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Hawaii News Now - April 03, 2024 - Questions swirl over whether wildfire relief aid will pay tab for Maui mayor’s enhanced security

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen’s enhanced security detail cost approximately $115,000 for a six-week period after the devastating wildfires and, HNN Investigates has learned, federal relief aid designated for victims could be used to pay for the protection.

Camron Hurt, of Common Cause Hawaii, questioned the state spending. “He had jurisdiction over his own police if he needed protection,” said Hurt.

Instead, a spokesperson for the county said, the state Public Safety Department made a verbal offer to provide an additional security detail — bypassing official paperwork.

Hawaii News Now - January 25, 2024 - Oahu sees alarming rash of destructive business break-ins, but HPD response is unclear

Honolulu police are investigating dozens of destructive break-ins in which suspects used rocks, tools, even vehicles to plow through storefronts and gain access to businesses across the island, according to multiple law enforcement sources. It’s all part of a growing trend in so-called “smash and grab” burglaries on Oahu. But when we asked HPD about it, the department refused to talk numbers or provide information about what officers are doing to track down thieves. Meanwhile, community advocates and shop owners want answers.

Multiple law enforcement sources told HNN Investigates that HPD is investigating dozens of these cases — and each one costs business owners thousands of dollars. One shop owner said his Wahiawa store has been targeted three times in the past three months. HNN Investigates asked the department for an interview to discuss the rash of crime.

But officials ignored our request.

“I think HPD needs to post haste confirm this number for the public,” said Camron Hurt, Common Cause Hawaii program manager. “We deserve to know what’s going on in our community. If shopkeepers knew this, maybe they could better prepare themselves.”

Hawaii News Now - January 17, 2024 - ‘A serious matter’: HPD admits to $575,000 mistake in e-ticketing contract

The Honolulu Police Department violated rules by working with a vendor after the contract expired — and the services have racked up a bill more than half a million dollars, HNN Investigates has learned. The problem stems from the department’s electronic ticket pilot program, which was launched in August 2018. The e-citations program was touted as a way to streamline the process because the technology can send information directly to the courts.HPD contracted with the vendor, Thin Blue Line Reporting out of Arizona, initially for one year but was allowed four one-year extensions.

In May 2022, after the contract expired, HPD “requested additional training and services outside of the city’s procurement guidelines,” a spokesperson for HPD told HNN Investigates. The mistake was discovered a year later but by then, the total bill from the vendor added up to $573,491.

Camron Hurt, program manager of Common Cause Hawaii, said this reflects poorly on HPD’s leadership. “We need to make sure that our public servants from the top down are properly trained to do their job,” Hurt said

Honolulu Civil Beat - September 24, 2023 - Honolulu Architect Is Headed To Prison For Bribery But Still Has His License

In four months, Honolulu architect Bill Wong will be wearing a prison uniform and will be known as inmate No. 58344-509.

But until then, Wong is free to run his architecture business as usual, drafting plans and submitting them to the scene of his crimes: the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.

In four months, Honolulu architect Bill Wong will be wearing a prison uniform and will be known as inmate No. 58344-509.

But until then, Wong is free to run his architecture business as usual, drafting plans and submitting them to the scene of his crimes: the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting. More than two years after Wong admitted to bribing county permitting workers with over $100,000, and two months since he was sentenced, Wong still holds a state of Hawaii architecture license.Councilman Takeuchi Apuna is advocating for the passage of Honolulu City Council legislation. Bill 36 would prohibit building applications from anyone convicted of bribing DPP or causing a DPP worker to be convicted of bribery

Camron Hurt of Common Cause said he would support the proposal. The public needs to feel that misconduct will be met with consequences. “In Hawaii, there is a clear corruption problem that the general public feels,” he said. “It is a general public feeling that rules for thee are not rules for me.”

Hawaii News Now - September 13, 2023 - HPD chief touts major drop in violent crime, but refuses to release the data

Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan recently announced a big drop in violent crime island-wide. But when HNN Investigates asked for the numbers that HPD used to calculate that drop, a seemingly simple request, the agency refused to share the information. And crime statistics obtained through inside sources paint a somewhat different picture as to what’s really happening in the community. Over the past month, a series of violent crimes have made headlines on Oahu. There have been at least four murders, along with multiple robberies and assaults — and even a home invasion. These crimes come as Logan is touting a significant drop in violent offenses.

Camron Hurt, who heads up the non-partisan government watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii, said there’s simply no reason for HPD to keep the crime statistics secret. “When public trust in institutions is at an all-time low, it’s absolutely critical to do the things that you can do. And being transparent about crime is the bare minimum,” Hurt said. “There’s a right to know what’s going on. And there’s even more of a right when you’re helping fund that (agency),” he added.

KITV4 - August 11, 2022 - Councilmembers consider bill that reduces the gift limit for government employees

Honolulu City councilmembers are considering a bill that would prohibit city and county employees from receiving gifts worth more than $25 dollars. The intent is to maintain integrity among Honolulu’s elected and appointed officials, and assure the public that elected officials are not subject to influence by special interests. Bill 26 reduces the gift limit from $200 to $25.

Honolulu Ethics Commission board members say this bill is long overdue – that it is inappropriate for a business to buy gifts for an elected official especially for those that work together.

Common Cause Hawaii officials said they support this proposal and that it is necessary in the midst of several open bribery cases. ”Hawaii has such a culture of gift-giving but when you work in government you are not supposed to accept a gift for doing your job. They work as public servants and it is their job to help the people here,” said Sandy Ma, executive director at Common Cause Hawaii. Sandy Ma said we do not symbolize Aloha through gifts but through fairness and high ethics.

Hawaii News Now - August 04, 2022 - Experts say union’s big spending could influence LG’s race

The Hawaii Carpenters Union political action committee is about to set new records in election spending. And the influx of cash could influence a very tight lieutenant governor’s race, experts say. The PAC — called Be Change Now — reported it spent $3.7 million on ads for the primary election with roughly $700,000 pending. Much of the money is aimed at keeping candidate Sylvia Luke out of office.

Be Change Now is funding attack ads against Luke, supporting her closest competitor Ikaika Anderson, who was endorsed by the Carpenters Union.

Experts said the union could sway the outcome with their financial force. “Because there are no big policy differences. And it’s also about who you trust. What negative advertising can do, whether it’s fair or not, is just put that sense of doubt in the minds of voters.”

Common Cause Hawaii, a non-profit dedicated to honest politics, said there needs to be more transparency with PAC and regulation of their influence over candidates. “So this is actually incredibly disturbing that the PACs and super PACs are muddying the waters and changing the dynamics of the elections in Hawaii,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause.

KHON2 - July 13, 2022 - Former Hawaii County housing worker charged with taking bribes

His job was to help create more affordable housing for Big Island residents. But instead, federal prosecutors said Alan Scott Rudo used his position to take bribes and kickbacks of nearly $2 million. Rudo has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire services fraud.

Documents stated Rudo conspired with three attorneys. “The object of the conspiracy was to make it appear that RUDO was faithfully discharging his duties… when in fact his official acts were tied to an agreement to take bribes and kickbacks.” Records said they “deceived the County into entering Affordable Housing Agreements for the development of land in Waikoloa, Kailua-Kona and South Kohala, based on false promises that their companies would develop affordable housing.”

“It’s beyond disturbing, this breach of public trust,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. Ma said if the allegations are true it’s a slap in the face for the people of Hawaii, for someone to take advantage of a program that is badly needed.

KHON2 - July 05, 2022 - Former lawmaker, Kalani English sentenced 40 months

Former state lawmaker, Jamie Kalani English, was sentenced to 40 months and three years probation for his role in wire fraud. A federal judge has also ordered English to pay a $100,000 fine.

English pleaded guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud in February, and told the judge that he accepted bribes of cash and other gifts. In exchange, legislation was drafted on cesspool and wastewater policy to help a businessman, referred to in court documents as Person A, who sources have identified as Milton Choy. Court records say that included Choy handing English $5,000 while in a car. FBI agents then stopped them and records say English tried to hide the money under the floor mat.

The head of Common Cause Hawaii says the sentence is appropriate. “To show that corruption and bribery in our political process will not be tolerated. What is so disturbing is that we had to get to this place,” said Executive Director Sandy Ma. Ma says more transparency is needed in the political process to repair the public trust. “So that we know when bills move why they move, when bills fail why they fail, so things like this cannot happen again,” she said.

KITV4 - July 05, 2022 - Former Hawaii Sen. J. Kalani English sentenced to 40 months in prison

During his sentencing in Federal Court Tuesday, former State Senator J. Kalani English learned how long he will spend behind bars. While the prosecutor wanted a stiffer sentence – to send a message that elected officials who take bribes will be prosecuted severely. “This was not just any elected official, but the majority leader of the Hawaii State Senate with a lot of position to bargain, peddle, and sell. So having an individual like him on the other end of the bribes was incredibly damaging,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson.

“This is a stain on Hawaii, on the Legislature and Hawaii politics,” said Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma. This case uncovered illegal bribes by individuals and following the money is one way to track donations to lawmakers. But there are other ways those donations can get in lawmakers hands. “We need to know who is trying to influence who is getting elected,” said Ma. While some may be turned off to Hawaii politics because another former leader has been sentenced, Ma hopes this will encourage more people to get involved in island politics.

Hawaii Public Radio - The Conversation - July 01, 2022 - Round table talk with new Honolulu Police Chief Logan

This week we saw a ceremonial swearing-in of Honolulu Police Chief Joe Logan. He’s got a tough job during tough times. The landscape may have never been so difficult to navigate. We are hearing about more deadly drugs, more ghost guns, and a shortage of officers. And the Supreme Court yesterday struck down Hawaiʻi’s gun law for permits to carry firearms in public.

And Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director, Sandy Ma, offers some comments during this round-table talk around 22 minutes into it.

Honolulu Star Advertiser - June 20, 2022 - Kai Kahele’s run for Hawaii governor highlights financing from state

Public financing for Hawaii political campaigns again has become an issue this year with U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele announcing that he is now eligible for state campaign funds for his gubernatorial run by raising $100,000 through individual donations of $100 or less. If Kahele’s donations are verified, he would qualify for as much as $207,000 in public campaign funding from the state’s general fund for the Aug. 13 Democratic primary election, said Kristin E. Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission.

If he should win the primary, Kahele could theoretically qualify for another $207,000 in state campaign funds for the Nov. 8 general election by a second round of donations of $100 or less.

