ADVISORY OPINION NO. 2020-2
From Hawaii State Ethics Comm, December 17, 2020 (Posted Jan 2021)
A state legislator (“Legislator”) requested an advisory opinion as to whether the State Ethics Code, Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (“HRS”) Chapter 84, permits Legislator to compensate an otherwise-unpaid legislative intern with Legislator’s private funds, such that the intern could receive compensation for working at the Capitol.
As discussed below, the Commission believes that any arrangement in which a legislative intern receives private compensation from Legislator – whether as an employee or through some other understanding – is prohibited by the Fair Treatment law, HRS § 84-13(a)(4).
The Commission understands the facts to be as follows:
Legislator would like additional staff support for legislative work, but budget constraints prevent Legislator from hiring more employees. Legislator would like to have interns assist with legislative work; however, Legislator recognizes that many would-be interns simply cannot afford to work for free, particularly given the current economic crisis. As such, Legislator is interested in finding another method to compensate an intern, such as by hiring the intern as an employee through a private business arrangement or using Legislator’s private funds to award an essay prize, or some other one-time monetary benefit, to an individual (after which the individual would work as an unpaid intern in Legislator’s legislative office).
Legislator requested guidance from the Commission to ensure that there would be no concerns under the State Ethics Code if Legislator tried to compensate an otherwise unpaid intern using private funds….
The Fair Treatment law HRS § 84-13(a), contains the following provision:
(a) No legislator or employee shall use or attempt to use the legislator’s or employee’s official position to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages, contracts, or treatment, for oneself or others; including but not limited to the following: . . .
(4) Soliciting, selling, or otherwise engaging in a substantial financial transaction with a subordinate or a person or business whom the legislator or employee inspects or supervises in the legislator's or employee's official capacity….
Inasmuch as Legislator would have a supervisor-subordinate relationship with the intern in Legislator’s legislative capacity, the Commission advises that Legislator not engage in a substantial financial transaction with the intern. As such, the Commission advises that Legislator neither hire the intern as an employee using private funds nor arrange to award a prize of some kind to a would-be intern….
read … ADVISORY OPINION NO. 2020-2