Ongoing Series { Conflicts of interest in the Hawaii Legislature.

Tsutsui Let Lawmaker Vote To Confirm His Own Son

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Editor's note: This is part of a Civil Beat series exploring conflicts of interest in the Hawaii Legislature. Read the related stories.

In the Hawaii House of Representatives, lawmakers asked for rulings on potential conflicts of interest more than 100 times.

In the Senate, however, there were only five such requests this year.

What explains the difference?

The two chambers have separate rules and leadership interprets those rules differently. The Senate's rules are looser, and essentially apply only in cases where a lawmaker has a "direct financial interest" in the vote.

Senate President Shan Tsutsui told Civil Beat in an email that conflicts of interest are narrowly construed by Senate Rule 85 [pdf], which applies to legislation in which a member "has a direct financial interest." Even when a senator may directly benefit financially, there's an exception permitting the vote if he or she is part of a larger group affected by the official action.

A "snapshot" of verbatim floor dialog [pdf] on Days 26, 41, 47 and 59 of the 2011 session reveals the five measures in which a senator requested a ruling on a potential conflict of interest.1 The Senate's full verbatim journal is not available online for the public to review, but a Senate spokeswoman provided Civil Beat with the snapshot after reviewing the record for the 60-day session.

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