Common Cause Hawaii has pushed for campaign spending reforms in the state Legislature, including more transparency regarding who donates to PACs and Super PACs. Raising the amount that candidates can receive in public funding would reduce their reliance on so-called dark money, said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. Public campaign financing tends to help political challengers, she said, and reforms continue to die in the Legislature. “It is hard to go out there and fundraise,” Ma said.

Honolulu Civil Beat - June 19, 2022 - It’s Time To Scrap Voting ‘Yes With Reservations’ At The Legislature

A long-standing tradition allows Hawaii lawmakers to avoid casting difficult votes that could make or break bills. But it’s really a way to avoid making tough calls. They vote yes “with reservations,” or WR, as it is known at the State Capitol.

But votes with reservations are actually counted as “yes” votes anyway, so what’s the point? Well, if a bill turns out to be unpopular, legislators can then tell their constituents they weren’t completely on board in the first place. In other words, the option lets legislators play both sides.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said of WR, “It doesn’t really create the transparency we need in our elected offices. It doesn’t allow us to understand why votes are being traded, creating this opaqueness in the process.” In this way, the practice could allow bad bills to move along when they really should not, she said.


KHON2 - June 17, 2022 - Alleged conspiracy leads to calls for campaign reform

Retired Judge Randal Lee said it takes just one bad allegation to tarnish the reputation of an entire office. He added that transparency is key when it comes to those who enforce the law.

“Mr. Kaneshiro was the leader and he led by a poor example because, you know, he abused his power as the prosecutor based on the allegations here. The indictment was handed down by the United States Attorney’s Office in San Diego and filed in a Honolulu court. Lee said that — in and of itself — is telling. “Why? That we don’t even trust the people within Hawaii to investigate Hawaii,” Lee said.

Common Cause Hawaii — a grassroots organization promoting open and honest elections — said the people need to look at officials with a sense of scrutiny and push to curb the influence of big donors and corporations. “And so, I mean, we need to look at it from a different lens,” Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma said, “this is campaign finance reform that we need, we need publicly-funded elections.”

AP - June 10, 2022 - Hawaii lawmakers pass some reforms after bribery scandal

Hawaii lawmakers this year passed several bills to boost government transparency and promote better lawmaker behavior. But their critics, and some lawmakers themselves, say they still have work to do, especially after a bribery scandal sullied the state Legislature.

“One would think that following on the heels of two guys going to jail that more would have been done,” said Gary Hooser, a former state senator from Kauai.

Former Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former state Rep. Ty Cullen, both Democrats, pleaded guilty in February in connection with accepting bribes. They each face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in July and October.

Among the bills lawmakers passed is a measure requiring state legislators and employees to complete ethics training within 90 days of taking office, and then again every four years.

Both Hooser and Sandy Ma, the executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii, lamented lawmakers’ failure to ban all campaign fundraising during the legislative session. Instead, lawmakers passed a narrower measure that would prohibit holding fundraisers.

West Hawaii Today - June 05, 2022 - Bill to reduce costs of public information requests on Ige's desk

Senate Bill 3252, introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads, an Oahu Democrat, was forwarded to Ige on May 6. The measure would cap copying charges of public records by government agencies at 25 cents per page or sheet. The measure also specifies that there will be no reproduction costs for producing documents provided to requesters in an electronic format if the agency maintains those documents electronically. Other fee limits are also set in this bill. 

The bill described public records laws as “a critical mechanism to maintain government accountability and transparency and support citizen involvement in government decision-making.

“Common Cause Hawaii has received complaints from the public as to the exorbitant costs charged by agencies for producing documents in electronic format, chilling public engagement,” said the group’s executive director, Sandy Ma, in written testimony. Ma said Common Cause supports SB3252 because “it will hopefully increase government accountability and transparency and reduce the public’s barriers and burden to participating in our government.”

KHON2 News - May 22, 2022 - Honolulu police chief finalists explain why they’re the best fit over public forum

The four finalists in the search for the next Honolulu police chief had their first chance to prove to the public why they’re the best fit for the job Thursday evening. PBS Hawaii featured the four candidates in the show “Insights” from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Retired Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, HPD Major Mike Lambert, HPD Major Ben Moszkowicz and retired New Jersey State Police Lt. Col. Scott Ebner answered questions, mostly sent in by the community.

Before the forum aired, Former Commission chair Loretta Sheehan applauded the Commission’s efforts in being transparent in the selection process and called it a great opportunity for the public.

The group Common Cause Hawaii said it supports more transparency in the process. In a statement, the director said, “the public must be able to see into the selection process in order to ensure and hold accountable that any person selected by the Police Commission will understand the job at hand.”

KITV4 - May 20, 2022 - Bail Reform bill author asks Governor to veto measure

In an unexpected reversal, the State Representative who authored a Bail Reform Bill has sent a letter to Governor David Ige, asking him to Veto the measure. Critics say the bill eliminates a judge’s discretion to set bail, while mandating a no-bail release for people charged with a range of nonviolent offenses.

“After the bills passage, we heard the public and there was a public outcry about the bill possibly being too broad. I heard public outcry and acted accordingly. I do think government needs to be responsive to people. I just hope they can come to testify during process rather than after the bill left us.”

“We don’t need someone to second guess and give in to mass hysteria,” says Sandy Ma of Common Cause. “We need leadership. We need someone to take ownership of this bill and its disappointing actually. That’s representative Matayoshi, who introduced this bill, who worked on this bill with constituents, and is now walking away from it.

Think Tech Hawaii - May 19, 2022 - Election 2022, Issues that Moves Voters (American Issues Take One)

Social and Economic Issues Rev up Voters. The hosts for this show are Tim Apicella and Jay Fidell. The guests are Cynthia Lee Sinclair and Sandy Ma.

Honolulu Civil Beat - May 19, 2022 - This Honolulu Architect Admitted To Bribery. But He Still Has His License

Despite pleading guilty to a job-related felony, William Wong was able to renew his license for another two years.

Honolulu architect William Wong pleaded guilty last year to paying over $100,000 in bribes to city permitting employees, and he faces prison time at his sentencing in October. But for now, he’s still working as an architect and interacting with the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.

“It’s so disappointing on so many levels,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability organization Common Cause Hawaii. “License revocation should happen right away.”

KITV4 - May 17, 2022 - Supporters of ‘Bail Reform’ bill argue current system unfairly targets low-income, minority populations

HONOLULU (KITV4) — Hawaii lawmakers and advocates of HB 1567 say cash bail reform is needed because it unfairly targets our minority and poorer populations in Hawaii. Advocates say the current system could leave an indigent person charged with a crime to remain behind bars because they cannot pay for bail.

“If you don’t have the ready capital then you have to remain in detention. That disproportionately impacts the poor and the native Hawaiian population and our Micronesian population, the black and brown population,” said Sandy Ma with Common Cause Hawaii.

West Hawaii Today - May 11, 2022 - Bail reform bill heads to governor for consideration

A bill passed last week by state Legislature would eliminate the use of monetary bail and require defendants to be released on their own recognizance for certain nonviolent offenses

The Office of the Public Defender advocated for abolition of money bail as a condition of release. “It is a poor tool for achieving pretrial justice,” its testimony stated. “The money bail system incarcerates poor people because they are poor.

Those in favor of this bail reform measure includes the Office of the Public Defender, the state Judiciary, the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission, Community Alliance on Prisons, Faith Action for Community Equity, the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Imua Alliance, Common Cause Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat - May 06, 2022 - Tupola’s City Council Term Limit Proposal Raises Ethics Concerns

Honolulu Councilwoman Andria Tupola hasn’t disclosed that she is getting paid by a candidate who would benefit from her legislation.

The councilwoman is proposing a city charter amendment that would prevent former councilman Ron Menor from taking office again in January – even if he wins the election. Meanwhile, she has accepted $2,500 a month in consulting fees from one of Menor’s opponents. Some observers, including Menor, are calling the arrangement a blatant conflict of interest.

One of Menor’s opponents in the race, Keone Simon, has paid Tupola $17,500 since October for “mentor/training” services through her consulting business, Hawaii Leadership Solutions, according to campaign spending data.

“It just reeks of a quid pro quo: I’m paying you for your consulting services and you introduce this resolution to benefit me,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability group Common Cause Hawaii. “It just doesn’t look good at all.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - 05 May, 2022 - Proposals Clearing The Legislature This Week

Dozens of bills flew under the radar in the last two weeks of the 2022 legislative session as lawmakers hashed out details on hundreds of measures. The House and Senate already passed many of those bills on Tuesday, just a portion of the 300 or so bills lawmakers have sent to Gov. David Ige. Ige has until late June to decide whether to veto a bill, sign it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Included Among the Proposals – Mandatory Ethics Training

Mandatory ethics training would be required of state legislators and employees every four years under House Bill 1475.

“The intent has always been to move in this direction,” said Robert Harris, the executive director and general counsel of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. “However the Ethics Commission wanted to create the program first before trying to mandate the actual ethics training.”

The bill’s passing means the course certification will be required for about 60,000 state workers, Harris said. Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, suggested ethics training should be done annually. While that’s not in the bill now, requiring more frequent training is an idea the ethics commission might consider in the future, Harris said.

[Many other bills that passed the Legislature are highlighted in this article; click on the button to review them all]

KGMB - Hawaii News Now - Calls for Max Sword to Step Down from the Board of Water Supply

Max Sword appeared via video at the last Board of Water Supply board of directors meeting. QuotingMax Sword: “I’m remote at my home office.” For months, people have called for him to step down or be removed – after he was indicted by a federal grand jury – for his conduct while serving on another board, the Honolulu Police Commission. Sword is accused of conspiring with former high level city administrators to pay off disgraced police chief Louis Kealoha, ahead of his conviction in the recent public corruption scandal. Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director, was interviewed on this Hawaii News Now TV program. Click on the link, scroll down to the Hawaii News Now blurb and click on Play under the video image to watch Sandy Ma’s interview comments on Mr. Sword.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 25, 2022 - Hawaii lawmakers pan suggested ban on campaign contributions during legislative sessions

Hawaii lawmakers don’t seem inclined to pass legislation this year that would fulfill a special commission’s recommendation to outlaw campaign fundraising during the legislative session.

The recommendation was issued by the Commission to Increase Standards of Conduct on March 31, about two months after a pair of former Hawaii lawmakers were charged by federal prosecutors with taking bribes while in office.

Sandy Ma, a commission member and executive director of Common Cause, told members of the legislative committees that any receipt or use of a campaign contribution during the session should be prohibited as part of the bill and that it should apply to candidates for all statewide elected offices.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 24, 2022 - On Politics: Common Cause presses for transparency, accountability by elected and government leaders

For Sandy Ma, government, Hawaii government, is all about power — who has it and who can control it.

