for change, a reform movement is taking root in Hawaii.

It began as a result of the failure (yet again) of the legislature to pass a clean elections bill and the pro-industry actions of certain committee chairs. There's clearly a link between industry payoffs to legislators and the influence they have had this past session. Previously, if a popular bill succeeded, there was celebration--if not, a determination to try again next year. Few tried to learn why the deck seemed stacked against them.

This session has been different. A spotlight has been aimed at irregularities in the Democratic process, particularly in the state House of Representatives. And the intrusive glare didn't go off when legislators locked the doors of the House and headed home.

A business intern's real loyalties lie with the company for whom he or she works.
it's hard to imagine one of them giving input or advice to a legislator
that would run counter to his or her company's best interests.

-- PBN

Yesterday's Pacific Business News editorial entitled "Ditch the interns and just hire a lobbyist" is unusual because the editors have not allowed the issues raised in this past legislative session to evaporate into the usual post-session journalistic amnesia. It's June already, well past the time when the dailies have printed their "report cards" and closed the book on the 2006 session. PBN is supporting the fine work of its reporter Kristen Consillo as she continues coverage of the behind the scenes shenanigans that have marred this past session.

In addition to the controversy over "embedded interns," this session saw a marked escalation in the number of measures and amendments pushed forward by legislators without public access. The House's subtrefuge will be costly to small businesses and employees. Rep. Bob Herkes supported the insurance industry in removing the shackles of regulation. He was also nearly successful in short-circuiting the ability of public sector employees to get a hearing before the Insurance Commissioner on health insurance denials. This will cost us.

What was HMSA intern Mark Forman's advice on health insurance legislation that came to Herkes' committee? Is it possible to believe that he never involved himself in his area of specialty? The House refused to hear its version of the bill removing the sunset clause on the regulation bill. Did anyone ask Forman what he said about that? After all, he was the ranking expert in the House on health insurance matters. It would be odd, wouldn't it, if people only asked him about construction issues or his views on the gas cap. So what exactly did he say and to whom, this session?

Although the Ethics Commission has been asked to look into Forman's role as Herke's intern, unless the Commissioner has been lurking behind the curtains in his office it will be hard to learn what they might have whispered to each other every day. No doubt they shared many an intimate tete-a-tete (after all, the guy spent almost as much time in Herkes' office during the week as he spent awake at home), but alas, only the NSA might know what they talked about. This does not bode well for any of the ethics complains to succeed.

Herkes himself, according to PBN articles, holds that health-industry lobbyists essentially wrote the provisions in the controversial amendments themselves. Those amendments benefitted the industry hugely. To let industry officials help shape legislation behind the scenes is bad enough, but admitting it may get Herkes clear of ethics charges. In terms of the public interest, it's hard to say Herkes has done his job for the people, though HMSA and Kaiser must be absolutely thrilled with him.

PBN has taken the lead in keeping the public informed on the embedded lobbyist issue. More power (and subscribers) to them.


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