Blast 'em

This Blast 'em blog is going to shine a much needed bright light on legislative shanigans. We will provide details of the wrong doing, give names of the doer, and describe the ramifications to the public. Initially we will focus primarily on consumer issues.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

House Ldrshp Says "Keep 'Em Dumb"

For the third year, the legislature came very close to funding a program to provide internet webcasts of legislative proceedings held in state capitol conference rooms and legislative chambers. But late last night (April 28) SB 906 died in a conference committee. Conference committees in 1999 and 2005 also fell short of providing the most funding amounts needed. This session, conference committee lead chairs met on SB 906 and proposed $45,000 funding for the webcast program, but the money committee chairs declined. SB 906 passed both the house and senate in 2005, but did not get funding due to a tight budget. However, because there is a large budget surplus this year, it appears the legislature does not want to provide the public access to its hearings through the legislative sound system installed in all conference rooms. Currently, legislators can monitor hearings in conference rooms, and the legislation considered every year since 1999 would provide funds to extend access through the internet. This session there were five broadcasts of house committee hearings, compared to 36 by senate committees. In 2005, there were 23, compared to 65 hearings in the house and senate, respectively. While senate broadcasts are selected by the Public Access Room based on public interest, house leadership makes the house broadcast selections. Over the past three years, hearings on legislation conducted by the three major committees (consumer protection, judiciary, and finance) in the house were broadcast a total of two times (none this year), while the senate broadcast 72 hearings conducted by their corresponding senate committees.In 2004, the house spent only 76% of their $87,500 annual broadcast budget, returning $20,933 to the general fund. Based on the average broadcast-hour cost, this $20,933 would have funded 20 more hearings in the house (based on 2005 figures, it cost an average of $360 per broadcast-hour).The public should be told about the legislature's repeated refusal to provide minimal funding to connect its conference room sound systems to the internet, and the house's refusal to use taxpayer funds to broadcast hearings of interest to the public.Data Sources: legislature's website, including http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/site1/info/bcast/bcast.asp?press1=info&press2=bcast; Legislative Broadcast Project annual reports of 2004 and 2005; House Clerk's March 28, 2006 memo to George Fox. The 1999 bill is SB1099.

Gas Cap Proponents Win!

The Gas Cap Conference Committee reconvened at 3:30 this afternoon just long enough to say they are both studying the other side’s proposals and would meet again at 4:00 p.m.

At the 4:00 0’clock meeting the discussion was heated after Senator Menor read two letters from Consultant Tim Hamilton, a California consumer advocate specializing in Oil Industry pricing. His main contention was that transparency in Oil Industry pricing is non-existent because it is hidden behind trade secret cover. Rep. Kirk Caldwell answered with claims that more time is required for the PUC to gather facts to ensure the pricing formula they will be using is accurate, (as if the past nine months experience doesn’t accomplish this).

House Chair Morita says we cannot trust Tim Hamilton’s claims because his facts aren’t facts. Then she began interrupting Sen. Menor every time he spoke and he being always the gentleman allowed her to do so. At one point I thought he was going to leave the meeting causing the Gas Cap to stay in effect for another year. What he did was ask for an adjournment and what time they would like to reconvene? House conferees wouldn’t name a time and instead said they would be “on call”, meaning no specific time.

Remember, they have to settle by midnight or the Cap stays as is. I’m at home writing waiting for the phone to ring with news of the outcome. House conferees stopped just short of accusing Senator Menor of lying. I thought this would shut down the conference for sure but Senator Menor didn’t allow them to get to him.

It is now 10 minutes after 11:00 and I just received a message that they are about to reconvene. As usual, important consumer Bills go right down to the wire. It’s over, Senator Menor and consumers win but only after ex-governor Ben Cayatano got involved and House leadership pulled Co-chairs Morita and Caldwell off of the committee and replace them with Representative Sylvia Luke. Apparently Morita and Caldwell refused to go along with the settlement plan and if a settlement was to be reached, they had to go. The end result is not perfect but it’s much better than it could have been. Details next posting.

Friday, April 28, 2006

What's up With The Gas Cap Conference?