Ma, the daughter of China-born parents, is the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, the nationally affiliated government reform group, and she thinks that power can be used to help Hawaii.

Ma today knows this is a critical time as Hawaii’s Democratic-controlled state Legislature wraps up its annual season and heads into the pivotal 2022 state and national elections.

Government and political action have always been part of her life.

According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report written when she was named new Common Cause executive director in 2019, Ma has focused on changing political issues for the better.

Now, she sees her role as an active participant in changing government and hopes that is how Hawaii voters see their own citizen duties.

Hawaii Reporter - April 22, 2022 - It’s still critical that we rein in governor’s emergency powers

Many of the most draconian measures of Hawaii’s coronavirus lockdown measures have been lifted, but it still is important that we reform the state’s emergency-management law, according to Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, and Malia Blom Hill, policy director for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Ma and Hill were the guests earlier this month on Keli’i Akina’s “Hawaii Together” program on Think Tech Hawaii. The topic was “Reining in the state’s emergency powers.”

“I know that it may seem like it’s not as pressing [to rein in the governor’s emergency powers],” said Hill.  “But I will just remind you that the nature of the emergency powers are such that you can be right back in it — like that — just at the say-so of the governor, which means that it’s still an important issue; it still needs to be addressed.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 17, 2022 - The Hawaii Legislature Is Winding Down. Will The Gut-And-Replace Ban Hold Up?

Lawmakers have much leeway to make drastic changes to bills in midsession, but could also be hauled into court if they go too far. Hawaii lawmakers face a new test in the weeks ahead as they wrap up this year’s session: Can they get their business done and go home without surprising the public with entirely new proposals or dramatic, last-minute amendments to the bills they have been debating since January?

That long-standing gut-and-replace practice was often bitterly criticized by frustrated advocates and activists who would follow legislation all year, only to see bills transformed into something entirely new and different at the last minute.

Common Cause Hawaii was so dead set against gut and replace that it went so far as to create a special “Rusty Scalpel Award” in 2014 to help draw attention to the practice, but that attempt at public shaming appeared to do nothing to curb the practice.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 17, 2022 - Hawaii lawmakers still practicing gut-and-replace surgery on bills

It may not yet be time to retire Hawaii’s “Rusty Scalpel” competition. A pair of good-government organizations have bestowed the ignominious annual award in recent years to the worst piece of legislation at the state Capitol produced using the “gut and replace” tactic that dodges democratic lawmaking principles rooted in Hawaii’s Constitution. The Hawaii Supreme Court laid down a precedent-setting November ruling that invalidated a 2018 law stemming from a gut-and-replace maneuver, designating certain aspects of the practice as unconstitutional.

Yet at least two examples of bills that could easily be considered an affront to the court’s decision popped up recently at the Legislature.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, which challenged the 2018 law with the League of Women Voters of Honolulu, called HB 510 “problematic” in the context of whether it meets the court’s new standard for being germane to versions that received public input and lawmaker consideration last year. “This is still taxes, but it’s two completely different taxes,” she said.

Honolulu Star Advertiser - April 12, 2022 - Honolulu’s spending of COVID-19 relief funds questioned

City officials are still trying to decide how to spend much of $386 million awarded through the American Rescue Plan Act. Complicating the matter is a disagreement between Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration and City Council members over who gets to make spending decisions, which, in turn, is giving rise to questions about transparency and public oversight.

According to the City Charter, the Council must allocate funds before Honolulu Hale distributes funds. However, in the handling of ARPA allocations, Blangiardi’s administration is largely bypassing Council participation. The administration is dispersing the first tranche of ARPA funding based on pandemic- focused exemptions made in the city budget passed in 2020.

“It is important that we provide our residents with the opportunity to testify on how the $386 million of ARPA monies may be applied to help address our community needs,” Council Chair Tommy Waters added.

Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma said she has similar concerns. “Why is the executive branch unilaterally expending these funds?” she asked. “We understand that there is this committee that’s been formed that takes requests for the expendire of these ARPA funds, but I don’t know what guidelines are being used to vet these requests … and so we’re highly concerned that this could give rise to ethics problems … this could be highly problematic.”

Think Tech Hawaii - April 12, 2022 - Reining in the State’s Emergency Powers (Hawaii Together)

Why we Must Restore Checks and Balances. The host for this show is Keli’i Akina. The guests are Sandy Ma and Malia Blom Hill.

A bill to limit the governor’s emergency power is nearing the legislative finish line, and that bodes well for transparency and accountability in Hawaii, according to guests Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, and Malia Blom Hill, policy director of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Show host Keli’i Akina leads a discussion on why limiting executive power during emergencies is an essential part of good governance.

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 05, 2022 - Are Lawmakers 'Testing the Boundaries' Of the Ban on Gut and Replace?

A new draft bill approved by the House Finance Committee and the House Labor & Tourism Committee would create a new 14-member Natural Resource Management Commission to distribute up to $30 million in grants that would be funded by hotel room tax revenues. The bill would also provide $60 million a year to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which is tasked with marketing Hawaii to the world. But none of those provisions in the bill were in any of the earlier drafts of SB 775, which raises a legal question – it may violate the recently passed bill dealing with “Gut and Replace.”

House Labor & Tourism Committee Chairman Richard Onishi said he believes the bill will hold up in court if it is challenged.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said she has received calls from lawmakers’ staffs asking if she thinks bills including the House amendments to SB 775 comply with the court ruling. “It just kind of strung things together, and it should just be a pure one subject, one title, and it’s not,” Ma said. “It does seem like they are testing the boundaries of what is allowable, and what they can get away with.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 02, 2022- Hawaii legislative report calls for ‘better, honest’ government

A recently formed commission is recommending passage of 14 bills at the Legislature largely aimed at combating public corruption, improving government transparency and changing fundraising and campaign spending rules.

The Commission to Increase Standards of Conduct, formed by the House of Representatives on Feb. 17, a week after bribery indictments were brought against two former Hawaii lawmakers, released a preliminary report Thursday focused on legislative reform that can be implemented this year.

Among the recommendations: forming a special state Office of the Attorney General unit focused in part on public corruption, banning fundraising during the legislative session and posting lawmaker expense reimbursements online.

The commission is chaired by Daniel R. Foley, a retired state appellate judge. In addition to Foley, commission members are Robert Harris, executive director of the State Ethics Commission; Kristin Izumi- Nitao, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission; Sandy Ma, executive director of good- government group Common Cause Hawaii; former state Rep. Barbara Marumoto; League of Women Voters member Janet Mason; and Florence Nakakuni, former U.S. attorney for the District of Hawaii.

The report noted that some bills introduced this year that have stalled and can’t properly be revived but are supported by the commission may be included in the commission’s final report.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - April 01, 2022 - Hawaii panel promotes steps to improve conduct in government

A Hawaii commission formed after two former lawmakers were arrested in connection with taking bribes on Thursday recommended boosting the state attorney general’s capacity to prosecute white collar crime and public corruption.

The panel included the guidance in an interim report on ways the Legislature could improve behavior in government. It focused its recommendations on measures the Legislature could pass before the current session ends May 5.

“The Commission seeks to improve standards of conduct among elected officials and employees as safeguards against the further erosion of public trust and confidence in government,” the panel said in the report posted online. Several pieces of forthcoming legislation are recommended by this panel.

Leading public interest advocates Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, and Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, are members of the eommission.

Honolulu Civli Beat - March 31, 2022 - Open Government Commission Releases Recommendations On Legislative Bills

A legislative commission tasked with increasing transparency in government is calling on lawmakers to enact more than a dozen measures aimed at preventing public corruption and increasing oversight of money in politics.

The seven-member Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct released its interim report Thursday that details suggested changes to bills moving through the Legislature.

If all of the commission’s recommendations passed, legislators’ public expenses would be posted online and citizens could see lowered costs for public records.

The commission’s members include retired Judge Dan Foley; Ethics Commission Director Robert Harris; Campaign Spending Commission Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao; Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma; Janet Mason, from the League of Women Voters of Hawaii; former Rep. Barbara Marumoto; and former Hawaii U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni.


Honolulu Civil Beat - March 14, 2022 - Hawaii Seemed Poised To Adopt A Vape Flavor Ban. Then Came The Amendments

For high school senior Zoey Duan, a pre-session meeting with state House leadership was a sign of changing tides. Maybe 2022 would be the year the Legislature finally banned the sale of the alluringly flavored tobacco products that had gripped her peers in an enduring vaping epidemic.

The Punahou School student had reason to be excited — Speaker Scott Saiki, health committee chair Rep. Ryan Yamane and vice chair Rep. Adrian Tam had committed to pushing the issue through the House, where previous iterations of the ban had gone to die. So she and her fellow activists were dismayed when the flavor ban bill left Yamane’s committee nearly double in length and stuffed with what she says were “poison pill” amendments meant to “tank the bill and make sure it never passes.”

Were these amendments influenced by donations to legislators? Hmmmm. The legal exchange of money for political leverage extends beyond the tobacco industry, said Sandy Ma, executive director of good government advocacy organization Common Cause Hawaii. Without more comprehensive campaign finance laws, she said, advocates, who are often volunteers, have few ways of competing against well-funded special interests.

“When a bill gets captured, it’s like, ‘oh, my goodness.’” Ma said. “Sometimes it takes years drafting legislation and getting everyone lined up and on board, that it’s just heartbreaking.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 11, 2022 - This New Hawaii Commission Is Aimed At Open Government. So Why Has It Been Meeting In Secret?

A commission tasked with making recommendations for government transparency and accountability has so far been meeting behind closed doors but the commission’s chairman says it will open its meetings after delivering an interim report to state lawmakers later this month. Its chair says there was no time to set up public meetings.

The commission first met in late February and must produce an interim report with proposed legislation for this session on March 31. The House convened the new working group days after former lawmakers J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen pleaded guilty to felony charges for taking part in a bribery scheme.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii and a member of the commission, asked lawmakers in February to ban any campaign contributions during the legislative session.

Honolulu Star Advertiser - March 10, 2022 - Honolulu ethics rules improper spending for City Council member Andria Tupola

The Honolulu Ethics Commission issued a formal opinion Wednesday that City Council member Andria Tupola improperly used city funds to buy materials for COVID-19 community events put on by her former private employer.
Tupola, who represents District 1 covering the west side of the island, used about $1,500 in public funds to pay for banners, chairs and promotional materials for COVID-19 vaccination and testing events at S&G Labs Hawaii, where she was the executive director of operations.

