Kanno case should refine Capitol ethics
Finally: At a contested case hearing to be scheduled for June, the facts surrounding the case of state Sen. Brian Kanno will come to light.
But Kanno is certainly not the only person with a stake in the proceedings. Following the work of the state Ethics Commission, all lawmakers should come away with a clearer sense of what's right and wrong in the performance of their public duties.
The commission last week made public its charge against Kanno, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), alleging that the Senate Labor Committee chairman broke state ethics law by intervening in an employment dispute.
According to the charge, Kanno attempted to coerce Norwegian Cruise Line to rehire or award back pay and other expenses to Leon Rouse, a cabin steward whom the cruise line fired in 2004 for alleged sexual harassment.The commission says Kanno's actions may have amounted to a violation of the law's fair-treatment provisions, which bar lawmakers from using their offices to provide unwarranted privileges.
Among the issues to be probed during the hearing is the boundary between basic legislative work that comes with the office, and extraordinary service that abuses the power of that office by according special favors.
These are important questions, and Kanno, along with all of his colleagues, would benefit from clear answers to them.
Kanno's attorney, Rebecca Covert, is arguing that the commission itself violates the separation-of-powers doctrine of the state Constitution by diminishing the authority of the lawmaking branch.
That makes no sense: The commission is itself a creation of the Legislature, established in 1968 to do exactly what it is doing here: examining the ethics of state elected officials.
As to Covert's other complaint — that the Constitution protects lawmakers for actions that fall within their legislative functions — the commission seems to have anticipated that.
The charge does not mention the resolutions proposed by Kanno and others, measures that would have required Norwegian to explain its sexual harassment policies and that pressed for a study on whether the cruise line should have to pay hotel room taxes.
Contested-case hearings are rare, which underscores the need to take this one seriously. The information it yields is valuable because it will give lawmakers the clarity they sorely need on which official actions are acceptable, and which are not.