Last evening’s Gas Cap Conference Committee Hearing was interesting even though no agreement was reached. Those of us who pay attention to these proceedings got a strong impression that something was going on behind the scene just out of our reach. For instance, no news channels showed up but a young man from Senator Hemmings’ office did and he brought a large easel with a display panel with him. When the hearing began he moved to the front of the room being careful to not allow us to see what was on the display panel and he leaned the easel against the front wall. We never learned what this was all about because he never set up. Whatever he was expecting didn’t happen. Moreover, he works for Senator Hemmings, Senate minority leader who has no part in the Gas Cap Conference Hearing except as a Republican, he is against price regulation.

The interesting part of the hearing was the debate between Representative Joe Souki and Senator Ron Menor with Menor clearly being the better debater. Every time Joe Souki finished speaking he would sit back and look over his left shoulder like he was expecting an atta-boy or a pat on the back. I couldn’t recognize anyone on that side of the room that he might have been playing to. I’m a great believer in body language as a silent communicator of a person’s inner thoughts or intentions. Has he only done it once it wouldn’t have been noteworthy but the second time he got my radar up and I thought “whoa what’s up here”, and the third time I thought “something is definitely going on”. In addition to his movements the satisfied look upon his face was very revealing. It was as is he was saying “see what a good job I just did. So, like I wrote at the beginning of this posting, something was going on that we just cannot see.

They plan to reconvene at 2:00 P.M. this afternoon and face a midnight deadline. If no agreement is reached the current version of the Gas Cap stays in effect. Not the worst thing that could happen, in my opinion. Between 2 o’clock this afternoon and midnight they could meet and adjourn a number of times, we’ll just have to wait and see. Stay tuned. Aloha, George

Thursday, April 27, 2006

MORE THIRD WORLD ACTIONS

One of the great things about the United States of America is Freedom of the Press. Freedom of the press sets apart from just about every country on earth. It is who we are! Unfortunately, there are those in this country who think they have the right to limit this special freedom. Specifically, the State House of Representatives, under the direction of Speaker Calvin Say believe they have the right to limit freedom of the press. Here’s how they’ve accomplished it:

There used to be two press boxes at the rear of the house chamber. Now there is only one. This has the effect of squeezing all media into a tight area. The along comes Calvin and takes two seats for two members of his senior staff. Now print, radio, and T.V. reporters are really squeezed in a small, tight space allowing no privacy to do their jobs. For instance, if a reporter wants to discuss a story line with an n editor or a supervisor everyone else in the press box can hear their conversation. This greatly reduces their effectiveness in their jobs.

Why has House leadership done this? Do they have something to hide? As we used to say in the consulting business, “I smell a rat”. Something is definitely wrong in our House of Representatives.

Maybe the leadership has been in office too long and have gotten away with shenanigans in the past and are becoming more and more blatant in their actions. Do I o, once again, hear the phrase “third world”. I believe I do.

When are the people of Hawaii going to say enough to the leadership who treats them with contempt? When will the people reach up and jerk these so-called leaders off of their high horses? If it isn’t time now, it never will be for us to demand our most precious freedom of the press be returned to us!

Gas Cap Update

Yesterday’s Gas Cap Conference Committee hearing was interesting from my point of view. Before the hearing began House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Bobby Bunda came in a sat close to the front table. This is an unusual event and told me that a compromise was in the wind and they could take credit for solving the impasse. Didn’t happen. We are no closer to a meeting of the minds between the House and Senate than we were in the first conference committee hearing.

Senator Ron Menor made a major concession to the house which I thought would end the impasse. Unfortunately, the House is worried that Menor’s pricing formula will not be fair to the oil companies. Oh, and consumers also. Rep. Joe Souki claims that our unique market situation, i.e. isolated, mid-Pacific location and small population makes it impossible to control prices. He thinks we should allow market conditions set prices and this will be fair to all involved. He doesn’t remember that this is the situation we had before the gas cap and it allowed the oil companies to legally steal from consumers. Souki sounded like he was reading a Chevron press release.