Sandy Ma, the director of watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii, said the Ethics Commission’s conclusion was reason for concern. “Any amount of money that’s public dollars, is a lot of money … it’s our tax dollars … every penny counts,” she said. “Why are they taking my money to enrich their private employer? It ultimately goes back into their pocket.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - February 27, 2022 - EDITORIAL | LETTERS: Report suspected government fraud

It is disturbing how much corruption is plaguing our government employees and elected officials: the Kealoha scandal, Honolulu Planning and Permitting Department employees taking bribes, and corrupt state legislators, just to name a few. All these cases were brought by the federal government.
Hawaii should not forget that there is local authority under the state Department of the Attorney General and the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to confidentially report fraud, waste or abuse involving government funds, government workers, or persons and entities awarded government contracts.

This excerpt from the Letter to the Editor was submitted by Sandy Ma, Executive Director, Common Cause Hawaii

Indivisible Hawaii Zoom Session - February 23, 2022 - Conversation with Sandy Ma, Executive Director, Common Cause Hawaii

At this well-attended Zoom session, Sandy Ma gave Indivisible Hawaii members an update on ethics bills in the current legislative session including: Ethics bills HB2123/HB1849 (removing financial disclosures), HB1475/SB2039 (mandatory ethics training); Transparency Bills SB2143 / HB1897 (improving our Sunshine Law); and on Corruption (how to tackle it – campaign finance reform HB1881/SB3164, eliminate pay to play, lobbyist form, etc.)

Honolulu Civil Beat - February 21, 2022 - Some Hawaii Agencies Are Pushing A Bill That Would Limit Public Access To Government Records

The University of Hawaii and other state agencies are asking lawmakers to make it easier to restrict public access to a whole class of government records, a move that would undermine a far-reaching ruling by the state Supreme Court in 2018.

House Bill 2303 would amend the state open records law to specifically allow public agencies to keep secret certain “drafts, internal memoranda and correspondence” and other “pre-decisional materials” that are part of the agencies’ internal decision-making processes.

The bill would still allow the public to have access to internal, pre-decisional government records “when the public interest is equal to or stronger than the potential harm to the agency,” according to OIP.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, countered that “the purpose of the Uniform Information Practices Act is to open government processes to public scrutiny and participation, and we think having another exemption to the public records requests will not fulfill the intent and purpose of the public records law.”

“We’re concerned that an agency can have a really large umbrella of what it considers drafts and internal memoranda and correspondence, and that could sweep in a lot of documents that will not be disclosed,” she told the committee. “Lots of things can be called drafts or internal memoranda and correspondence. It can cover a whole host of documents.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - February 21, 2022 - ‘Shock And Anger’ Over Legislative Bribery Cases Could Lead To Limits On Campaign Fundraising

Hawaii lawmakers may limit their own ability to raise money for their political campaigns during the legislative session in response to felony charges leveled against two former lawmakers who took bribes to aid a Honolulu businessman.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 555, which would ban mid-session fundraisers. The ban would also apply to the Legislature’s special sessions.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, supports SB 555 but said it wouldn’t do away with all political contributions during session. “Sure, you could ban fundraisers, but you could still meet with people and then the money could still come in,” Ma said.

Common Cause is asking the Senate to impose an additional ban on accepting any political contributions during session, including for candidates seeking statewide offices.

Honolulu Civil Beat - February 20, 2022 - Government Boards Struggle To Adapt To Hawaii’s New Open Meetings Law

Several government board meetings including panels on wastewater and game were canceled in January due to the lack of functioning Zoom links and a failure to provide contact information on the public meeting agendas. The omissions violated a new provision in Hawaii’s Sunshine Law that took effect on Jan. 1, but those preparing the agendas may not have known that.

Some of the smaller boards have struggled to comply with the new open meetings requirements, blaming a lack of resources such as adequate staffing and equipment. The state Office of Information Practices said that led to complaints despite efforts to prepare the boards for the changes.

The Sunshine Law stipulates how state and county boards are to conduct official business, and local compliance has long been a problem. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a mixed blessing, forcing the boards to go online and improve technological capabilities but also creating new requirements.

Common Cause Hawaii, a grassroots organization, has in the past raised concerns about the Oahu Reapportionment Commission not providing board packets in time for a key meeting, saying it prevented “meaningful public input.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - February 15, 2022 - Corruption At The Hawaii Legislature Puts Campaign Donations In The Spotlight

Amid a new push for change, critics say the process surrounding legal campaign contributions urgently needs to be reformed.

The Legislature has been jolted by the convictions of former Senate Democratic Majority Leader J. Kalani English and former House Finance Committee Vice Chairman Ty Cullen, who both pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes to benefit a wastewater company. In addition to illicit cash that changed hands in a restaurant men’s room and was stuffed under the floor mat of a car, there were dozens of apparently lawful campaign contributions that businessman Milton Choy showered on English, Cullen and other political figures in Hawaii.

Some see a more direct link between campaign donations and profitable government contracts. Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said Choy’s contributions bought him access to insider knowledge about what projects state government would fund, and also helped get him access to agency heads who would oversee those contracts.

“It positioned him properly to meet the right people, shake the right hands, so that when a procurement contract is announced, his name is already percolating, his company is already percolating around in people’s minds,” she said.

That pattern is often described as “pay-to-play,” which Ma said has been banned in other states including Connecticut, Illinois and Washington, D.C. by restricting or prohibiting contractors from making political donations. The Connecticut and Illinois laws were both triggered by scandals in those states.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - February 14, 2022 - New stain at Hawaii Legislature could be its worst

If Hawaii’s state Capitol had a hall of shame for legislators, J. Kalani English and Ty J.K. Cullen could be its headliners with the biggest fallen stars.

Several local veteran politicians and political analysts can’t recall worse corrupt acts by sitting Hawaii lawmakers than what English and Cullen were charged with Tuesday by federal prosecutors who allege the pair took cash and gifts from a local businessman in return for action on bills in recent years.

Sandy Ma, executive director of good-government advocacy group Common Cause Hawaii, expressed disgust over the acts for which English and Cullen have been charged, and is dismayed that she hasn’t seen much anger or outrage from colleagues of the two disgraced former lawmakers. “Yesterday I was sad and today I’m really upset,” she said Wednesday. “I’m mad.”

KITV4 - February 11, 2022 - 13 Hawaii lawmakers to return campaign contributions from 'Person A' at center of bribery scandal

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, speaking on behalf of the group, released a statement saying in part, “We do not condone illegal actions that have recently occurred. In lieu of returning Milton Choy’s campaign contribution directly to him, we will be redirecting his donations to the Campaign Spending Commission.”

The link includes the names of these 13 legislators.

KITV4 - February 09, 2022 - Hawaii House considers bill to relax gift rule as watchdog group calls for culture shift

Disappointed, sad, and angry. Those are just some of the words being used to describe the situation involving former Senate majority leader Kalani English and former Hawaii Rep. Ty Cullen, who was vice chair of the House Committee on Finance.

English and Cullen are accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes to promote and kill bills to benefit some businesses.

Common Cause Hawaii is a grassroots group that works to ensure our government is held accountable. “I am angry that the public trust was broken. They violated their oath to serve the public, and they lined their own pockets. It’s just horrifying and just makes me angry that they did this to Hawaii, they did this to the community, that they did this at all,” said executive director Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii.

Hawaii News Now - February 08, 2022 - Former Senate majority leader, 2nd lawmaker charged with taking big bribes for legislative action

Former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and state Rep. Ty Cullen, who resigned Tuesday, took thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for legislative actions ― including killing bills ― meant to benefit one or more associates, federal prosecutors say. The allegations emerged Tuesday ― first in federal filings and then in a news conference.

“It is important that our legislators, our public officials engage in our services to the public free of corrupt practices,” U.S. Attorney Clare Connors told reporters.

(Common Cause Hawaii weighs in on this matter in the video that is included in the linked article.)

KHON2 - February 08, 2022 - Bribery stymies efforts to fix Hawaii’s massive cesspool problem

Those affected by the alleged bribery schemes described in federal charges against Kalani English and Ty Cullen include people working in good faith to solve one of Hawaii’s most pressing environmental threats: cesspools and their 53 million gallons-a-day of untreated sewage. Advocates working on behalf of the mandate to get rid of nearly 90,000 cesspools in Hawaii by 2050 say it’s disheartening to see alleged pay-to-play politics getting in the way of legitimate momentum.

“Our elected officials and people who have been placed in office to protect us to be public servants are not personal servants,” said Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii which advocates for government accountability. “This is a very disturbing trend that we are seeing in government.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - February 06, 2022 - Don't Back Down On Financial Disclosure Requirement For State Boards

The Legislature is considering redacting salary ranges from public view because some think that could attract more and better applicants.

This year, bills before the Hawaii Legislature would prohibit the public from learning about compensation paid to members of top boards and commissions from a variety of sources. The main argument is that sharing financial information on financial disclosure forms turns off a lot of folks who might otherwise be willing to volunteer for government service.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, testified, “Redaction of financial disclosure information serves no good government purpose, especially when many non-paid volunteer boards hold tremendous power.”

Route-Fifty - January 12, 2022 - Legislators Return to Session No Longer Able to Use Shortcut for Passing Bills

When Hawaii state lawmakers return to the capitol next week, they will have one less tool available to quickly move crucial—and often controversial—legislation.

In a victory for government reform groups, the state Supreme Court in November ruled that lawmakers could not use “gut-and-replace” amendments to speed along bills. The tactic, which is common in many states, involves erasing the text of a bill that has advanced in the legislative process and replacing it with a different proposal.

Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Honolulu brought the lawsuit after a bill it supported, which dealt with recidivism among people who went to prison, was transformed into a bill about building codes. Both topics related to the bill’s title, which described it as legislation about “public safety.” The court’s ruling makes those kinds of maneuvers illegal in the future, but it does not affect previously enacted laws.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - January 10,, 2022 - Letters: Lawmakers shouldn’t need outside jobs

The Honolulu City Council should promulgate rules placing clear limits on outside employment by elected officials and senior staff.

A county of Honolulu’s size should have a full-time Council with members paid enough to forestall the need for outside employment. Hawaii’s Legislature also should become a full-time, professional body with salaries and staffing sufficient to conduct responsive and ethical government. The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the deficiencies of maintaining a part-time legislature.

This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Nikos Leverenz, Advisory Board member of Common Cause Hawaii

Honolulu Civil Beat - January 09, 2022 - It’s Time To Reopen The Hawaii State Capitol

The pandemic has kept the people’s house off-limits to much of the public for almost two years. That must end.

