THIRTY-SECOND LEGISLATURE, 2023
STATE OF HAWAII
A BILL FOR AN ACT
relating to the legislature.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF HAWAII:
SECTION 1. The legislature finds that the house of representatives adopted House Resolution No. 9 (2022) to establish the commission to improve standards of conduct. The resolution requests the commission ensure state laws and rules relating to standards of conduct of public officers and employees contain clear standards, enforcement, and penalties and provide recommendations to increase awareness of, compliance with, and deterrent effects of the code of ethics, lobbying laws, campaign finance laws, and other relevant laws and rules.
Pursuant to House Resolution No. 9, the commission to improve standards of conduct convened regularly throughout 2022 to diligently review, discuss, and consider the issues presented, submitted an interim report to the house of representatives outlining areas of immediate and long-term focus, then continued its work with input from the public and invited individuals and agencies to issue a final report with various recommendations and accompanying proposed legislation.
The legislature also finds that the strength and stability of our democratic government rely upon the public's trust in government institutions, including the expectation that officers act ethically with prudence, integrity, and sound judgement. Therefore, an essential goal of the commission was to provide recommendations that would help restore public trust in state government and increase the level of transparency in its operations and accountability of individuals.
Accordingly, the purpose of this Act is to implement recommendations of the commission to improve standards of conduct relating to the conduct and operations of the legislature and its members.
SECTION 2. The Hawaii Revised Statutes is amended by adding a new chapter to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:
OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE
PART I. GENERAL PROVISIONS
§ -1 Definitions. As used in this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:
"Office" means the office of the public advocate established pursuant to section -2.
"Public advocate" means the head of the office.
§ -2 Office of the public advocate; establishment. (a) There is established within the department of the attorney general for administrative purposes only the office of the public advocate.
(b) The office shall be headed by the public advocate, who shall be nominated and, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, appointed by the governor; provided that the term of the public advocate shall be coterminous with the term of the governor.
§ -3 Staff. The public advocate shall hire staff necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter. The public advocate and employees of the office shall be exempt from chapter 76 and shall not be considered civil service employees but shall be entitled to any employee benefit plan normally inuring to civil service employees.
§ -4 Judicial review; immunity. No proceeding or decision of the public advocate may be reviewed in any court, unless it contravenes the provisions of this chapter. The public advocate has the same immunities from civil and criminal liability as a judge of this State. The public advocate and the public advocate's staff shall not testify in any court with respect to matters coming to their attention in the exercise or purported exercise of their official duties except as may be necessary to enforce the provisions of this chapter.
§ -5 Penalty for obstruction. A person who wilfully hinders the lawful actions of the public advocate or the public advocate's staff, or wilfully refuses to comply with their lawful demands, shall be fined no more than $1,000.
Part II. RIGHTS OF THE PUBLIC RELATING TO THE LEGISLATURE
§ -11 Rights. All persons of the public shall have the following rights:
(1) The right to expect that the person's elected state representative or state senator will be treated with fairness, equity, dignity, respect, and inclusion, regardless of seniority, faction, or party;
(2) The right to be treated with fairness, equity, dignity, respect, and honesty during public hearings, regardless of their lack of power, status, wealth, or other excuses for unequal treatment. This paragraph, among other things, shall be construed to prohibit retaliation, including the elimination of a specific position from the budget, for any good faith conduct at a public hearing;
(3) The right to provide oral testimony at any public hearing;
(4) The right to publicly inspect written testimony no later than twenty-four hours after the written testimony is submitted;
(5) The right to expect that all members have access to and sufficient time to review all bill drafts and proposed amendments before formally voting on a measure in committee and on the floor;
(6) The right to expect that the original content of a bill is not suddenly and substantially changed without a public hearing on the new content;
(7) The right to expect that legislators have sufficient opportunity for open and honest debate on the merits of a bill and to vote on such merits, rather than burdening the legislative process with multiple referrals on the bill that would effectively inhibit the opportunity for such debate;
(8) The right to expect that subject matter committees pass bills without deliberate defects, including defective dates, and with recommended appropriation amounts;
(9) The right to expect that standing committees with primary jurisdiction over fiscal matters are not referred bills solely concerning nonfiscal matters;
(10) The right to expect that no bill should die in a conference committee due to the absence of a conference chair;
(11) The right to publicly inspect all official executive communications, such as budgetary information, submitted to the legislature. For purposes of fulfilling this obligation, the respective legislative chamber shall post all official executive communications on the capitol website within a reasonable period of time;
(12) The right to open and transparent decision-making, including the right to hear the rationale for any decision made by a committee or committee chairperson, such as the deferral or amendment of a bill, in a public meeting; and
(13) The right to easily inspect drafts of bills submitted to legislators for introduction or amendment, including the right to know the identity of the person who provided the draft if that person is a member of the public or lobbyist.
§ -12 Jurisdiction. The public advocate has jurisdiction to investigate violations of rights enumerated under section -11.
§ -13 Procedures; investigation of complaints. (a) The public advocate shall establish procedures for receiving and processing complaints alleging a violation of a right enumerated under section -11, conducting investigations, and reporting the public advocate's findings. However, the public advocate may not levy fees for the submission or investigation of complaints.
(b) The public advocate shall investigate any complaint alleging a violation of a right enumerated under section -11. In an investigation, the public advocate may make inquiries and obtain information as the public advocate deems appropriate, consult with an appropriate agency with subject matter expertise, and hold private hearings.
(c) The public advocate is required to maintain secrecy in respect to all matters and the identities of the complainants or witnesses coming before the public advocate, except so far as disclosures may be necessary to enable the public advocate to carry out the public advocate's duties and powers and to support the public advocate's recommendations.
§ -14 Powers. Subject to the privileges that witnesses have in the courts of this State, the public advocate may:
(1) Compel at a specified time and place, by subpoena, the appearance and sworn testimony of any person who the public advocate reasonably believes may be able to give information relating to a matter under investigation; and
(2) Compel any person to produce documents, papers, or objects that the public advocate reasonably believes may relate to a matter under investigation.
The public advocate may bring suit in an appropriate state court to enforce these powers.
§ -15 Consultation. Before giving any opinion or recommendation that is critical of a person and except as provided in section ‑16(c), the public advocate shall consult with that person.
§ -16 Procedure after investigation. (a) After an investigation, the public advocate shall report the public advocate's opinion and recommendations to the presiding officer of the appropriate chamber of the legislature and the complainant.
(b) After a reasonable time has elapsed, the public advocate may present the public advocate's opinion and recommendations to the public. The public advocate shall include with this opinion any reply.
(c) If the public advocate has a reasonable basis to believe that there may be a breach of duty or misconduct by any legislator or employee of the legislature, the public advocate may refer the matter to the appropriate authorities without notice to that person."
SECTION 3. There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $ or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2023-2024 and the same sum or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2024-2025 for the purposes of this Act.
The sums appropriated shall be expended by the department of the attorney general for the purposes of this Act.
SECTION 4. This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2023.
Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct; Legislature; Bill of Rights; Public Advocate
Establishes the office of the public advocate. Establishes rights for members of the public with respect to the conduct and operation of the legislature and its members. Specifies procedures for the investigation and reporting of alleged violations of the rights.
The summary description of legislation appearing on this page is for informational purposes only and is not legislation or evidence of legislative intent.