Meanwhile, on the mainland gas prices have been on a mad, run up for the past few weeks. Oil companies claim this is caused by a lack of refinery capacity, like this is our fault. However, you may remember that the oil companies have been buying up small refineries and closing them down “because they are not efficient”. Meanwhile oil company profits are sky- rocketing to unprecedented heights!

Representative Souki has another angle that he thinks sounds good. “just give us pricing transparency and prices will come down”. Can anyone tell me when anyone outside the Oil Industry knew how they priced their products? I never met anyone who knew.

Whatever Say’s and Bunda’s reason was for being at the hearing is anyone’s guess. All I know is that another hearing is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. today and if agreement is not reached by midnight tomorrow, the Gas Cap stays in effect, as is! It’s now perfect but it is better than we had without it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TOBACCO $$$$$ PROBLEM & SOLUTION

Submission by Ira Rohter, PHD
Let’s Talk Straight About How Tobacco Industry Influences Hawaii’s GovernmentWhy is it that given all we know about the killing impact of smoking, editorials in both major newspapers and pleas by noted figures (Larry Price in Midweek, Jimmy Borges in the Advertiser) have to ask our legislators to pass Senate Bill 3262 (the “Healthy Air and Workplace Act”)? Each year 438,000 people die of tobacco related illness in the U.S., costing $167 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity. And why does the American Lung Association State of Tobacco Control 2005 report rate Hawaii a “D” because the State spends too little on anti-smoking programs?Does Hawaii’s less-than-adequate regulations and programs have any connection to the fact that Hawaii’s elected officials have received direct “campaign donations” of $454, 394 from tobacco companies and their lobbyists in the last five years? Or that Big Tobacco has spent $103,780 to pay lobbyists in 2003, 2004, and 2005 to walk the halls of the Capitol to pitch their product? Has the $558,174 that the Tobacco Industry spent over the last 5 years influenced Hawaii’s legislators as they consider ways to cut-down smoking? It’s time for some truth-talk here. As the academic article “Tobacco Institute lobbying at the state and local levels of government in the 1990s (Tobacco Control 2002;11:1102-1109) dryly notes: marketing (that is, the advertising, pricing, product design, packaging, and distribution) of tobacco products is clearly affected by the legislative and regulatory environment in which it takes place. The tobacco industry seeks to manage this regulatory environment and has utilized a variety of strategies to oppose enactment of tobacco control legislation at the state and local levels of government. Controlling regulations which might reduce their profits is why Big Tobacco has given at least $20,371,398 to elected officials in all the 50 states from 2000 to 2005 (according to data complied by The Institute on Money in State Politics www.followthemoney.org) A Solution. Is there a way to reduce the influence of gigantic rich corporations like Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds on legislation? Well, Maine, which a decade ago had the nation's highest teen smoking rate, has become the first state to win perfect scores (A) from the American Lung Association for its tobacco-fighting efforts. Maine has the distinguished honor to become the first state to score an A in each of the four categories: Tobacco Prevention Funding, Smokefree Air, Cigarette Tax and Youth Access. Maine has set an example for all states and proved that with the political will a perfect grade is possible. The result will be lives saved from the death and disease caused by tobacco use and addiction. What’s so special about Maine? The answer is that 78% of Maine’s legislators were elected running only on public funds. As “Clean Election candidates they received absolutely no “donations” from tobacco, pharmaceuticals, oil, land developers, healthcare, construction, lawyers, real estate, etc. special-interests. Maine’s legislators can write bills that are best for the voters who elect them, not what pleases their big-money funders. Hawaii’s citizens could also be able to play on a level-playing field if our legislators would pass a Voter Owned Elections program like Maine, Arizona, Connecticut, and other states have. Next time you see your elected representative, ask him or her to pass a Clean Elections bill now. [go to www. voe/xxxx for list of officeholders and donations received from Tobacco Industry] Ira RohterPresident, Hawaii Clean Elections732-5497

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

LEGAL BLACKMAIL

Twenty-seven (27) legislators held fund-raisers during the 2005 legislative session. Why did they do that? It’s just like when a reporter asked Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber; “why he robbed banks”? He answered “that’s where the money is”! That’s why committee chairs hold fund-raisers during the session; it’s when they can raise the most money. In reality, it’s legal bribery!