Ever since March 19, 2020, when state Sen. Clarence Nishihara tested positive for Covid-19 after a return to the islands from Las Vegas, the Capitol has been largely off-limits to the public and media — even as Capitol denizens continued doing the people’s business inside the people’s building. On Wednesday Senate and House leaders said the closure would continue indefinitely due to the recent rise in Covid cases.

Sandy Ma, executive director of the pro-democracy group Common Cause Hawaii, noted that restrictions have been lifted for commercial facilities with proper safety measures in place. Public schools also have resumed in-person instruction despite concerns about the recent omicron-driven spike.

“While Common Cause Hawaii understands the need for public safety during these pandemic times, the public must be able to access the seat of government in our democratic society,” Ma said. “On Oahu the only restriction to curb Covid-19 transmission is a 50% capacity limit for indoor events over 1,000 people.”

“It seems that if otherwise life may return to normal, with even our keiki back in school, our elected leaders should be able to allow the public to participate in our democracy in person,” she added. “It would be our choice if we decided to participate remotely, which must be an option provided to the public upon reopening of the Capitol.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - January 03, 2022 - Honolulu Councilman Augie Tulba’s role in TV commercial raises questions for elected officials participating in advertisements

Honolulu Councilman Augie Tulba’s starring role in a commercial for a rental car company is raising questions about the rules for elected officials in advertisements. According to the Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu, no elected officer or employee can engage in a business transaction or have a financial interest that would conflict with their duty as an elected official or impair their judgement.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a government watchdog group, said elected city officials participating in advertisements is a gray area. “It’s not in good form for him to make that crack about if there’s some elected official who can fix the roads,” she said. “He needs to divest from all interests that impact not just this company, the Owl Rental Car, but would seem all rental cars, because any legislation that impacts rental cars could benefit Owl and benefit him.”

Hawaii Public Radio - December 07, 2021 - On-Air Interview on Gut and Replace

Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director, was on Catherine Cruz’ HPR talk show, the Conversation, on December 7th, discussing the Hawaii Legislature’s Gut and Replace tactics. It’s an hour long interview and Sandy is on near the end. The link to it is below.

Honolulu Civil Beat - November 17, 2021 - Police Overtime Leaves Taxpayers On The Hook For Jacked Up Pensions

State lawmakers cracked down on pension spiking in 2012 – but only for new employees. The old-timers continue to stick taxpayers with ever-growing bills from the state pension system.

From fiscal year 2017 through 2021, annual costs associated with spiking in Honolulu rose from about $5.3 million to nearly $40 million, ERS data shows, and the police department was responsible for more than any other single department. “That comes at a serious cost to the public taxpayer,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii. “There have to be some reasonable limits, you would think.”

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - November 05, 2021 - Hawaii’s top court rules against ‘gut and replace’ bills

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two government watchdog groups who sued to stop the Legislature’s use of “gut and replace” tactics on legislation.

The court ruled that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they stripped a bill of its original content and substituted it with something entirely different and afterward failed to hold a sufficient number of readings for the amended measure.

“This is a good decision, not just for the people, but also we think for the Legislature itself; for real, thoughtful decision making,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, one of the two groups that filed the lawsuit.

AP News - November 05, 2021 - Hawaii’s top court rules against ‘gut and replace’ bills

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two government watchdog groups who sued to stop the Legislature’s use of “gut and replace” tactics on legislation.

The court ruled that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they stripped a bill of its original content and substituted it with something entirely different and afterward failed to hold a sufficient number of readings for the amended measure.

“This is a good decision, not just for the people, but also we think for the Legislature itself; for real, thoughtful decision making,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, one of the two groups that filed the lawsuit.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - November 05, 2021 - Hawaii Supreme Court strikes down ‘gut and replace’ bill

In a scathing rebuke of the Hawaii Legislature’s “gut-and-replace” lawmaking practice, the state Supreme Court today ruled that it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to pass a bill initially about public safety with new unrelated language requiring hurricane shelter space in new state buildings without holding three separate hearings in both the state House and Senate.

Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Honolulu challenged the constitutionality of gut and replace, specifically when it was used in the evolution of the hurricane shelter bill, titled “A Bill for an Act Relating to Public Safety,” and also known as Act 84.

West Hawaii Today - November 05, 2021 - Hawaii’s top court rules against ‘gut and replace’ bills-

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two government watchdog groups who sued to stop the Legislature’s use of “gut and replace” tactics on legislation.

Honolulu Civil Beat - November 04, 2021 - Hawaii Supreme Court Ends Legislature’s Gut-And-Replace Tactic

Honolulu Civil Beat – November 04, 2021 – Hawaii Supreme Court Ends Legislature’s Gut-And-Replace Tactic.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Legislature should not be allowed to gut the contents of a bill and replace it with new provisions, sometimes unrelated to the original bill, because the practice “discourages public confidence and participation.”

It’s a significant ruling, putting an end to a long-held legislative maneuver just months before lawmakers are set to reconvene in January.

News of the ruling was welcome to Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The ruling “gives guidelines and guide rails for the Legislature going forward,” Ma said

The Buffalo News - November 04, 2021 - Hawaii's top court rules against 'gut and replace' bills

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two government watchdog groups who sued to stop the Legislature’s use of “gut and replace” tactics on legislation.

The court ruled that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they stripped a bill of its original content and substituted it with something entirely different and afterward failed to hold a sufficient number of readings for the amended measure.

“This is a good decision, not just for the people, but also we think for the Legislature itself; for real, thoughtful decision making,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, one of the two groups that filed the lawsuit.

Olelo Island Focus - October 27, 2021 - Common Cause Hawaii's Views on Free Speech Week

Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director, provided brief insights on the importance of Free Speech as part of an Olelo Island Focus program.

Olelo Island Focus - October 25, 2021 - Island Focus - Episode 86, Champions of Civil Liberties

Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director appeared on this program, detailing her organization’s advocacy for good governance and encouraging all Hawaiians to have their voices heard on state issues of importance. She also described how Common Cause Hawaii can help citizens speak up and speak out.

West Hawaii Today - October 19, 2021 - Sunshine Law changes in the works

There’s little detail, but County Council members will be asked Wednesday to approve a resolution asking the county to support changes to the Sunshine Law, the state law governing public meetings and public notice to the meetings.

Resolution 238 simply states it supports “the addition of an item titled ‘amending the Sunshine Law, Part I of Chapter 92, Hawaii Revised Statues, to enhance the capacity of County Councils to develop effective public policy while assuring transparency and citizen participation in local government’ for inclusion in the 2022 Hawaii State Association of Counties Legislative Package.”

Introduced by Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball (who’s also the HSAC secretary) and who has been meeting with representatives from the Office of Information Practices, council members from the other counties as well as the citizen groups, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters of Hawaii and the Civil Beat Law Center, to craft an amendment.

Hawaii News Now - August 04, 2021 - Pressure grows for transparency as Honolulu’s fire commission secretly votes for next chief

Pressure is growing for less secrecy by the Honolulu Fire Commission as it searches for a new chief. The important decision is being handled mostly behind closed doors. Both government watchdog groups and council members say decisions that impact safety should be available for the public to review. The two finalists are Acting Chief Lionel Camara, Jr. and Acting Deputy Chief Sheldon Kalani Hao.

“Given the responsibility of the chief, that the chief is setting policy for the entire department, more transparency, more accountability should occur with that position,” said Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - July 15, 2021 - Behind closed doors: Reapportionment Commission could become less transparent

A powerful commission tasked with redrawing political boundary lines for Hawaii’s state and congressional districts appears headed for more secrecy than in previous years, with the formation of private permitted interaction groups in lieu of publicly held committee hearings.

Establishing draft rules to take most of its work behind closed doors consumed most of an hour-long meeting of the Reapportionment Commission on Tuesday, with a substantial portion of the meeting held in executive session as the commission sought advice from its attorney on whether the process of setting up the permitted interaction groups followed the Sunshine Law.

A powerful commission tasked with redrawing political boundary lines for Hawaii’s state and congressional districts appears headed for more secrecy than in previous years, with the formation of private permitted interaction groups in lieu of publicly held committee hearings.

Establishing draft rules to take most of its work behind closed doors consumed most of an hour-long meeting of the Reapportionment Commission on Tuesday, with a substantial portion of the meeting held in executive session as the commission sought advice from its attorney on whether the process of setting up the permitted interaction groups followed the Sunshine Law.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - July 11, 2021 - Editorial: Campaign spending info seems cloudy at best now that Senate Bill 404 is law

Lawmakers say they favor transparency in campaign spending, but things still seem cloudy at best, now that Senate Bill 404 is law.
The measure, which Gov. David Ige had vetoed but was overridden this week, makes changes to the disclosure requirements for expenditures on ads and other campaign communications. In the end, the bill makes things easier on political action committees (PACs) reporting their spending on candidates, and on the candidates and their own committees as well.

That’s the assessment of Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, the public-interest nonprofit that was tracking the bill.

Honolulu Civil Beat - July 09, 2021 - Ethics Commission Quietly Drops Kealoha Investigation As Questions Swirl

When it comes to Louis and Katherine Kealoha, the Honolulu Ethics Commission has moved on.

In February, after a closed door meeting, the commission voted unanimously to drop its ongoing investigation into the retired police chief and his former prosecutor wife, citing their federal convictions in 2019 for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and other crimes.

Despite the commission’s decision, there are still plenty of questions remaining about the agency’s role in one of the largest public corruption scandals in Hawaii state history.

“It would have been good to have some self-reflection as to why the Honolulu Ethics Commission process seemed to be able to be manipulated and gamed in such a way by the Kealohas,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “I don’t know if that self-reflection occurred, and I haven’t seen it.”

West Hawaii Today - June 26, 2021 - Gutted with a Rusty Scalpel

A bill Gov. David Ige is threatening to veto and one he signed are the “winners” of this year’s Rusty Scalpel award from two public-interest groups. Both House Bill 862 and Senate Bill 1350 are titled “Relating to State Government,” and both were stripped of their original content and substituted with unrelated wording in the conference committee process, with no opportunity for public input.

“‘Gut and replace’ legislation violates the Hawaii State Constitution, reduces transparency, undermines accountability, and eliminates valuable public input throughout the legislative process,” Donna Oba, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, said in a press release announcing the awards made by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

“The Hawaii State Constitution may not be convenient or expedient, but it provides accountability, transparency, an opportunity for thoughtful policy-making that is accountable to the people,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “The Hawaii State Legislature’s disdain for the rule of law must end.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - 23 June 2021 - Ige: Lack Of Public Input Is Driving Concerns Over Bills — And Possible Vetoes

The Hawaii governor is criticizing lawmakers’ failure to give the public or agencies a chance to comment before final votes on seven measures. When Gov. David Ige announced Monday he plans to veto 28 bills approved by the Legislature this year, he aimed some extra criticism at a number of measures he said lawmakers passed without giving the public enough opportunity to provide input.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said her organization was also concerned with the tactics used in conference committee this year that tended to exclude the public.

