Hanabusa Uses Teachers to Open Door to More Political Corruption
ILind: …So after hearing oral arguments, Nishimura ruled the commission’s travel guidelines affect a broad section of the public and are not limited to a specific case or situation, are forward looking, and therefore must be adopted as agency rules, with opportunities for public input guaranteed by state law.
One key point was buried in the arguments. Hanabusa pointed out that the same issues underlying the disagreement over teacher travel and education trips are also involved in applying the gift provisions of the ethics code to legislators and other public officials.
One part of the what is at issue is the ethics commission’s interpretation of this part of the law, which provides:
Gifts. No legislator or employee shall solicit, accept, or receive, directly or indirectly, any gift, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing, or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of the legislator’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator’s or employee’s part.
HSTA repeatedly questioned how the ethics commission decides what is a “reasonable inference.”
It’s the same provision at issue, whether applied to teachers or to lobbyists and legislators.
This is dangerous territory, because prior ethics opinions about gifts to legislators have been grumbled about at the State Capitol but not directly challenged. It’s a rare elected official who wants to publicly be seen on the wrong side of ethics.
This is clearly tricky territory, especially because the ethics commission is bound by the ethics laws, which are passed by the Legislature and can be amended by them as well.
If the commission holds to its prior position, and the teachers case is ultimately pushed to rulemaking, it will necessarily open the door to challenges to the way gifts to legislators have been treated by the commission. Lobbyists and legislators may be anxious to renew that debate. I’m not sure the public wants to risk loosening of existing restrictions….
read … Not quite missing in action
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Don’t throw out policy on teacher travel
Star-Adv June 21, 2016: ...Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Nishimura faulted the advisory opinion for being issued after deadline and said it is subject to formal rulemaking. But in this case, the opinion was what prompted a new policy for how school-related trips and those that are strictly supplemental should be arranged. Let’s hope the BOE doesn’t abandon what seems to be an improvement in policy….
read … Teacher Travel
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HSTA wins in court: Teacher travel can resume
News Release from HSTA, June 17, 2016
A Circuit Court judge Friday sided with the Hawaii State Teachers Association and threw out a state Ethics Commission opinion that found public school teachers who accepted free travel from tour companies in exchange for chaperoning educational trips risked violating the state ethics code.
“This is a victory for teachers, but most important, for Hawaii’s public school students,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “This decision means teachers can resume the worthwhile practice of taking our students on educational travel.”
HSTA attorney Colleen Hanabusa argued in court that the state Ethics Commission erred in not going through a rule-making process before issuing both an advisory opinion and guidance memo saying that teachers violated the ethics code by accepting “free trips” to accompany classes on educational travel. Judge Rhonda Nishimura ruled both the opinion and the memo are null and void. The judge also found the commission’s decision was subject to rule making, because it affected a broad group of teachers, students and others. More than 31 class trips statewide were canceled because of the ethics opinion and many others were not planned out for fear of violating the ethics code.
“HSTA is to be applauded for pursuing this case, because it has ramifications for so many students, teachers and others,” said Hanabusa. “For many public school students, these trips are their only chance to travel off their home island or out of state to learn about history, new cultures and other places.”
“To have the Ethics Commission unilaterally rule and imply that somehow teachers are unethical and taking an improper gift, I think is just wrong,” Hanabusa added. “I think the judge made it very clear that the commission can’t do that and they have to engage in rule making so that we all know what the ground rules are.”
In a decades-old practice that’s routine at public and private schools across the country, Hawaii public school teachers are given one free trip in exchange for every ten students who take educational trips. The teachers, who are not paid any salary for going on the trips, chaperone students, help plan the itineraries and create lesson plans tied in with travel destinations.
“It’s such a shame that these kids couldn’t take trips to Washington, D.C. or another country in this past year because there are so many other ways to learn beyond the classroom,” Rosenlee said. “These trips are invaluable and allow kids to experience the world. We are so happy these trips can begin again.”
ILind: Judge says ethics guidelines must be adopted as rules to be valid
SA: Judge voids ethics agency’s advisory on teachers’ travel