Lobbyists, their clients, and other special interests know that the investment with the greatest return is a campaign donation. It means even more if given to a committee chair near the end of a session. The end of session is when Bills are finally passed or killed, the power of the entire legislature is held in just a few hands.

This is why, when you see a newspaper ad announcing a fund-raiser and in the ad, placed in a prominent position, is a statement saying “Chair of the XXXXX Committee”. In my opinion, this really says, “Come in, we are open for business”. Anyone with business before that committee knows this is a request for a bribe. In any other business it would be called blackmail, i.e.” we are holding your Bill hostage and will only release it after payment is received”.

During the 2004 & 2005 Sessions the “Four Masters of Influence” (super lobbyists) and their clients donated $98,292. Not a great deal of money and only a minor percentage of lobbyists and legislators are involved. This indicates how cheaply legislators sell out their constituents. MUCH MORE ON THIS at a later date.

LATEST ON GAS CAP CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

Yesterday’s Gas Cap Conference committee hearing was quite a show. Senator Menor has a much better grasp of the situation than the House Co-chair, Rep. Kirk Caldwell, and it showed in every round of the repartee. Rep. Caldwell constantly spoke of transparency as if Company CEO’s would be more likely to reduce prices if the public knew more about how they priced their product. What he forget is that CEO’s have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits! Moreover, if they do not do all they can to maximize profits they are open to stockholder law suits.

Senator Menor and the senate seem more amenable to making concession than does the House Conferees.

Another round of the conference committee is in progress as I write, so I’ll bring you more tomorrow. Enjoy the read, George.

Another interesting Blog you may want to check out.
http://disappearednews.com/2006/03/capitol-crime-murder-in-rotunda.html

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Salary Commission Trick

It seems the city officials need another pay raise. The justification is the same as last time: “some employees are making more than their bosses”.
I received the following Email, Thursday at 10:00 p.m.:

WE NEED LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
THIS IS AN OUTRAGE
WHILE PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS; SOME PEOLE ARE WORKING THREE JOBS JUAT TO LIVE; MORE THAN 70,000 HERE ARE WORKING FOR MINIMUM WAGE AND PROPERTY TAXES SKYROCKETING THE MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL ARE GOING TO GIVE THEMSELVES A PAYRAISE!

THE CITY COUNCIL BUDGET CHAIR SAID THE MONEY IS IN THE BUDGET THE PROPOSED BUDGETS HAS CUTS FOR SOME CITY POSITIONS
REMEMBER THIS IS AN ELECTION YEAR!

Friday, in the Honolulu Advertiser it was explained:

Plan boosts pay of city officials
Salaries could rise for the second straight year by as much as 5% unless rejected
By Crystal Kuamailto:ckua@starbulletin.com?subject=http://starbulletin.com/2006/04/20/
Salaries for the mayor, City Council and other city officials could go up for the second year in a row under a proposal that would give them as much as a 5 percent raise.
The city Salary Commission is considering pay increases of 3 to 5 percent for elected and appointed officials as part of the panel's annual salary review. The commission meets next Thursday to vote on a salary recommendation to the City Council.
CURRENT SALARIES OF CITY OFFICIALS
The city Salary Commission is considering recommending raises of between 3 percent and 5 percent for appointed and elected city officials. Here are their salaries now:
Mayor - $116,688
City Council Chairman - $50,388
City Councilmembers - $45,084
Managing Director - $111,384
Dep. Managing Director - $106,080
Department Directors - $103,800
Department Dep. Directors - $98,340
Police And Fire Chiefs - $114,624
Police And Fire Deputy Chiefs - $108,768