“Our concern in conference is the public isn’t allowed to testify, we don’t see the proposed conference drafts that are being circulated, we are not in the room — especially this time,” she said. “We don’t know what horse trading is going on. We just have no clue as to what bill is going to emerge.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - June 03, 2021 - Letter to the Editor - Veto SB 404, which nixes political-ad disclosure

A wonky bill quietly made it through the 2021 Legislature and is waiting for Gov. David Ige to sign it into law. Senate Bill 404 eliminates disclosure requirements for those running for office, including incumbents, for political advertisements, such as whether to vote for or against a specific candidate.

This exclusion for candidates and their committees from having to file electioneering advertisement disclosures would be an incredible blow to political transparency in Hawaii, if signed into law. Currently, candidates and their committees must disclose contributions received for running such ads, whether candidates support or oppose the ads, and more.

The reason political-ad disclosures are necessary and currently required is because the general, voting public deserves to know which candidate is making the appeal to vote for or against someone and who is funding such appeals. We deserve transparency and honesty in our political processes. Please contact Governor Ige and ask him to veto SB 404.

This Letter to the Editor was written and submitted by Sandy Ma, Executive Director, Common Cause Hawaii

Honolulu Civil Beat - May 17, 2021 - Redrawing Of Hawaii’s Political Boundaries Could Stretch Into Early 2022

Advocates have raised concerns over closed door meetings of the Reapportionment Commission.

The process of redrawing Hawaii’s political boundaries could extend into next year because of a delay in getting population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission on Monday got to work setting out a timeline that allows it to complete reapportionment and redistricting in a reasonable timeframe given the delays in federal data.

Most of the commission’s discussions regarding its new timeline and hiring staff took place behind closed doors, not in the public session, on Monday. However, the commissioners reconvened in public to announce their decisions.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said the open-government organization objects to the commission’s use of closed sessions to discuss topics like the impact of census data on the commission’s timeline. “This information is especially critical for the public watching and attending these meetings,” Ma said.

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 27, 2021 - Senate Bill 1350 passes the legislature although being a prime example of a "Gut and Replace" bill

The measure now delays pay raises for the governor and his cabinet, lawmakers and state judges and easily cleared the Legislature on Tuesday by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate.

SB 1350 began as a bill to create an Office of Public Accountability, an idea to consolidate several state watchdog agencies into one entity; it received backlash from all the agencies that would have been impacted. Senators gutted the bill in early March and replaced it with language on state redistricting. SB 1350 made it in this form through committee hearings in the House with slight changes and appeared headed for conference committee to sort out provisions on state reapportionment, which is expected to begin in the fall. But on April 13 at a key legislative deadline, House Speaker Scott Saiki removed the redistricting language completely and replaced it with a proposal to defer pay raises set to take effect July 1.

Earlier in the session, Common Cause Hawaii noted that it had “grave concerns” with how the reapportionment language was inserted into SB 1350, that the title of the bill was too vague and that the public was given less than 24 hours to look at proposed drafts of the measure. “In sum, these raise issues of constitutionally questionable gut and replace,” Sandy Ma, the organization’s executive director, said, adding that the organization recognized the need for senators to address reapportionment.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 26, 2021 - Editorial: Expand access to government

Anyone who has ever sat in on a hearing at the state Capitol knows why access to the building during session was unceremoniously shut to the public the moment the risk of the coronavirus pandemic became clear.

Wisely and for the better part of the last two sessions, access has been through online platforms. Beyond considerations of public health, this virtual approach has opened the discussions to many, including those on neighbor islands, who otherwise would not have their voices heard.

Likely, in-person interactions at the Capitol will be in place well before the start of the next lawmaking session convenes in January 2022.

That will be a welcome and crucial return to normal for those interested in good government, including organizations such as Common Cause Hawaii that advocate for the public interest, because there is no substitute for having the people in the “people’s house.”

Common Cause pushed for online access to the Capitol even before lockdown, said its executive director, Sandy Ma, and this has resulted in more citizens having the opportunity to interact with their state government.

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 18, 2021 - State Awarded Money To A Bidder That Blew The Deadline, Then Took It Back

The Department of Health says “crossed wires” led it to initially award $2 million to Sand Island Treatment Center, relied on by judges for addiction treatment. The center missed a February deadline to bid for a new infusion of state cash. The deadline was on a Friday, but Sand Island didn’t turn in its paperwork until the following Monday. But somehow, the facility was nonetheless awarded about $2 million over two fiscal years, the amount it requested.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, who used to work in state procurement, called it “kind of mind boggling.” An abundance of safeguards in state procurement, she said, require many people to review the process, which is why it takes so long. “That’s why it’s kind of hard to imagine how something like that could happen,” she said

West Hawaii Today - April 18, 2021 - Bill that would give legislators more oversight of governor’s emergency orders advances

A bill that would allow the state Legislature to review emergency orders put in place by the governor after 60 days is headed for a House-Senate conference committee.

House Bill 103 would also require the governor to justify the suspension of any laws during a declared emergency.

If adopted, the law would be changed to require the governor to make a request for extension of an emergency period to the Legislature no later than 12 days prior to the 60-day conclusion of a declared emergency period, with extensions requiring the Legislature to agree by a concurrent resolution.

Organizations in support include For Our Rights, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters Hawaii, the Civil Beat Law Center in the Public Interest and Hawaii Government Employees Association. Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause, said the ability to request public records and receive them in a timely manner is “necessary for a functioning democracy.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 14, 2021 - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s pick for Police Commission withdraws nomination

Mayor Blangiardi’s pick for the police commission withdrew his nomination. Benjamin Mahi was a former HPD officer and his partner is a current one. There were concerns about his ability to conduct oversight of HPD if on the Police Commission.

“There are some people in the advocacy community who are concerned, given his close contacts with HPD,” Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said prior to Mahi’s withdrawal. “They are concerned about his ability to remain impartial.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 13, 2021 - A Building Inspector Took Money From A Homeowner. Her Punishment: 2 Years Paid Time Off

Before five employees in the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting were indicted by the feds two weeks ago, accused of accepting bribes, one of their colleagues admitted to cashing a check from a property owner whose plans she was reviewing. But she didn’t face any discipline or get charged with a crime. At least not yet. Instead, she got two years of paid time off.

Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability organization Common Cause Hawaii, said the city’s response appears to encourage bad behavior. “They need to put the public first. It’s like, come on, people,” she said. “Two years. Holy cow. And they didn’t even root out the problem.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - April 09, 2021 - Honolulu Police Commission to evaluate police chief after tumultuous year

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard’s third performance review by the Honolulu Police Commission is scheduled for today. But this year the commission, which has been more supportive than critical of Ballard, will be confronted with a slew of inquiries and attacks against HPD and the chief — many revolving around the department’s spending of CARES Act money and, recently, Ballard’s level of transparency with the public.

In late March she held rare interviews with local news outlets, although the format was criticized as being “transparency-lite,” as described by Common Cause Hawaii. Reporters were given just 10 minutes to talk with Ballard, the interviews were structured to be one-on-one with the chief, and reporters were asked to submit their questions to HPD hours beforehand.

“Reporters may not follow up on each other’s questions. A reporter may not ascertain the necessary information in 10 minutes and would need information gleaned from other reporter’s questions, which is denied under this format,” Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said in an email statement.

Hawaii News Now - April 02, 2021 - Watchdogs question HPD chief’s personal purchases from vendors awarded CARES Act funds

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard bought personal equipment from companies that her agency awarded CARES Act contracts to, Hawaii News Now has learned. Watchdog groups are calling the purchases a conflict of interest. In a series of emails, a spokesperson for HPD did acknowledge that Ballard bought two scooters from businesses that supplied a large order of ATVs and UTVs the police department purchased last summer.

Sandy Ma, of Common Cause Hawaii, said that could still be considered a conflict of interest. “It does raise some concerns about the appearance of impropriety,” Ma said.

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 23, 2021 - The Hawaii Capitol Is Closed To The Public, But Some Lobbyists Still Have Entree

While most members of the public can’t visit the State Capitol during the 2021 legislative session, the ability of some lobbyists to gain access raises questions of fairness.

“If people can meet with lawmakers at the Capitol, it defeats the purpose of having a closed Capitol,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Hawaii. “We understand it should be safe for people working there. But people are going in and it’s not just for needed work to be done.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - March 17, 2021 - Lawmakers look to claw back felons’ pensions

Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha is set to begin a seven-year prison sentence next month for felony convictions relating to his use of police officers to help frame his wife’s uncle. But that won’t stop his $9,700 monthly pension payments that come with having served 33 years on the police force.

The payments have fueled debate in recent years about Hawaii’s practice of continuing to pay out retirement benefits to public employees who commit serious crimes related to their jobs. Hawaii lawmakers are looking to curb the benefits this year through legislation that would allow a court to order half of an employee’s pension to be forfeited if they are convicted of a job-related felony.

Senate Bill 912 has sailed through the full Senate, and on Tuesday it passed the House Labor and Tourism Committee. The bill still faces additional hearings in the House of Representatives, but a similar measure introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki passed the House in 2019, an indication that the proposed legislation, which has been introduced numerous times over the years, could succeed this year.

“Public employees are also public servants. They cannot defraud the public and destroy our confidence in government and still reap the benefits of their criminal misconduct,” wrote Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director Sandy Ma in testimony on the measure.

Honolulu Civil Beat - March 07, 2021 - Lawmakers End Efforts To Revamp Oversight Of Watchdog Agencies

Hawaii State House leaders have decided against pursuing most measures aimed at controlling the state auditor although investigation into that office continues. The House’s attempts to reorganize government watchdog agencies and gut the state auditor’s budget appear to have stalled for this legislative session.

Sandy Ma, executive director of the open-government group Common Cause Hawaii, said she’s glad to see the measure stall. “I think public pressure really halted this from going forward,” Ma said of HB 1341.

Honolulu Civil Beat Commentary- February 15, 2021 - Chad Blair: Are House Lawmakers Out To Get Josh Green?

A bill from the speaker and majority leader would forbid lieutenant governors from holding side jobs. Now, new legislation is moving through the state House that would ban Hawaii lieutenant governors from holding second jobs. Some folks are already calling House Bill 1075 the Josh Green bill, because the sitting LG is a medical doctor who works a 48-hour shift twice a month in the emergency room of tiny Kohala Hospital in Kapaau.

Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii supports it, writing in testimony, “Any significant gift or monetary compensation from interests outside of their state position is entirely inappropriate and could cloud their judgment or lead them to consider their personal interests above those of their electorate.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - February 14, 2021 - Hawaii lawmakers scrap bill exempting counties from Sunshine Law

State lawmakers shelved a bill that would allow the county councils on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island to debate in secret before casting votes on proposed legislation. But another measure is still alive this session that government watchdog groups warn could curb the state’s open meetings law.

This other bill pending, House Bill 481, would strip away safeguards and open government groups warn it could be used to circumvent transparency requirements built into the Sunshine Law.

Hawaii Tribune Herald - February 12, 2021 - Proposed ‘Sunshine Law’ exemption has hasty demise

A bill that would have all-but-exempted county councils from the state’s open meetings law, also known as the “Sunshine Law,” is essentially dead for this legislative session. State Sen. Clarence Nishihara, an Oahu Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Governmental and Military Affairs, deferred the bill during a Thursday hearing, meaning it won’t move out the committee

Thirty pages of written testimony were submitted to the committee, all in opposition to the bill. Organizations opposed included the state Office of Information Practices, Common Cause Hawaii, the League of Women Voters, the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter, and the Big Island Press Club.

Honolulu Star Advertiser - Feb 09, 2021 - Hawaii legislators could boost minimum wage to $12 next year

A bill to raise Hawaii’s minimum wage to $12 in July 2022 passed unanimously out of its first committee Monday, with more than 180 individuals and groups testifying in favor, most saying it should be much higher.

“Twelve dollars an hour is a start but still is not even close to a living wage,” Patrick Switzer testified to the Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts. “As a registered nurse working in Honolulu, I can tell you this increase would be a lifeline to the working poor, who are faced with impossible decisions each day, such as deciding between purchasing food for their kids and paying utility bills.”

Groups weighing in on behalf of the measure included Living Wage Hawaii, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law &Economic Justice, Common Cause Hawaii, League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Americans for Democratic Action and labor unions such as the ILWU, Hawaii Government Employees Association and Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Hawaii Senate Advances Asset Forfeiture Reform Measure

Senate Bill 294 would only allow agencies to sell property authorities believe may have been involved in a crime if the owner of that property is convicted of a felony offense. The state auditor found in a 2018 report that, in a sample of civil asset forfeiture cases, property was seized without a corresponding criminal charge in 26% of those cases.

SB 294 would also direct revenue generated from the sale of seized property from a fund controlled by law enforcement to the state general fund. Lawmakers have said that would remove the financial incentive agencies like police departments might have for seizing property.

Groups including Young Progressives Demanding Action, Common Cause Hawaii, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, the state Office of the Public Defender and about a dozen individuals all testified in support of the measure.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Bill Would Give Lawmakers Control Over Auditor’s Paycheck

A bill that would empower the Legislature to set the salary of the State Auditor has been co-introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki and Democratic Majority Leader Della Au Belatti in what may be another sign that State Auditor Les Kondo has fallen from favor.

House Speaker Scott Saiki announced plans to establish a panel to assess the auditor’s office. The panel will include former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and former state Office of Finance Director Wes Machida. It will be led by former Honolulu City Auditor Edwin Young. Speaker Saiki also has proposed cutting the budget for the state auditor by more than 50%.

Common Cause Executive Director Sandy Ma described the salary and budget cutting measures as “troubling.” “As an organization that is focused on good government, transparency and accountability, we would like to see the auditors have some measure of leeway in their job functions,” Ma said. “To have these measures introduced just seems kind of suspicious at this point in time.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Richard Borreca Editorial On Politics: Shutting off welcoming state Capitol from the public would send discouraging message

Say goodbye to Hawaii’s signature state Capitol, if it loses its long and graceful sightlines as they are closed by a tumble of concrete barriers and chain link fences. COVID-19 and the rioting supporters of former President Donald Trump both are sealing off the structure and destroying its significance as an open public meeting area. The Beretania Street barriers are likely to become a permanent fixture.

Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii executive director, worries that while security is important, it is one of several important issues to be considered. “Given the dire economic situation that our elected officials are facing in Hawaii, erecting security at the state Capitol, where we have had peaceful, nonviolent marches, demonstrations, protests, etc. (that I can think of), must seriously be balanced with the other needs faced by Hawaii’s people,” Ma said in an interview. Ma said that she wants all in the Capitol to be safe, “but we are concerned that people may be discouraged from participating given any potential physical barriers that may give the impression that the state Capitol, which is the People’s House, is no longer welcoming or inviting the public.”

Hawaii News Now - April 03, 2024 - Questions swirl over whether wildfire relief aid will pay tab for Maui mayor’s enhanced security

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen’s enhanced security detail cost approximately $115,000 for a six-week period after the devastating wildfires and, HNN Investigates has learned, federal relief aid designated for victims could be used to pay for the protection. State investigators instead of Maui County police officers provided the law enforcement officers.

Camron Hurt, of Common Cause Hawaii, questioned the state spending. “He had jurisdiction over his own police if he needed protection,” said Hurt.

Instead, a spokesperson for the county said, the state Public Safety Department made a verbal offer to provide an additional security detail — bypassing official paperwork.

Hawaii News Now - Host of safety protocols in place to prevent COVID outbreak during legislative session

The legislative session kicked off this week, but state business will be conducted much differently during the pandemic in an effort to keep the building safe.
Currently, an invitation is needed to enter the Capitol building. Inside, everyone must pass through a temperature check station in the basement. Once given the all clear, lawmakers, staff and guests need to pick up a day pass that’s worn at all times. Conference rooms have been rearranged to give members more space during committee hearings. What you can’t see are all of the technological improvements meant to bolster remote access to proceedings. The general public won’t be allowed to testify on legislation in person. Instead they’ll have their say virtually.

Advocates for open government believe the new system will allow more people to participate.

“We think remote testimony will benefit the public. We are an island state. It costs money and time to travel to Oahu to the State Capitol to testify,” said Sandy Ma, Common Cause executive director.

Hawaii Public Radio - The Conversation: The Challenges of Public Access in a Pandemic

Physical restrictions due to the pandemic have created complications for public access. As state lawmakers open up the new legislative session, technology has helped in many ways. For instance, those from the neighbor islands no longer have the added expense of traveling to Oahu in order to participate in public testimony. Sandy Ma, head of Common Cause Hawaii, goes over the pros and cons of remote public access.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Commentary: Some Want Permanent Security Barriers At Capitol, But At What Cost?

This piece by Denby Fawcett discusses the fencing and blockades that now mar the open spaces of one of the most beautiful buildings in Hawaii and reduce public access to the workings of government. In the article, Sandy Ma, Common Cause Hawaii’s Executive Director, weighs in, saying that adopting permanent barriers and other enhanced security measures at the State Capitol building would keep the public from, or hinder their access to public officials. So any continued security measures must not deter public access to the building.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Changes To Hawaii’s Sunshine Law Could Improve Access To Public Meetings

The new proposal from the state Office of Information Practices gives boards more options, including ways to meet remotely. The Office of Information Practices plans to introduce a bill next session that would allow boards and commissions to continue to meet using video conferencing software like Zoom or BlueJeans even after the pandemic has passed.

Common Cause Hawaii raised issues with some of those provisions, specifically one line that allows meetings to continue even if one of the meeting sites loses connection.

“If I’m waiting to testify, present information, and that location has technical issues, it seems problematic that the meeting is allowed to continue,” said Sandy Ma, the open-government group’s executive director. She hopes such meetings will increase participation in government, especially if boards allow for remote testimony.

The Omaha Daily Record - Hawaii Court Hears Case Over ‘Gut and Replace’ Legislation

Attorneys argued before the Hawaii Supreme Court last Wednesday over how much lawmakers should allow the public to weigh in on legislation as laws are being drafted and voted on.

The justices listened to lawyers over a video link that was streamed live on YouTube. They were considering a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s practice of stripping bills of their original content and substituting something entirely different.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, which is often called “gut and replace” in Hawaii. Similar maneuvers in other states are called “gut and stuff” or “gut and amend.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Lawmakers’ Gut-And-Replace Tactics

Open-government groups are challenging the Legislature’s practice of making drastic, sometimes last-minute changes to bills.

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, who contend that the Legislature’s practice of gutting bills and then replacing the contents with other legislation is not open to the public.

The Ige administration and Legislature also made their case, arguing that the justices should stay out of how lawmakers conduct their business.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald - Hawaii Supreme Court hears arguments about lawmakers’ use of controversial gut-and-replace tactic

The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about the Legislature’s practice of stripping a bill of its original content and substituting entirely different content, a process known as gut-and-replace.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, specifically for measure titled “A Bill for an Act Relating to Public Safety.”

AP News - Hawaii top court hears arguments over ‘gut and replace’ laws

HONOLULU (AP) — Attorneys argued before the Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday over how much lawmakers should allow the public to weigh in on legislation as laws are being drafted and voted on.

The justices listened to lawyers over a video link that was streamed live on YouTube. They were considering a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s practice of stripping bills of their original content and substituting something entirely different.

The League of Women Voters of Honolulu and Common Cause Hawaii sued the state in 2018 over the tactic, which is often called “gut and replace” in Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat - How Kym Pine Is Using the ‘Power Of Incumbency’ In Mayor’s Race

In the months leading up to Honolulu’s mayoral election, the only candidate who currently holds elected office has drastically upped her public relations game. City Councilwoman Kym Pine has sent out a flurry of press releases from her official city address in the last six months.

Pine’s official communications portray her in a flattering light, but don’t mention her mayoral campaign or appeal for donations. Therefore, it’s probably fair game – “the power of incumbency,” according to Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Aloha Stadium Deal Panned By Watchdog Groups

Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii decry this gut and replace bill. House Bill 1586, introduced in the 2019 Hawaii Legislature, called for shifting around various energy and environmental agencies within state government. But by the time it was passed and later became law, it morphed into a $350 million deal for Aloha Stadium.

Because of that, HB 1586 has received the sixth annual Rusty Scalpel award from Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii. The award is meant to focus attention on what’s known as gut and replace — “an abusive practice of government, in which legislators take a bill on one topic, gut the language, and replace it with something completely different to avoid the Constitutionally required legislative review,” according to a recent press release.

Common Cause Hawaii and The League of Women Voters of Honolulu legally challenged gut and replace in 2018.