WHAT'S NEXT?
The Salary Commission meets next Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the City Council committee room on the second floor of City Hall.
Any pay raise recommended by the commission takes effect automatically unless rejected by seven of the nine city council members.
Last year, the commission recommended a 4 percent salary increase for the mayor, managing director, department directors, deputy directors, fire and police chiefs, their deputies, the City Council chairman and council members.
Commission Chairman Guy Tajiri said they are likely to increase the combined salaries of all the positions by a certain percentage before settling on a final figure.
"That's the amount of dollars we're going to use to make an adjustment for the individual positions, and that's why the percentage (between positions) may vary," Tajiri said.
But one member of the Council, who has consistently objected to all pay increases, said this year in particular is a bad time for pay raises.
"Everyone would like a pay raise, and I'm no exception, but it's a question of priorities," Councilman Charles Djou said. "There are so many pressing financial needs that the city has, like trying to fix our sewer system and repairing all the damage that we've had from the rains recently. I think it's difficult to justify pay raises."
City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, however, said there is money already set aside in next year's budget for any possible raise up to 4 percent.
Last year's 4 percent raise resulted in an additional $170,000 annual cost to the city.
While any potential pay raises might not be a financial struggle for the city, politically they could be, she acknowledged.
"That's the difficulty," she said.
That is why she would like to see what the commission comes up with and then weigh it with all the financial numbers, including the Council's desire for property tax cuts and the amount needed to pay for storm damage.
The City Council will hold a public hearing today on the proposed city operating and capital improvement budgets.
Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said that he will also wait for the commission's decision.
"It depends on what the commission comes up with, because if they decide not to take any action, I'm fine with that," he said.
Dela Cruz said he is not opposed to raises that would help attract candidates for hard-to-fill directors' positions.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann is in China and was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Tajiri said that the City Charter does not require the commission to look at the city's revenue picture or economic outlook in coming up with recommended salary adjustments, "but I think we cannot ignore those factors."
Tajiri said that the commission's decision will be based on several factors, including what other city employees have received -- including those in collecting bargaining units and managers not covered by collective bargaining contracts. The commission also will look at inflation and what officials in other, comparable county and state posts make.
Chiefs of the Fire and Police departments are asking the commission to raise the pay for the chiefs and deputies in both those departments to keep them ahead of middle managers.
"If you look at the City Charter again, we're tasked with making salary adjustments in accordance with the principle of adequate compensation for work that they perform," Tajiri said. "I think we looked for fair and equitable adjustment."

Article URL: http://starbulletin.com/2006/04/20/news/story01.html © 1996-2006 The Honolulu Star-Bulletin http://www.starbulletin.com/

It seems our Mayor, Mufi, is struggling to make ends met on $116,000+! WOW, we should all be so unfortunate!

The salary commission trick is great for elected officials, they don’t have to vote for it and it magically goes into effect as long as they don’t vote against it. When the legislators in Washington, D.C. used this very same trick our Rep. Abercrombie actually claimed “I didn’t vote for it”. What a great guy!

Meanwhile, back to the city of Honolulu where they recently closed Ala Moana Beach Park at night to get rid of the homeless. They didn’t actually get rid of the they moved them somewhere else. Now, in their wisdom the Council is considering making the park closing permanent. Why not? It worked so well in the short term.

This is it for today, I am too disgusted to write any more,

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Beat Goes On

According to an article in yesterday’s USA Today, the Abramoff scandal has caused ethics reform bills to sweep across the country. What it didn’t say is “except Hawaii”. Here in paradise, Rep. Sylvia Luke still has Senate Bill 1061 tied up in her committee. This Bill would prevent any legislator from holding a fund-raiser during the session. Not a great hindrance, but any hint of reform is apparently out of the question. Meanwhile, the protest letter I wrote to the Speaker of the House, Calvin Say has not been acknowledged, much less acted on. Safe to say, it’s business as usual in Hawaii! Moreover, the campaign money laundering scheme between the Democratic Party in Rhode Island and the one here in Paradise got the Party Chair fired in Rhode Island but here all it got was “oops, I guess we won’t do that again” or something as equally dumb.. And finally, while Senators and Representatives in Washington were scrambling to return Abramoff donations, our guys were creative enough to come up with a great reason not to return their ill gotten gains, their story was “ if we give the money back it will look like we did something wrong’. Well DUH? To be fair, I believe Representative Case returned his. I’ll have to check on that.

I attended two conference committee hearings yesterday and basically in both the two sides stated their positions and agreed to meet again. The Gas Cap was a little more extensive because the House conferees submitted a 50 page amendment and when the Senate Chair suggested they meet again the next day the House Chair said “they needed more time to study the issue”. It was her amendment so why did she say they needed more time?

Speaking of that amendment, the young man handing out the amendments after seeing that all conferees had a copy came into the audience and gave the person on my left two copies and said to the person sitting behind me, “you need two copies” and I said “I’ll take one. He replied “I cannot give you one”! I said loudly “you gave him two and him two so why can’t I have one”? The House Chair said “quiet in the audience”! I sat quietly and a different clerk quietly brought me a copy.

I’m off to the Capitol. Hasta Manana.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rep. Bob "the villain" Herkes

Representative Bob Herkes, Chair of the Consumer Rejection and Commerce Committee. In a prior posting we saw Rep. Herkes amending a Bill after the Bill was heard in his committee with only industry insiders being privy to the wording of the amendment and the public being ignored. Today’s posting will discuss more antics of our favorite (at the moment) villain. We all thought we could smell HMSA’s tracks all over the amendment because HMSA will make more millions from this trick. Remember, the CEO of the HMSA Foundation is an intern in Herkes office.

Forgetting the Monica Lewinsky jokes for the moment, an intern is usually a college student working part-time at the legislature to learn the process and possibly earn a few course credits. In Herkes case we have a CEO, earning his full corporate salary, working as a volunteer in the office of the committee chair that oversees legislation that directly affects his employer. See why I call it the Consumer Rejection Committee? Our villain, Bob is surely not protecting consumers. Not now, and not ever! The only thing he protects is corporate interests. I cannot wait to see the Campaign Spending Reports when they come out this spring. Bob held a fund-raiser during the session and in and advertisement clearly stated the name of the committee he chairs. To me it looked like a statement saying “STORES OPEN everything we have is on sale”! Now that we are all up to speed on Bob the villain, let’s get on with the next chapter in the ongoing antics of Bob the villain.

As I walked around the Capitol Building yesterday I had a few tidbits of information whispered in my widely open ears: Mark Foreman, the intern in Bob’s office, denied having anything to do with the amendment while Chris Pablo, lobbyist for Kaiser Permanente (second largest heath insurer behind HMSA) stepped up and took credit for writing the amendment. This all happened on Monday. Yesterday, Kaiser denied having anything to do with the amendment leaving their lobbyist to swing in the wind. What we’re left with is an amendment that no-one wrote. Meanwhile HMSA and Kaiser will profit handsomely from it and Chair Herkes has been quoted in print as saying he doesn’t know what’s in the Bill. Perfect! Like I said in a prior posting, I can’t make this stuff up; it is too outlandish, too far beyond belief to be true. Unfortunately for consumers, it is true!

I said in yesterday’s posting that today I would come out and claim title to this Bog. The reason I didn’t right from the start is that I thought a little mystery might bring greater exposure. Whether it did or not, who knows. Now for the sake of credibility, it’s time. Drum roll please. My name is George Fox; I’ve been a consumer advocate for the past ten years. I testify on a number of Bills each session. It is frustrating work because we are always fighting highly paid industry lobbyists with large staffs, money for research and more importantly, campaign contributions. While on our side of every issue we are self funded with no staff. It hardly seems a fair fight except we have truth, time, and we testify from the heart while lobbyist rarely testify. I serve as an officer and/or board member on five nonprofit organizations, always as a volunteer (more on this in a future posting). This is it for today, I have a few errands to run and I need to get over to the capitol for the Gas Cap Conference Committee Hearing. In tomorrow’s posting I will have links to some other Blogs that you may find interesting but as this requires some technical learning on my part it will have to wait until tomorrow.

Before I go and just so you don’t get the idea that all I do is attack, I want to salute two of the good guys at the legislature (I grew up in New York so “guys” is a generic term for both females and males). My “Good Guys” are and Representative Bev Harbin and Senator Les Ihara, Jr. The reason I choose them will be covered in a future posting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Consumer Protection? NOT!