Hawaii Public Radio News - Hawaii Legislature Prepares To Conclude. Transparency Advocates Cry Foul

Friday is the final scheduled day for the Hawaii Legislature’s 2020 session. The coronavirus pandemic forced lawmakers to close public access to the state Capitol, end in-person testimony on legislation, and broadcast all legislative hearings for remote viewing.

Sandy Ma with the good governance watchdog Common Cause Hawaii says the remote viewing system has been problematic, having observed audio quality too distorted to understand, camera angles making it impossible to identify speakers, and scheduling errors resulting in votes and hearings taking place without being broadcast. However, her biggest issue is with the restrictions on public participation. Normally, residents can appear in person to voice their concerns about proposed laws and even answer questions from lawmakers. Ma says that makes for better government and better policy. In the era of COVID, only written testimony was accepted, which she believes is an inadequate substitute.

Bill would make Rep. Takayama eligible to run for Sen. Harimoto’s seat

Twelve days after the death of state Sen. Breene Harimoto, the House Judiciary Committee proposed a change in state election law that would make committee member Rep. Gregg Taka yama eligible to run to serve out the last two years of Harimoto’s term.

Lawmakers say Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu- Pacific Palisades) has privately expressed interest in moving up to the Senate, but under current law is prohibited from seeking Harimoto’s Senate seat because he already filed to run for reelection to the House seat he now holds.

Common Cause Hawaii considers this scheme to be insider dealing.

Honolulu Civil Beat - The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Is Gutting Its Newsroom

In a devastating blow to Hawaii’s largest daily newspaper, leadership at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser told employees it intends to lay off about half of its union news staff by the end of the month.

Thirty-one workers across all departments are flagged for removal: 15 of the newspaper’s 34 reporters, two photographers, three page designers, seven clerks, three graphic artists and a web designer.

Honolulu Civil Beat - The Pay Keeps Flowing For Accused Honolulu Officials On Leave

More than a year after three high-ranking Honolulu officials went on paid administrative leave amid their involvement in a federal investigation, the city won’t say how much longer it expects to continue paying them. The city says it has no policy limiting the length of time an employee can be on paid leave, according to Alexander Zannes, the mayor’s communications director. Investigations shouldn’t be indefinite, said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonprofit that advocates for government accountability. The city should consider putting some time limits on paid administrative leave, she said — perhaps six months with extensions when necessary. The city could also allow people under investigation to work in other areas of government, Ma said, especially since the COVID-19 epidemic requires all hands on deck.

KHON2 News - Governor says Navigator and mainland consultants will be funded

Gov. David Ige says he will still fund the recovery navigator and mainland consultants to do most of its work, this after lawmakers cut the $10 million line item from CARES Act spending last week. “Certainly we will look at hiring all of the consultants that we need to ensure that we can move the state of Hawaii forward, that would include the Boston Consulting Group,” Ige said. “We do have adequate resources through various programs.”

“That is a lot of money, and it is also quite disturbing that $5 million was supposed to be used for an outside Boston Consulting Group,” said Sandy Ma of watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii. “I mean it’s not even in Hawaii.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - Legislative Leadership Must Rise To The Occasion

It’s past time for the 2020 legislative session to likewise get back to doing “the people’s work.” Critical items that need to be addressed include screening and testing at airports, and food sustainability. Ensuring health care for the recently unemployed, standing up health screening/testing at airports, supporting local agriculture and food-self sufficiency, implementing remote testimony capability, passing automatic voter registration, and preserving the hard-fought Earned Income Tax Credit and increases in Hawaii’s minimum wage are just a few of the critical items that must be addressed.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - Off the News: Police Commission must open up

Today, the commission was to hold its second meeting out of public view and involvement. This, despite Gov. David Ige’s proclamation stating that boards take “reasonable measures to allow public participation consistent with social distancing practices, such as providing electronic notice of meetings, allowing submission of written testimony on agendized items, (and) live streaming meetings.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial Board supports Common Cause Hawaii’s position that these commission meetings must be open to the public. Please click on the link to read more of about Common Cause Hawaii’s position on these meetings.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Island Voices Column - Expand options for distance learning

David Miyashiro, founding Executive Director of HawaiiKidsCAN and a Common Cause Hawaii Board Member, advocates that the State DOE must establish real-time two-way communication with the public and families for clarification and transparency.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser OpEd Column - Protect democracy by restoring open government in Hawaii

OpEd by Common Cause Hawaii’s Sandy Ma and others commends our elected leaders for recognizing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and taking action to protect the health, safety and well-being of Hawaii’s people, but they find it disappointing that Gov. David Ige suspended our state’s open-meetings and open-records laws in his March 16 Supplemental Emergency Declaration.

Based on Common Cause Hawaii advocacy, Maui Lawyer's Draft Open Letter to Maui Mayor on Open Government Requirements During Emergency

The letter expresses concern about the State Governor’s recent suspension of the operation of certain open government laws and their potential affect on Maui Council meetings and operations.

Honolulu Civil Beat - More Groups Call On Ige To Bring Transparency Back Into Government

The Hawaii governor suspended state laws that allow citizens access to public meetings and records while officials struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Common Cause Hawaii spearheaded the effort by a diverse coalition of more than 40 organizations and individuals calling on Hawaii Gov. David Ige, the four county mayors and state legislators to be more transparent as they struggle to contain the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Hawaii Public Radio - Some Hawaii Agencies Get Creative To Keep Public Involved, Others Abandon Participation

Civic participation is a challenge during the time of coronavirus. Some agencies are finding ways to still include the public, despite Gov. David Ige’s emergency order suspending the requirement among other state laws.

The good governance watch dog group Common Cause Hawaii, has come out strongly against the suspension of the Sunshine Law. On Tuesday, the group’s Executive Director Sandy Ma sent a letter to Gov. Ige, the state Legislature, all four county mayors, and the county councils urging them to restore the government transparency rules.

Honolulu Civil Beat - Suspension Of Hawaii’s Open Government Laws More Extreme Than Other States

Gov. David Ige has alarmed government watchdogs with his proclamations that shut the public out of public meetings and eliminates the release of public records.

“Democracy, accountability and transparency still matter during these crucial times,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. “So much is happening so quickly, and it needs to because we are in a crisis situation, but we also need to document what is happening for the future good so that we can look back and see what we did right and what we did wrong.”

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial: Government must be open to scrutiny

The governor’s decision to suspend the state’s Sunshine Law, the requirement that government agencies conduct business in open meetings and with advance notice, as well as the law that makes government records open and available, could have consequences that the beleaguered public, distracted by other woes, has not imagined and must work to avoid.

It does appear that some agencies are making an effort to that end. Sandy Ma, executive director of the good-government nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii, noted that the state Ethics Commission has provided a call-in option for anyone wishing to “attend” the meeting, set for Friday, by teleconference. Another example: the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 has been livestreaming its hearings on how the state is dealing with the pandemic. That’s encouraging.

However, the governor’s order says only such access provisions may be made “at the sole discretion of the department or agency.” That should not be the case.

Common Cause Hawaii Email to the Hawaii Senate Committee on COVID-19

While Common Cause Hawaii commends the Hawaii State Senate’s formation of the Senate’s special committee on COVID-19, we are unclear as to why the meetings are not open, transparent, and televised to the public on ‘Ōlelo.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Don’t Keep The Public From Participating In Public Policy During A Crisis

Senate Bill 2038 would exempt boards from Hawaii’s Sunshine Law on meetings when emergencies like COVID-19 are in effect.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Honolulu Agrees To Post Financial Disclosures Online

The Honolulu City Clerk’s office said it would post financial disclosure records on its website after the city ethics commission received blowback for removing that information from its site.

Government accountability advocates had criticized the removal of this information. Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii had called it “extraordinarily troubling.”

Honolulu Civil Beat: Honolulu Ethics Commission Scrubs Financial Disclosures From Website

Public records in which Honolulu officials disclose their business interests, real estate holdings and family ties are no longer posted on the Honolulu Ethics Commission’s website, and disclosures from past years have been deleted.

“It is extraordinarily troubling that the commission would make it harder for the public to access the records,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii.

KHON2: Kauai Councilman Arthur Brun indicted for federal drug offenses

More legal trouble for Kauai Councilman Arthur Brun, who’s now been indicted for federal drug offenses. He was one of twelve people arrested in a sting operation. Brun faces more charges than any of the other defendants, including the most serious offenses like conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

“Mr. Brun should have to abide by the same laws too and we want to make sure that the people are represented and Mr. Brun is not distracted by the pending charges,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Caldwell Took In $155,000+ From Territorial Bank in 2019

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell did well for himself last year.

In addition to his $186,432 city salary, he pulled in at least $155,638 from Territorial Savings Bank – a result of his earnings as a bank director and exercising stock options, according to his recently filed financial disclosure form. “We would like his full attention to be devoted to being mayor,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of the government accountability nonprofit Common Cause Hawaii.

Honolulu Civic Beat: Free Lunch From A Contractor Is Annual Tradition at Honolulu Hale

The Ethics Commission is considering a zero-tolerance policy on “tokens of aloha.” Honolulu ethics guidelines say city departments shouldn’t accept any gifts from those doing business with their agencies. That includes contractors.

Photos from the Impeachment Support Rally on Oahu on 17 December 2019

Some photos are shown here from this spirited event, co-sponsored by Common Cause Hawaii. Go here to our Facebook Page for more.

AP News: Gabbard faces heat back home for present vote on impeachment

Longshot presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard is facing some heat in her heavily Democratic home state of Hawaii for voting “present” on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Common Cause Hawaii Executive Director, Sandy Ma, said Gabbard’s votes aren’t representative of the people in her district and added Gabbard “shamed herself.”

Honolulu Civil Beat: Why Corrupt Public Employees In Hawaii Keep Their Pensions

For those convicted of abusing public office, the pension payments don’t stop at the guilty verdict.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Lawmakers’ Financial Disclosures Don’t Always Paint A Complete Picture

Lawmakers financial disclosures do not provide much detail or precise depictions of legislators’ financial interests.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: David Shapiro: $350M Aloha Stadium plan has flies on it already

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters last week awarded the 2019 Legislature its “Rusty Scalpel” award for using the deceitful gut-and-replace tactic to provide $350 million for a new stadium

The Maui News: County paid for council members, staff to stay at Wailea hotel for HSAC

Six Maui County Council members and six executive assistants stayed at the Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott Maui during a conference in June and were reimbursed in public funds to the tune of just over $11,000, according to documents obtained from the county Finance Department.

Critics Question Former Council Chair’s Ties To North Shore Project

Some residents ask whether campaign contributions and a job factored into Ernie Martin’s support for a controversial Pupukea project.

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