I know that when we closed the previous posting we said that this posting would discuss the Death with Dignity situation here in Hawaii. However, that is a long-term problem and we are in the closing days of this legislative session and things are heating up. So we’re going to shine a Blast ‘em light on some of the shenanigans going on at the Capitol. Does the word corrupt come to mind? Don’t answer that until you get to the end of the posting.

There is a situation in the legislature that has been getting attention in a few blogs and also in the media, finally. This situation has been going on for years but has finally gotten out of control, hence the media attention. Below you will find a copy of a letter sent yesterday to the Speaker of the House. It is self-explanatory and therefore needs no explaining. However we will add comments at the end.

April 17, 2006

Honorable Calvin K.Y. Say,
Speaker of the House
Hawaii State Capitol
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Dear Speaker Say:

After the demise of Common Cause there was a lapse in citizen
oversight of the legislature. This lack of oversight has led to
blatant disregard for ethical behavior by the legislature, especially
the House which is under your purview.

Now comes Citizen Voice, organized to step up and fill the gap left
by Common Cause as the watchdog organization reporting on ethical
lapses of the legislature. We do not intend to simply report, we fully
intend to shout long and loud when your House ignores ethical
standards and/or the law.

A case in point is Representative Herkes who has become the poster-
child for what is wrong in your House. According to the Pacific
Business News article of April 14, 2006, Representative Herkes
allowed an industry representative to draft amendments to a bill
regulating that industry’s activities. "Kaiser Permanente Hawaii
lobbyist Chris Pablo acknowledged that he drafted the amendments to
the bill and circulated them among other health plans, like the Hawaii
Medical Service Association, to enlist their support." Even worse,
he doesn’t have the faintest idea what that bill means although it was
heard by his committee. While we are on the subject of his Consumer
Protection and Commerce Committee, again by his own words, (please
see Richards Borreca’s article in Sunday’s April 16th Star Bulletin) http://starbulletin.com/2006/04/16/editorial/borreca.html (this link was not in the original letter and is added for reader convenience).

Herkes apparently believes “consumer protection” means protect his special interest industries by allowing their employees to write amendments that he then slips into legislation without public hearings. The resulting amendment, which Rep. Herkes
sprung on the committee for passage, was no longer a simple bill to cancel the
sunset provision of the rate regulation law--all the new language was highly
favorable to the health insurers. One section in particular practically assures
that any attempt at rate regulation would be tied up in litigation virtually forever.
Without your indulgence this blatant disregard of ethical practices would not be happening and MUST STOP IMMEDIATELY!

Citizen Voice expects you, as speaker, to remove the Healthcare
Insurance Industry representatives from Chairman Herkes office and
put Bill SB2917 back to its original wording and pass it in order to
reinstate rate regulation of the healthcare insurance industry.
Moreover, if you want to be seen as a true leader of an ethical
organization you would remove Rep. Herkes of his Chairmanship of the
CPC Committee as a warning to all Chairs that unethical conduct will
not be tolerated. As my mother once told me “it’s not what they say,
but how they act that tells you who they are.”

Sincerely,
/s/
George Fox,
Executive Director


How about that? Again, does the word corrupt come to mind? Is this a third world country or a state in this great nation? As we said above, this has been going on for a number of years, but when anyone gets away with unethical or criminal acts for a length of time they get more and more blatant in their actions. This is where we are at now. We don’t know if Representative Herkes is just plain dumb or thinks rules and laws do not apply to him since he was named Chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee. What’s in a name? Everything, Mr. Herkes. The name consumer protection says it all. Your committee isn’t named the Healthcare Insurance Provider Protection Committee, its Consumer Protection! We wanted to add two more words to the end of that last sentence but some folks might think that’s over the top.

This is the time in the session when we go to conference committee where the Senate and House attempt to arrive at compromises on Bills where they have differences. What really happens is most business is done behind closed doors with the public locked out. One improved made a few years ago is that conferees now at least speak up, or are supposed to. Previously the mumbled so even those sitting in the first row and leaning as far forward as they could without falling on the floor, couldn’t hear what was being said.

The forthcoming postings should be interesting so stay tuned.